Imagine running for office in a district whose boundaries are unclear, on an election day that could change, against opponents who remain unknown.
That is the daunting prospect facing Sarah Flores and Greg O'Brien, candidates for the 1st District seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Flores, a former deputy to Supervisor Pete Schabarum, and O'Brien, a Superior Court judge, were the two top vote-getters in the June 5 election to replace the retiring Schabarum. Under normal circumstances, they would be preparing for a November runoff election to see who would represent a district that includes much of the San Gabriel Valley and the southeast portion of the county.
But U.S. District Judge David V. Kenyon threw their election plans into limbo a day before the primary when he ruled that the current supervisorial districts violate the federal Voting Rights Act by unfairly diluting the voting strength of Latinos.
Kenyon will preside over a hearing Thursday to review an alternative map of the supervisors' districts submitted last week by the county. If he doesn't like that plan, he could accept districts drawn by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Or the judge could draw a map of his own. He also must decide whether to invalidate the primary and order a new election.
Established politicians, such as Rep. Esteban E. Torres (D-La Puente) and Los Angeles City Council members Gloria Molina and Richard Alatorre, have said they are considering a run for supervisor in a new, predominantly Latino district. As conceived by the Board of Supervisors, that would be the 3rd District, although Judge Kenyon could redraw the boundaries to place a majority of Latinos in the 1st District.
Both Flores and O'Brien--who live just 12 doors apart in Glendora, at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains--say they intend to run regardless of how the 1st District is redrawn. But sometimes they must struggle to buck up their own spirits and to build enthusiasm for their campaigns.
"If I sound down, I guess what is dominating my thoughts right now is that we may well be back into a primary," O'Brien said in an interview. "And then it would be April of 1991 for the general election . . . . Good grief!"
Flores said: "The hardest part is not knowing, trying to strategize and make several plans based on assumption and not knowledge. We will have to regroup and perhaps focus on cities we haven't focused on before."
Flores finished on top of a 10-candidate primary field with 34.69% of the vote, and O'Brien finished second with 20.1%.
Both agreed that fund raising has been nearly impossible since Judge Kenyon threw the validity of the primary election into doubt.
With the backing of Supervisors Deane Dana and Mike Antonovich, Flores collected more than $400,000 before the primary and topped all other candidates. "We expected to raise another $100,000 from June 5, 1990, through June 19, 1990," Flores wrote in a declaration to Kenyon. "Instead, we raised only $500."
O'Brien, who raised about $300,000 for the primary, said he is collecting previous pledges, but has temporarily stopped soliciting new contributions.
"We are waiting, because all the contributors are waiting to see what is happening," O'Brien said.
Flores said in the declaration to Judge Kenyon that the uncertainty surrounding the election also has "made it impossible for me to . . . generate enthusiasm among volunteers and voters."
She wrote the judge that he should not invalidate the primary, because she is "within striking distance" of becoming the first Latino ever elected to the Board of Supervisors.
Flores says she is seeking to consolidate her support with endorsements from local officials. In the primary, she was the top finisher in 29 of the district's 31 cities. She had been endorsed by 65 City Council members going into the primary and has since added another 40 endorsements, said her campaign consultant, Eric Rose.
O'Brien, who has taken a leave of absence from the bench to run his campaign, has been rebuilding his campaign staff since the primary.
He has already named Schabarum's past campaign treasurer, Robert Weiss, to replace the downtown Los Angeles law firm of Reed & Davidson, which had managed his funds. O'Brien said he is looking for a consultant to replace Sacramento-based direct mail specialist Carlos Rodriguez.
Both moves are designed to bring O'Brien's organization closer to home. O'Brien said he felt frustrated because primary strategy sessions often had to be conducted in conference calls between Los Angeles, Sacramento and his West Covina headquarters.
The redistricting plan the county Board of Supervisors submitted to the U.S. District Court last Wednesday decreases the Latino population in the 1st District from 47% to 36%. It increases the percentage of Republicans to 43.8%, a nearly 3% increase. Both Flores and O'Brien are Republicans.
O'Brien said the removal of some Latino voters "theoretically" hurts Flores, but that he does not expect much of a gain from the new map.
As drawn by the supervisors, the new 1st District would still include most of the San Gabriel Valley, but it would place South El Monte and most of El Monte and Rosemead in a predominantly Latino 3rd District. The 1st District would add the San Gabriel Valley cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, San Gabriel and South Pasadena.
The new map would also remove from the 1st District much of the southeast portion of county, including the cities of Downey, South Gate, Huntington Park and Pico Rivera. Those cities would be in either the 3rd or 4th districts.
To reach the requisite 1.7 million residents, the proposed 1st District then sweeps north and west to take in the cities of Palmdale and Santa Clarita.
O'Brien said he believes that Judge Kenyon will have to order a new 1st District primary election, if he accepts the new map, because it takes in so much new territory.
"That is the least desirable option I've heard about," O'Brien said. "Starting all over again in a great big new district that includes lots of new territory. . . . But my plan is to keep going."
"I'm running no matter what," she said. "I'm not going to pull out."
The current district boundaries and the new boundaries proposed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
ABOVE: These boundaries drawn in 1981 by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors were declared illegal recently by a federal judge who concluded that the apportionment scheme discriminatesagainst Latinos.
BELOW: The Board of Supervisors last week approved this remapping plan that changes the boundaries of the 1st District to delete much of the southeast portion of the county while adding several San Gabriel Valley cities.