DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - I rarely swear when looking at the website of the City Ethics Commission. Still, when I visited the site the other week and saw how much money 14th District City Councilman José Huizar had raised for his re-election bid, the expletive shot from my lips like water bursting out of the pipes beneath UCLA.
When I realized that Huizar had pulled in $648,789 through June 30, I said aloud, well, let’s just paraphrase it as, “Holy cupcake!”
The three people who have filed papers to run against him next March, by the way, have raised a combined $4,300.
I then compared Huizar’s war chest to that of the other incumbents running for re-election. Twelfth District rep Mitch Englander would normally be impressive with his $250,000 raised, but that’s $400,000 less than Huizar. Council President Herb Wesson has $213,000, and I wondered if his having one-third the money of Huizar makes him one-third the politician.
Then there’s Sixth District office holder Nury Martinez, who seems like a pauper with only $109,000 (even if no one has filed to run against her). Heck, Huizar has already spent $116,000, or $7,000 more than Martinez has collected.
Second District Councilman Paul Krekorian isn’t listed on the Ethics Commission website, which means either that someone in his office forgot to tell him an election is coming, or that he is so assured of victory that he’s saving this fundraising thing for later.
If you’re looking for a more colorful way to view the money
hunt, imagine a big ice cream party in City Hall. Krekorian doesn’t come because no one invited him. Martinez shows up and has one scoop, Wesson gets a double scoop and Englander, who is famished after a day of legislating, orders 2 1/2 scoops. Then Huizar marches in and, while everyone looks on aghast, wolfs down 6 1/2 scoops. It is uncertain how many of these are rocky road.
All this means one of two things. Either 1) Huizar is such a great leader, sort of like Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela rolled into one, that people think he deserves all the money ever minted, or 2) Even if his competitors have the heft of a daffodil, Huizar himself knows he is vulnerable, and that this could be the race of his life.
I didn’t intend to write about Huizar’s fundraising prowess. I did that six months ago, after the reporting figures through Dec. 31, 2013, were announced. At the time Huizar had a whopping $327,000 (Wesson, by comparison, had $9,200). He was clearly trying to scare off any big-name competitor. I assumed the message has been delivered.
The fact that Huizar has pulled in another $322,000 in the last six months indicates that he thinks more messages need sending. He might deny it, but again, compare his honey pot (I’m referring only to his bank account) to that of Martinez, Wesson and Englander.
The reason for the cash grab is that Huizar collects bad press like the Lakers collect third-tier NBA players. His latest bit of frowny-face news came in March, when the city agreed to pay $185,000 to David Ceja, a former Huntington Beach police officer, to settle a case after Huizar drove his city-owned Toyota Highlander into Ceja’s Saturn last October. Oops! If you find it ironic that Huizar has raised a lot more than $185,000, but that the payment to Ceja comes from the city, then you’re probably not alone.
The real Sword of Damocles hanging over Huizar’s head is the lawsuit filed against him and the city by Francine Godoy, his former deputy chief of staff. Godoy has charged that Huizar sexually harassed and retaliated against her. He has denied wrongdoing, though the married father of four did publicly admit to having a consensual affair.
Some of Godoy’s allegations have been made public, and a trial is scheduled for November. One might think Huizar would do just about anything to avoid having further embarrassing details made public, and would settle the case. That still could happen and Godoy could saunter into the bank with a very big check signed by Us Taxpayers.
Still, that hasn’t occurred yet, so the question becomes, can Huizar raise enough money to prevent any legitimate candidate from running, even if his case goes to trial and all the cringe-worthy, yet incredibly entertaining details spill?
The City Hall crowd is constantly whispering about who will challenge Huizar, and if that would happen before or after a Godoy trial. There’s more rumor-mongering here than in an issue of Us Weekly.
For months the candidate in question was Ana Guerrero, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s chief of staff. She ultimately opted not to run or, depending on speculation, the mayor opted against risking his political capital by having her run and potentially lose.
Some think Gloria Molina might throw her hat in the ring, because the current county supervisor will be termed out this year, and before becoming a supe she served on the City Council. Then again, no one knows what Molina will do for breakfast tomorrow, much less what she’ll want come March. Still, Molina-Huizar would be epic, the Downtown equivalent of Pacquiao-Mayweather, should that dream fight ever happen.
Other observers mention John Pérez, the former Speaker of the Assembly. His plusses include having access to a tremendous amount of money and solid name recognition. His big minus is that he just finished third in a run for State Controller, and although it appeared a slam dunk election, Pérez failed even to make the runoff. If he can’t knock off Betty Yee, goes the reasoning, how can be beat Huizar?
Huizar’s Godoy Albatross (which sounds like a jewelry store necklace priced at $199) and other missteps would appear to make him vulnerable to a challenge from a well-known and heavily bankrolled candidate. Of course, Molina, Pérez or anyone else would have to think twice before challenging the incumbent when he already has $557,000 in cash on hand. Throw in the fact that Huizar’s campaign team has brutalized past challengers including Nick Pacheco, Alvin Parra and Rudy Martinez, and any legitimate contender won’t enter lightly.
Meet the Donors
I’m intrigued with what Huizar must say when he has to ask deep-pocketed donors for money. How do you phrase a request for $700, the maximum individual donation allowed, when your competition currently consists of a couple of tomato cans? Does anyone ever call Huizar out and ask why his Downtown streetcar was priced at $125 million for years, and then suddenly the price shot up by about $200 million? How frequently, if ever, do people mention Godoy?
Whatever the case, it appears that relatively few people are saying no. Contributions in the last six months come from across the business spectrum, and not surprisingly, a lot of Downtown names are on the disclosure statements filed with the Ethics Commission. That is traditional in Downtown, and probably, for that matter, in every community in America. Every Downtown council rep in memory, all the way back to Gil Lindsay in the 1970s, could boast a similar list.
Huizar’s powerhouse donors include architecture firm AC Martin, which offered $700, and Gensler Managing Principal Rob Jernigan, who also gave $700. A number of area development and real estate players maxed out, among them Alex Moradi of ICO Investment, Megatoys’ Charlie Woo and Nick Patsaouras of Polis Builders.
The donor list is a fun read. Sylvia Patsaouras, listed as a homemaker, also gave $700, though she wasn’t the only one. A whopping 62 individuals identified as homemakers in disclosure statements contributed in the recent round, providing a combined $39,950. Fifty-two of these were max contributions, so if Huizar suddenly pens a motion for Homemaker Appreciation Day, you know why.
Other familiar names also wrote checks. Business billionaire Rick Caruso gave $700, as did the X Lanes bowling complex and the Wilshire Grand Hotel. The Motion Picture Association of America and Warner Brothers each donated $700, which makes me hope Huizar will appear in an upcoming film, possibly a sequel to The Lego Movie, and I just made myself laugh by imagining a Lego Huizar.
Apparently the food industry likes Huizar. He got $700 from a Barnery’s Beanery in Pasadena, and another $700 from the Arts District’s Bestia. Two different 7-Eleven owners also maxed out, and I’m sure there’s a Slurpee joke in here somewhere.
The operators of Club Fantasy, an, ahem, “nightclub” on Fourth Street in Downtown, gave Huizar $700, and he got a similar amount from businesses called Smoke Tokes and the Down Town Hookah Connection. He also received $700 from San Pedro’s Spirit Cruises and Yacht Parties. This is perfect, because as everyone knows, nothing says CD 14 like yachting.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2014