Six months ago, it looked like Councilman Jose Huizar would be easily reelected. Even though he was mired in a sexual harassment lawsuit, he had raised a half a million dollars for his campaign — enough to discourage most established challengers — and lined up endorsements from business and labor groups. It appeared that a council member guilty of one of the worst ethical lapses in recent history would coast into his third and final term.
But then, former L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina decided to run against Huizar, giving the voters of City Council District 14 a competitive election and forcing candidates to talk about issues such as managing the transformation of downtown, the preservation of affordable housing in gentrifying Highland Park and Boyle Heights, and the backlog of street and sidewalk repairs.
Molina, who also served in the Assembly and had one previous term on the City Council, is the best candidate for the job. She is well known for her independence — a characteristic that is sorely lacking in City Hall at the moment. She has never shied away from questioning the status quo or challenging the power structure, though at times she has been more combative than productive. (A county department head once collapsed and had to be hospitalized during one of her grillings.) She was a fierce advocate for her district, developing neighborhood-level solutions in areas that had been long neglected. Molina became far more fiscally conservative after the county neared bankruptcy in the 1990s; her hawkishness on spending and labor demands is one reason the county didn't face the kind of severe budget crisis the city faced during the recession, and didn't have to lay off employees. Los Angeles needs more leaders who can say “no.”
At his best, Huizar has been an advocate for projects and policies that revived the city's drab urban corridors and drew new investment to once-ignored neighborhoods. He championed controversial proposals to remove vehicle lanes to make room on the streets for bikes and pedestrians, helping to turn car-dominated routes in Eagle Rock, Highland Park and downtown into thriving, walkable commercial zones.
But Huizar has shown terrible personal judgment. When he was sued for sexual harassment by Francine Godoy, a former aide, he countered that they in fact had a consensual affair. But either way, Godoy worked for Huizar from 2006 to 2013, and during that time her salary grew from $47,000 to more than $132,000. She was promoted repeatedly and received raises faster than other staff in Huizar's office, according to a City Hall investigation. Ultimately, the council voted to spend up to $200,000 on lawyers to defend Huizar, and although the lawsuit was ultimately dropped as part of an undisclosed settlement, the city is still responsible for those fees. That was a costly mistake that would have gotten him fired from most private-sector jobs.
The other candidates in the race are community organizer Mario Chavez and social worker Nadine Diaz, who understand the problems of their communities but lack plans or ideas to fix them. Political consultant John O'Neill is running to address the city's affordable housing crisis.
But it is Molina who offers the right mix of leadership experience to give the District 14 the voice it needs in City Hall.