by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
February 21, 2003
AS WAR RESOLUTION PASSES, PACHECO PORTRAYED AS HERO AND VILLAIN
LOS ANGELES, February 21, 2003 -- With a hotly-contested antiwar resolution making its final apearance on the council floor and Los Angeles ready to become the nation's largest city to endorse it, East Los Angeles City Councilman Nick Pacheco stood up to cast the critical eighth and deciding vote - even as he was being vilified on the front page of a Los Angeles Times news section in a story implying he'd directed public money into his own down-to-the-wire reelection campaign.
"I have a history against the war," said Pacheco, who said he signed a petition against it in his district as a personal statement last month. "I'm glad that we're going to pass this today." An overflow audience erupted in cheers.
Later, in an exclusive interview with The American Reporter, Pacheco spoke about the Times article, calling it "fabricated," and charged that the campaign against him by Latino rival Antonio Villaraigosa has fallen to an all-time low in "accusing mothers of a crime." Meanwhile, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said it has opened an inquiry into the matter based on the information in the Times.
"They are accusing mothers of committing a crime. How low can you go?" he said of Gray Barkan, Villaraigosa's campaign manager. "It's the first confirmation that he's losing. He's desperate and he's afraid he's going to lose in the primary. Usually," Pacheco said, "they save this kind of stuff for after the primary."
The article by staff writer Matea Gold said that $66,000 in taxpayer funds were spent by Pacheco on expenditures that went to his political allies, including a church group called Madres de Este de Los Angeles, Santa Isabel. Other taxpayer funds went to an East L.A. chamber of commerce and a Christmas toy giveaway in his 14th District. There are two Madres groups, each based in a different Catholic parish, Pacheco's office said.
The crux of the Times story was that the funds authorized for the Madres de Este de Los Angeles group based at the Church of Santa Isabel were sent to the same private home address as that of a woman, Juana Gutierrez, who also heads Mothers for Nick, a Pacheco election committee. That prompted Barkan to charge that "Councilman Nick Pacheco is using public money to fund a political organization that is supporting him."
According to the Times, the amount of the expenditures from his discretionary account to the non-profit Madres, $36,500, was similar to the expenditures by the political Mothers group, $36,085. The appearance was that money was transferred from one fund to the other in violation of state law.
That public and political funds go to the same woman's address can be a problem, Pacheco admits.
"It's really awkward sometimes," Pacheco said today, "and they do their best to follow the law. Here, I'm sure they followed the law. [The Madres group] don't want to jeopardize their 501(3)(c) status."
And Pacheco said today that the Times ignored a 44-page report prepared by Los Angeles Controller Laura Chick that listed all $66,000 in discretionary fund expenditures and exonerates him of any potential charge that he supplied funds to his political campaign through one of the groups. The numbers in the report and in the Times were different, he said.
"They were fabricated," he said. "They were trying to make something out of nothing."
Pacheco said that the actual exenditures by the Madres group was not $36,500 as the Times reported, but $66,000, while the actual expenditures by Mothers for Nick were about $27,000, not the $36,085 reported by the Times. The report was not available from either the Controller's office or Pacheco's office on Friday,
Times reporter Matea Gold declined to comment, and referred a caller to the paper's public affairs office, which answered the phone call with a recording. A message requesting a response from the Times was not returned.
A deputy to Controller Laura Chick said no copies may exist because it was prepared for one person who asked for it and was not otherwise distributed. Chick press deputy Rob Wilcox said it might have to be requested again under the Freedom of Information Act before it could be obtained.
The campaign had already reached some notable lows last year when Pacheco's attorney circulated a flier charging Villaraigosa, the former Speaker of the State Assembly and a leading candidate for mayor in 2001, with "womanizing." Pacheco repudiated the flier, but the ensuing flurry of charges and counter-charges was so furious and embarrassing that two of the state's top Latino officials, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina and U.S. Congressman Xavier Becerra, had to call a press conference urging colleagues in their rival camps to bring it to a halt.
"So much for Villaraigosa running the campaign on issues," Pacheco said today.
A spokeswoman for Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said Friday afternoon that an inquiry was underway into the facts alleged in the story to determine whether a criminal investigation is needed, but Pacheco and Cooley's office both said that no warrants had been sought.
"Nothing like that happens until you make a determination that there ought to be a criminal investigation, and that's a long way down the road," Cooley spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons said.
Pacheco is backed by almost all of the members of the City Council and by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which provided decisive support to Mayor James Hahn in his narrow victory over Villaraigosa in 2001. Villaraigosa had the support of virtually the entire Los Angeles financial and labor establishment in his campaign for mayor, but was hit by last-minute tv ads connecting him to a contributor, the father of a convicted drug dealer that Villaraigosa had helped seek a pardon for from outgoing President Bill Clinton. He lost the mayoral race by 40,000 votes.
"He is a problem for us," a council deputy and former police officer said of Villaraigosa today. As for Pacheco, he said, "We really need this man."
The timing of the story raised questions, too. It came as the Times was editorializing at the back of the same news section against the antiwar resolution that Pacheco was getting ready to cast the deciding vote for. Another front page article in the same section noted that Villaraigosa, whom the Times endorsed for mayor in 2001, has raised more funds than Pacheco in the current campaign-finance reporting period. The Times endorsed Villaraigosa in the council race on Feb. 16.
The 41-year-old councilman had telegraphed his position on the resolution in a statement released Thursday. "I agree with President Bush that Saddam is not a man to be trusted; however, we must not act unilaterally. ... I will be present on this Friday to vote for the amended Garcetti/Labonge resolution," the statement said.
There was no indication from Pacheco today that the Times had tried to pressure him into voting against the resolution, however.
The resolution, a combination of two earlier motions by Hollywood area Councilmen Eric Garcetti and Tom LaBonge, called for President Bush not to act unilaterally against Iraq and to exhaust all diplomatic means of resolving the conflict before resorting to military force.
The Garcetti/Labonge resolution passed by a vote of 9-4, and the cheering, stomping audience gave Garcetti a standing ovation that lasted for almost three minutes.
Councilmembers Dennis Zine, council president Alex Padilla, Jack Weiss and Wendy Greuel voted no. A last-minute switch by Jan Perry, who won Garcetti's support for a friendly amendment backing federal legislation to help homeless veterans, gave the resolution a two-vote margin.
A third resolution by Councilman Jack Weiss, lopped off the end of his original measure in opposition to the antiwar resolution and combined with the last paragraph of the Garcetti measure, sought federal help for first responders to buttress Los Angeles' effort against terrorism. That also passed.