No matter how hard they try, no matter how many homes they visit, flyers they distribute, issues they address or hands they pump--they can’t shake the label.
They are called “the others.” Or sometimes, even worse, “the minor candidates.”
These are offensive designations to Joe Chavez, Louis Chitty III, Khalil Khalil, Jim Mihalka and Gonzalo Molina.
They like to point out that on the Jan. 22 ballot for the 1st District seat on the County Board of Supervisors, they will share equal billing with four better-known and better-financed politicians.
The five refuse to concede a single vote to the favorites--state Sens. Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) and Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), former supervisorial aide Sarah Flores and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Gloria Molina.
Working out of their homes, the underdogs have sought to stretch meager campaign treasuries to the maximum. They walk door to door and appear at every forum they can. When not invited, they rail against the media for giving their campaigns short shrift.
Unfettered by old political baggage or new campaign debts, the five underdogs have lent a colorful and often provocative ambience to the campaign in the newly created 1st District.
Chavez, 54, has presented himself as the working-man’s candidate, seldom missing an opportunity at forums to deride the records of sitting politicians.
“I would like to give people the opportunity to vote for someone who isn’t beholden to anyone, so they won’t have to stand in line behind all the big contributors,” said Chavez, a computer analyst who has worked for the county for 17 years.
The Hacienda Heights Democrat said the “career politicians” don’t have to make the tough campaign choices he does: Can he afford the $5,000 to send a mailer, or should he save the money for a Hawaiian vacation he promised his family?
As a supervisor, Chavez says he would impose a countywide hiring freeze to stave off budget shortfalls. And, in a county where political support for law enforcement has been sacrosanct, Chavez advocates redirecting money from the Sheriff’s Department to social programs.
Chitty, 44, is the campaign’s self-described “loose cannon,” who says his goal is to challenge the complacency of the voters and big-name candidates.
He has attacked the media, including The Times, for failing to offer equal coverage to all the candidates. “The media picks the candidates and tells you who to vote for,” Chitty says, “and in subtle ways, who not to vote for.”
The public school teacher from Covina has bucked political convention in public appearances by admitting uncertainty and poking fun at himself. When asked how he would provide child care for all working families, he conceded, “I don’t have the answer.” And he disarmed one audience by wisecracking, “Any nitwit can be a supervisor. Even me.”
Chitty, a Democrat, has offered serious proposals as well--including support for a system to provide health care to all Californians.
Khalil, an immigrant from Egypt, has approached campaigning with a certain serenity. His campaign literature says his name means “trustworthy friend,” and he likes to tell voters: “I was born in the land of the Pharaohs!”
A soft-spoken engineer for the county, Khalil, 48, says county government could benefit from values he brought from his homeland and those he has learned as an immigrant.
He suggests, for example, that the county Probation Department is superfluous and that families, churches and community organizations should care for troubled young people. Parents should be forced to pay restitution to victims when their children commit crimes, Khalil said.
Khalil, a Republican who lives in Montecito Heights, has relied on members of the Coptic Church, the native Christian church of Egypt, to pass out his literature and walk precincts for him.
Mihalka, 32, hopes to pull a political Clark Kent act--stepping into a voting booth in the uniform of a Los Angeles City Fire Department paramedic and out in the suit and tie of a county supervisor.
The Glendora Republican has tried to drive home his experience on government’s front lines with his vivid accounts of his experiences as a paramedic.
“You don’t have hands-on experience until you have pulled an 18-month-old baby out of an oven,” Mihalka recently said, to gasps from members of the Mt. Washington Assn., adding that the baby was put there “because his mother was on PCP and didn’t want to hear him crying anymore.”
One of Mihalka’s favorite issues is mass transit. He supports construction of monorails along freeways to reduce traffic congestion and says developers should be forced to help pay for them.
As the field’s only Anglo candidate, Mihalka said he might benefit from a “backlash” by Anglo voters against the federal court ruling that created a 70% Latino 1st District. But he said he does not welcome voting based on ethnicity. “I want people to say I was elected on my programs and my ideas,” Mihalka said, “not because everybody was racist.”
If there is an elder statesman among the underdogs, it is the 64-year-old Molina. This is his fifth run for the Board of Supervisors, dating back to 1970. Last June, he was outpolled 3 to 1 by Supervisor Ed Edelman in the 3rd District election.
Risking understatement, Molina noted: “I am consistent in my interest in the Board of Supervisors.”
The Mt. Washington resident is an instructor in English and citizenship mostly for Latino immigrants in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s adult school program. By his count, he has shepherded 994 pupils into citizenship. All are voters he can now depend on, Molina said.
The Mexican native and one-time ballroom dance instructor has waged a low-key campaign--taking a Christmas holiday in Mexico in mid-race. He said he is happy when fund-raisers provide a dance floor and an opportunity for him to show off his specialties, the mambo and the samba.
He said he expects to benefit from voter confusion--predicting that some supporters of Councilwoman Molina will vote for him.