Los Angeles voters picked seasoned political veterans in Tuesday’s election, reelecting City Councilman Gil Cedillo and electing Monica Rodriguez to the City Council in races that saw a flood of spending by labor groups.
Cedillo trounced bike advocate Joe Bray-Ali, easily winning with 70.8% of the vote in his Pico-Union-to-Highland Park district seat, according to unofficial city results.
Rodriguez won 52.9% of the vote, beating Karo Torossian for the vacant San Fernando Valley District 7 seat, which includes Pacoima, Sylmar and Sunland-Tujunga.
Torossian didn’t concede Wednesday. His spokesman, Eric Hacopian, said the campaign is waiting to find out how many outstanding ballots are left to count.
Cedillo and Rodriguez were both helped by labor spending in the election, and their respective wins confirm that the 15-member City Council — which has just one registered Republican — will remain dominated by progressive Democrats.
A committee led by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which represents about 600,000 workers, spent about $300,000 helping Cedillo’s 1st District campaign, according to the latest fundraising filings.
A powerful force at City Hall, the group has backed a new L.A. minimum wage, workers’ rights laws, and new construction and rail projects.
Federation head Rusty Hicks was one of several labor leaders who celebrated at Cedillo’s election party in Chinatown on Tuesday, part of a crowd of community leaders, politicians and lobbyists who feasted on Nicaraguan food and danced late into the night.
Hicks said in a follow-up interview that the labor federation boosted funding for Cedillo in the runoff after looking at the “overall landscape” of the councilman’s race against Bray-Ali.
“We wanted to make sure we saw him back,” said Hicks, who praised Cedillo’s work for immigrants and middle-class workers.
Garcetti, whose top aides also helped raise funds for Rodriguez, congratulated the two winners in a statement Wednesday.
He also said Rodriguez will be a “strong partner” on helping the homeless, infrastructure and job creation.
Cedillo declared victory in his race early on election night, taking the stage to declare that voters had backed the candidate “who wants to bring people together.”
“These voters in the 1st District are smart," Cedillo told the crowd. "They chose experience, they chose an incredible record.”
Bray-Ali’s campaign fell apart amid revelations that he left comments on a website known for explicit material, costing him his high-profile endorsements and backing.
Bray-Ali apologized for his online comments, but also blamed the media and said his remarks were taken out of context.
Rodriguez, a former Board of Public Works commissioner appointed by Garcetti, had the backing of at least seven City Council members and will fill the seat vacated by Felipe Fuentes, who resigned last year to become a lobbyist.
The City Council has just one other female member, San Fernando Valley Councilwoman Nury Martinez.
Rodriguez raised more than $305,650, nearly double the amount raised by Torossian, according to the latest fundraising filings.
She also benefited from more than $200,000 in outside spending in the runoff, with police union and business groups helping her campaign.
An outside group led by Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents bus drivers, child-care aides and other workers, also backed Rodriguez and Los Angeles Board of Education candidate Imelda Padilla.
The Mission Hills resident has a varied political background, having worked for former Mayor Richard Riordan and councilmen Richard Alarcon and Mike Hernandez.
Issues facing the council in the coming months include a proposal that would restrict Airbnb and other short-term rental companies, and a plan to collect revenue from digital billboards.
Labor is seeing declining membership nationwide, but the “heartbeat of the labor movement is in Los Angeles,” said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Edmund G. "Pat" Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.
“Labor spends very significantly in city elections and often in sync with the big endorsers,” Sonenshein said.
Tom Hogen-Esch, professor of politics at Cal State Northridge, said he saw little difference ideologically between Rodriguez and Torossian, a planning deputy to L.A. Councilman Paul Krekorian.
Voters could have chosen Rodriguez because she has more experience working at City Hall, he said.
Bray-Ali ran a surprisingly strong campaign, Hogen-Esch added, up until the point that his comments on the provocative website Voat were revealed by LAist.
“Bray-Ali had the momentum,” Hogen-Esch said. “But once the air is all out of the balloon, it’s really hard to go back.”
Bike the Vote steering committee member Michael MacDonald believes Bray-Ali’s downfall during the campaign was a lost opportunity to test a grass-roots candidate against a powerful, well-financed incumbent.
Bike the Vote, which advocates for safer streets, endorsed Bray-Ali, but pulled that backing after learning about his online comments.
MacDonald questioned whether Cedillo will now “heed voters' concerns and work to make his office more responsive and collaborative on street safety and other issues that are important to District 1 residents.”
About 39,000 ballots remain uncounted from Tuesday’s election, which also included two Los Angeles Unified School District races and a charter measure, according to city clerk spokeswoman Sandra Mendoza.
The city must certify the results by June 13.
2:20 p.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Mayor Eric Garcetti.
11 a.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Eric Hacopian.
9:55 a.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Rusty Hicks.
This article was originally published at 8:40 a.m.
10:44 a.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Torossian spokesman Eric Hacopian.