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‘I may not have won the prize, but I’m proud of what we did.’

These days, Los Angeles city official Stephen Rodriguez might best be recognized as a friendly face on your TV screen. Formerly co-host of “In Studio,” a public affairs program on KCOP Channel 13, he now hosts “Inside Community Development,” a public access cable program that celebrates the virtues of the city’s Community Development Department.

But to aficionados of Los Angeles politics, particularly of the perilous Eastside genre, Rodriguez already had made his mark.

Rodriguez is, as he puts it, “someone who walked across the mine field to clear it for others.” And that’s OK, he says. “I’d have rather lost by four votes than 4,000.”

Four votes. That was the margin of defeat in Rodriguez’s 1983 challenge against then-City Councilman Art Snyder, the Anglo incumbent in the heavily Latino 14th District. Back then, Rodriguez was an energetic city planner best known for having had then-President Jimmy Carter as a house guest in his El Sereno home one night in 1978. As a candidate, Rodriguez came close to forcing Snyder into a runoff--one that Rodriguez quite possibly would have won.

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The following year, in 1984, Rodriguez mounted a recall drive against Snyder. Again, he fell short. Another election came in 1985--and Rodriguez figured the third time would be the charm.

Wrong. A few months before the election, Snyder announced his retirement--he is now a lobbyist--and endorsed then-Assemblyman Richard Alatorre to be his successor. Suddenly, the mine field was gone. Alatorre, a better-known politician with better connections, easily defeated Rodriguez and an assortment of other challengers in a combative campaign. For Rodriguez, three years of campaigning ended in anticlimax.

No Battle Scars

If there are any obvious scars from the battle, any longing for what might have been, Rodriguez doesn’t show it.

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“I may not have won the prize, but I’m proud of what we did,” he says. “I feel responsible . . . for our role in that point in the city’s history.”

Rodriguez says he doesn’t miss campaigning. He says he is able to spend more time with his wife, Gloria, a bilingual education specialist, and three sons. His political activity these days is behind the scenes, raising money for Mayor Tom Bradley’s reelection campaign and Michael S. Dukakis’ run for the presidency.

At work as a senior administrator for the Community Development Department, a primary focus for Rodriguez is the “Inside Community Development” TV program. (Rodriguez seems sensitive to the suggestion that the show is City Hall propaganda. The show, he points out, has featured debates over rent control and interviews with homeless activists.) And at nights, he attends law school.

Rodriguez at first says he “won’t foreclose the possibility” of a political comeback. And in the next breath, the first-year law student acknowledges that he has his eyes on the city attorney’s office. “I’m looking ahead--and I’m preparing myself for it.”

That is one possibility. Another scenario intrigues Rodriguez: That Mayor Bradley serves one more term, then endorses Alatorre to be his successor . . . then, maybe, Rodriguez could finally get the 14th District seat.

“My son tells me that one lesson I’ve taught him is, no matter how difficult the trip seems, keep on trying,” Rodriguez says.

“When I hear my kids talk like that, I think it was worth it.”


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