Decision Shocks Campaigns, County Officials : Redistricting: Candidates in today’s Board of Supervisors election are uncertain of their standing. Current members might not live in redrawn districts.
A court decision Tuesday that essentially voided Los Angeles County’s political road map brought uncertainty and, in some cases, downright chaos to those who serve on the board and others who aspire to it.
The county’s five supervisors halted a regular budget meeting after learning that U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon had ruled against them in a lawsuit that accused the board of drawing district boundaries in 1981 to prevent election of a Latino.
The supervisors were briefed by telephone by the county counsel, then a few broke away to draft written statements for reporters. It was uncertain from the ruling what impact the decision would have on their individual political futures.
“Without reading David Kenyon’s extensive ruling and determining how he has addressed the many significant issues, I really cannot respond to specifics,” said Supervisor Peter Schabarum, whose sentiments were seconded by his colleagues.
Schabarum is not seeking reelection, and for months candidates have worked his 1st District, vying to replace the acerbic conservative. The campaigns were to culminate today, and for the candidates and their campaign workers the ruling could not have been more poorly timed.
The vagueness of the judge’s ruling fed the frenzy. Would Kenyon completely invalidate the election? Or would he let the results stand and allow the victor to serve at least part of the four-year term?
The campaigners had little choice but to carry on in the final hours. They worried that, in the wake of the court ruling, voters across the 655-square-mile district might think casting ballots in the race would be a meaningless exercise. Campaign workers tried to persuade them otherwise.
At the storefront headquarters of candidate Sarah Flores in Glendora, about a dozen campaign volunteers talked into telephones, trying hard to persuade voters to go to the polls.
“The election is still on,” said campaign coordinator Audrey Lynberg. “We’re following all the rules and regulations of election laws. . . . I can’t see how (the ruling) can change the rules.”
Ron Smith, Flores’ political consultant, added in an angry tone: “All voters in the district should take precautions not to be persuaded by any innuendo that the election may be invalidated. There is a low voter turnout forecast as it is.”
While candidates were dismayed, others saw the court ruling as a victory that followed years of hard work to change the county’s political structure.
Richard Martinez, executive director of the Southwest Voter Registration Project, a Latino political group, said he and other Latino activists had worked since the 1970s to reform the county’s electoral process.
"(The decision) finally begins to let the Five Kings know that the people of L.A. County are going to be able to hold them accountable for their actions,” Martinez said, referring to the supervisors.
“Latinos have felt disenfranchised, they didn’t care about voting because they perceived the supervisors as a power unto themselves,” he continued. “This kind of ruling brings the Board of Supervisors into the public arena.”
State Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) heard of the ruling as he and other state officials met with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev at Stanford University. “Just as I found that perestroika is alive in the Soviet Union, it’s beginning to come alive in Los Angeles County.” Torres said. “Finally, Hispanics are going to have a voice in county government.”
Ironically, the ruling came while a Latina, Flores, appeared to be running strongly for Schabarum’s seat. Since declaring her candidacy in March, Flores had raised nearly $400,000 for her first political campaign, more than any of her nine opponents. She won the endorsement of some Latino elected officials and a coalition of Latino county employees and law enforcement groups.
“How can we retrieve that money?” Flores asked amid the din of ringing telephones at her headquarters. “What is this telling (our supporters)? That all that work and all that energy is wasted?”
News of the decision interrupted Flores in the middle of campaigning. She rushed from a candidates’ forum in South Gate to Glendora to lift the spirits of her staff.
Another candidate, Superior Court Judge Greg O’Brien, learned of the ruling as he drove on the San Bernardino Freeway to his San Gabriel Valley headquarters. A campaign worker informed him via cellular telephone.
“I was surprised, I had not expected to see a decision on election eve,” said O’Brien, who received Schabarum’s endorsement. “I don’t mean to be critical of the judge, but I am somewhat puzzled as to the timing.”
O’Brien said he would go ahead with plans to spend the final evening of the campaign posting “O’Brien for Supervisor” signs with his 15-year-old son in their Glendora neighborhood.
Meanwhile, at the County Hall of Administration on Hill Street, supervisors faced the prospect that the boundaries of their districts might be redrawn.
Among Schabarum’s staff, the mood was slightly downcast: Most of them had followed their boss’ lead and supported O’Brien--with visions, perhaps, of keeping their jobs. “How do you deal with the uncertainty?” Hammond asked. “You can’t.
The current supervisors and candidates in today’s election face the possibility of being declared ineligible to run when district boundaries are redrawn. Those campaigning for a 1st District seat, for instance, conceivably could not serve if their homes are outside the boundaries as they are redrawn.
Some candidates said they hoped the judge would allow the election winner to serve until a special election is held under a new redistricting plan.
“It would be far wiser to let the election go ahead as it is,” Flores said. “To just nullify it, I think it’s too late for that. It’s too late in the 10th hour to say you should scratch it all and start over. That’s unfair.”
Times staff writers Andrea Ford and Sheryl Stolberg contributed to this story.