L.A. Assembly Race May Be Won at the Mailbox

Times Staff Writer

The battle at the mailbox is expected to determine the victor at the ballot box in the Eastside’s special Assembly election Tuesday.

The two best-known candidates in the race, Democrats Richard Polanco and Mike Hernandez, have concentrated on two areas of mail--absentee ballots and a flurry of hard-hitting campaign mailers.

The reason for all this added business for the post office is that voters in the 55th Assembly District will go to the polls to decide who should replace Richard Alatorre. Alatorre left the Assembly after he was elected to the Los Angeles City Council in December.

Two Key Figures


The fight among nine candidates to replace him has centered on Alatorre’s choice, former aide Polanco, and Hernandez, a local bonds and insurance agent. The two Democrats differ little philosophically and their campaigns instead have stressed personal differences.

Although the county registrar has issued no official predictions of how many will vote in the special election, voter turnout is expected by Polanco and Hernandez to be low, under 20%. If their predictions are accurate, the absentee ballot may turn out to be a decisive factor. Absentees provided a major margin of victory when Alatorre ran in December, and both campaigns this time say they have geared a major effort at those who vote by mail.

But the biggest attention-getter in this race has been mail of a different sort--campaign literature.

Controversial Mailers


Polanco nearly a month ago launched a series of controversial campaign mailers that charged that Hernandez, as a bail bondsman, “earned his living putting up bail for dangerous criminals,” including’ child molesters and drug dealers.

Hernandez countered that Polanco was “attacking me for what I did as a professional. It’s like attacking attorneys for what they do, or judges.”

Hernandez, on the other hand, has leveled the “carpetbagger” charge against Polanco, who owns a home outside the district in Duarte and recently moved to Highland Park. Polanco said he has been a member of the East Los Angeles community “all my life, and that’s the important thing.”

War Still Continuing


If recent mailers are any indication, the mailer war was continuing right up to Election Eve. An Alatorre letter late last week called Polanco “a strong right arm” and, referring to Hernandez, charged that “law enforcement officials are troubled about electing a man who earns his living helping dangerous felons back on the streets.”

Hernandez mailers, with prominent pictures of endorsers Rep. Ed Roybal (D-Calif.) and Assemblywoman Gloria Molina (D-Los Angeles) have criticized Polanco as running a “deceptive campaign” and “moving to the area just to run” for office, a charge leveled against Polanco in 1982 when he ran and lost a race in the adjacent Assembly district against Molina.

The candidates have also employed the homey touch, from a handwritten letter and potholder from Polanco’s wife Libby to a handwritten note from Hernandez’s former fifth-grade teacher.

Absentee Voters


How much difference any of the mail makes will be known Tuesday, and one campaign official confided that he hopes all the mail “doesn’t just make people not care one way or the other.” If so, the mail that might count the most would be absentee voters who cast their ballots weeks ago.

If any of the nine candidates fail to receive a majority vote Tuesday, a runoff will take place in June between the top candidates of each political party.