Molina Wins 4-Way Race for 1st District Council Seat

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Times Staff Writer

Assemblywoman Gloria Molina, who took an early lead and never let go, Tuesday won the seat in the Los Angeles City Council’s new 1st District, handily beating school board member Larry Gonzalez and two other challengers.

By unofficial count of all the ballots, Molina had nearly 57% of the vote, while Gonzalez received 26%. Placing a distant third was community planner Leland Wong with 10%. He was followed by businessman Paul D.Y. Moore with 8%. Molina needed 50% plus one vote to avoid a runoff.

Molina’s victory means she will become the fourth woman on the council and its first Latina. She will represent a district created last year in hopes of increasing Latino representation on the council.


In a festive atmosphere at a campaign party in Lincoln Heights, Molina hugged her supporters and danced. As victory became assured, a band struck up “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

Later, Molina delivered a victory statement to 250 euphoric supporters that included council members Pat Russell, Michael Woo, Joy Picus, Joel Wachs and Zev Yaroslavsky.

“It’s such a tremendous victory,” she said. “ . . . It says very clearly that this 1st District does not want machine politics. . . .”

The rest of her words were drowned out by applause.

Molina is expected to take office in about two weeks after the city clerk has officially certified the election.

Gonzalez was secluded with close advisers in a private room at his Lincoln Heights headquarters until nearly all of the vote was counted.

“I just want to congratulate Councilwoman-Elect Gloria Molina,” Gonzalez said in his concession speech. “I think now is not the time to talk about why we did not achieve our particular goal. I think it’s time for us to close ranks and to heal any wounds that may be there and move forward.”



The district was created by the council under the pressure of a federal lawsuit that charged that the city’s former council boundaries diluted the Latino vote. The district includes parts of Highland Park, Mt. Washington, Lincoln Heights, Echo Park, Chinatown and Pico Union.

The race started quietly, but by last week, voters were barraged with campaign mail from Molina and Gonzalez, paid for by contributions that by Tuesday had reached $205,000 for Molina and $212,000 for Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’s mailers blasted Molina for having “one of the worst attendance records in the Assembly” in the 1985-86 session and for her support of former state Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, who was ousted in the election in November.

Molina mailers defended her record, saying she disagreed with Bird, supported the death penalty and had a 90% attendance record in the Assembly over four years.

A strong theme in Molina’s recent mailings was the accusation that Gonzalez was not running his own campaign. She said Councilman Richard Alatorre, the only Latino on the City Council and a major Gonzalez supporter, was the “chief architect” of Gonzalez’s campaign.

Alatorre denied any major role in the Gonzalez campaign and said Molina was making him a “scapegoat.” The feud between Molina and Alatorre, which began before this race, at times seemed to overshadow the 1st District.


Accord on Issues

On the issues, the differences between the four candidates were minor. All agreed that the district needs increased police protection, better planning, more housing for low- and moderate-income residents and protection from overdevelopment in hillside areas.

Personality and style separated the candidates. Molina, 38, sought to portray herself as a feisty legislator who “isn’t afraid of the tough issues.” She cited her fight against a proposed state prison near the largely Latino Eastside as an example.

Molina was an early opponent of the prison, which is being strongly pushed by Gov. George Deukmejian. Community residents rallied to fight the prison and helped provide a local base for Molina when she announced that she would run for the council just days after she was elected to a third term in the assembly.

Molina received the endorsement of Rep. Edward R. Roybal (D-Los Angeles), the most senior among local Latino legislators. She drew campaign contributions from women’s groups and, according to feminist organizers, held a “priority” position among candidates the groups are supporting for local office.

Roots in Community

Gonzalez, 31, emphasized his longtime roots in the community and his experience in local government as a school board member since 1983. His ability “to get things done, accomplishments, not rhetoric,” was his theme throughout the campaign.

Gonzalez’s supporters included many real estate developers, unions and school board administrators. Besides Alatorre, Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), community college Trustee Leticia Quezada and former Councilman Arthur K. Snyder were among his backers.


Gonzalez, who would have been up for reelection to the school board this year, gave up his seat on the board to run for the council.

Tragedy forced candidate Moore to give up campaigning in the final days. Moore’s 2-year-old son, Timothy, died Saturday, apparently of infant sudden death syndrome, according to preliminary reports.

Previously, Moore, 35, had been an active campaigner and called himself the only true grass-roots candidate. He unsuccessfully urged a $50,000 campaign spending limit for all candidates.

“I believe that the (political) process belongs to the citizen and when large campaign contributions are made through developers and special interests, the process and democracy suffers,” he said.

Candidate Wong criticized “political machines” that he said supported Gonzalez and Molina. He called himself the most conservative of the candidates and worked to attract Asian and conservative voters. He failed, however, to attract the major Chinatown financial backing that he had predicted he would get.

Wong, 29, stressed his work as a community planner and as an anti-gang organizer and said the district “needs be properly planned so that it becomes an area that functions and gets its fair share of city services.”



100% Precincts Reporting Votes % Gloria Molina 6,526 57 Larry Gonzalez 2,952 26 Leland Wong 1,167 10 Paul D.Y. Moore 871 8

Figures rounded to the nearest percentage