FOR PARKS AND VILLARAIGOSA, VICTORY IS SWEET
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
LOS ANGELES, March 4, 2003 -- Voters in Los Angeles tonight elected two men whose stories, although very different, converged in both ruin and redemption. They may diverge from here on in, though; political gadfly Melrose Larry Green joked that their presence on the council will make it "a better show than anything in Las Vegas."
Former Police Chief Bernard C. Parks and former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa both emerged from the city's municipal primaries tonight with their futures still burning brightly just ahead - futures that seemed irrevocably dimmed just a year ago.
Both men demurred tonight on the subject of their political ambitions, but it's safe to say neither see their new jobs as a "show."
"I'm not going to run for Mayor," promised a jubilant Villaraigosa, his feet still dancing as scores of friends and well-wishers hugged him at a victory celebration in a crowded two-story hall at Plaza del Sol, a mall in East Los Angeles near Olympic and Soto.
"I hope he'll be Mayor and then Governor," said the mother of Parks, beaming with pride at a joyous and jumping celebration at the Regency West Hotel near 45th and Crenshaw.
Los Angeles City Council President Alex Padilla has the most to worry about from the changes that will take place around the council table in July, when both men will be sworn in for four-year terms.
Padilla backed Villaraigosa's archrival, 14th District Councilman Nick Pacheco, along with the muncipal employees, firefighters and police unions, and his narrow victory over Councilwoman Ruth Galanter suggests he may well be supplanted by 13th District Councilman Eric Garcetti or a mutually acceptable centrist like 4th District Councilman Tom LaBonge, who was also re-elected tonight to his first four-year term.
LaBonge was touted as a future mayor in several conversations at Lucy's El Adobe, a political watering hole on Melrose Ave. in Hollywood for almost half a century.
"He's so charismatic!" exclaimed one longtime supporter, Anna MacNees. Her husband concurred. "He can be mayor," he said.
LaBonge handed his wife, Brigid, a bouquet of roses and talked about a dawn meeting with his family this morning where one by one he polled his two children and wife and won unanimously. That was nearly a scientific survey - he took 79 percent of the vote against a little-known film director who was making his first run for elective office.
At LaBonge's side were the mayor's sister, San Pedro-area Councilwoman Janice Hahn, and Fifth District Councilwoman Wendy Grueel, who was unopposed for her first full term (she won her seat a year ago when popular former Councilwoman Joel Wachs took a job with the Andy Warhol Foundation in New York) to represent the western San Fernando Valley.
Greuel is in her seond term as an expectant mother, leading at least one reporter to wonder if her child doesn't become an officeholder, too, since she was elected while the incumbent is still in her womb.
LaBonge was also supported by Padilla, who spoke to the crowd jammed into Lucy's and told them "it was an easy choice."
A top aide to Villaraigosa believes the new councilman may support Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, an incumbent who represents the coastal Venice area, because under term limits she has only two of her allotted eight years left. The aide stressed, however, that he wasn't speaking for Villaraigosa.
Parks, a tall, distinguished-looking man who stands ramrod-straight and speaks with exceptional care, is another possible contender for council president. While he was not popular with the police union and clashed with Mayor James Hahn after the latter decided not to reappoint Parks to another five-year term as chief of police, Parks has few foes on the incoming council and several allies who tried to override the mayor's decision.
In an odd way, even with the election of a former police chief, the Los Angeles Police Dept. may have emerged as the biggest loser in tonight's election. Neither Parks nor Villaraigosa has any special affinity for the current head of the LAPD, ex-New York chief of police William Bratton.
One political insider remarked tonight that the council "has two and half powerful new voices," the half being San Fernando Valley councilman-elect Tony Cardenas, a former Assemblyman who lost a council race last year but won handily last night against a former Valley secession leader.
But the night really belonged to Villaraigosa and Parks. Villaraigosa overcame some underhanded and off-color tactics launched at him by Pacheco allies early in the campaign, and successfully used the revulsion they created and his own strong name recognition to win decisively once the votes started rolling in. In early returns, he led Pacheco by as few as 27 votes at one point, and Alex Padilla told The American Reporter, "It's going to be a long, long night."
"We expected to come out of the absentee ballots 1,000 votes behind," Villaraigosa later told AR. Both were wrong; the race quickly turned into a rout, with Villaraigosa drawing 56.5 percent to Pacheco's 39.7 percent. It was all the rarer and sweeter a victory for being fought against a well-entrenched and well-funded incumbent.
In the Eighth District, Parks had to contend with a highly publicized decision by Bratton days before the election to reopen the Ramparts police scandal, which had been considered closed. Parks' mother suggested that he only did so to try to embarrass her son. The embarrassment was Bratton's; Parks won with 78 percent of the vote.
Her son, meanwhile, was dancing with his 99-year-old grandmother, who will turn 100 on April 14. On the dance floor, the Country Strutters organized a line dance, and then with backing from a former Barbra Streisand drummer the keyboards launched into "When the Saints Come Marchin' In." It was a scene of real jubilation, sustained by some terrific soul food and peach cobbler a la mode.
It's hard to imagine the new city council being much like the old, even though the weight of governing does usually grind down the sharpest edges of political personalities.
But for at least the next four years it will be a place where Parks and Villaraigosa, two men who once tasted the bitter salt of defeat, are likely to be strengthened by their healed wounds and move once again towards whatever sweeter future they have dreamed.