Full Circle: From Roybal to Molina

At Gloria Molina's victory party, a man with a calculating look common to racetracks and political headquarters grabbed the mike periodically and read the numbers.

Gamblers and campaign strategists live by numbers, pondering them, massaging them, always looking for something that adds up to a victory. As he read the balloting results from the stage of East Los Angeles' tattered old Kennedy Hall, it was clear that Henry Lozano had found the right combination.

Lozano, a top aide to the respected elder of Eastside politics, Democratic Rep. Ed Roybal, was in charge of the get-out-the-vote operation that put Molina over the top Tuesday in her race with a much-better-financed Establishment choice, Sen. Art Torres, for Los Angeles County supervisor.

It was an old-fashioned victory, based on methods as antiquated as Kennedy Hall itself, where generations of East L.A. brides and grooms have been sent on their marital journeys with many a toast from relatives and friends packed into the homely, economically decorated ballroom.

The lesson was as clear as the cold beer being served at the Molina party: Go door-to-door, pound the pavement every afternoon and evening, never missing a day, never missing a single potential voter. And you do it with volunteers--true believers in this supposedly cynical, turned-off era.

The names of Lozano, political consultant Pat Bond, campaign manager Alma Martinez and press secretary Robert Alaniz aren't well known. You haven't seen them in the gossip columns and newsletters recording the intrigues of the Southland's little world of political power players.

Until now, that is. On Thursday, with Molina ascending to one of California's most important political jobs, the Bond, Lozano, Martinez and Alaniz telephones were ringing with congratulations from people who previously wouldn't return their calls.

This is the team that elected Molina to the Los Angeles City Council and when she decided to run for county supervisor, she brought them together again.

Lozano ran the heart of the effort, the volunteers, knocking on doors, walking house-to-house, a technique that's pretty been well abandoned.

Television, the smart insiders tell you, is the best way to communicate with voters. Or, you've got to use those computerized campaign letters. You can't go door-to-door any more. People are afraid of being robbed. Nobody opens their door. And you can't get volunteers to go out after dark.

Modern technology helps overcome some of those hurdles. The volunteers didn't knock on every door, just the potentially friendly ones. Campaign workers searched through county computerized voting records to find precincts with Democratic voters who have turned out in large numbers in past elections. With today's declining turnouts, such voters are the exception--so unusual, in fact, that politicians call them "pathological voters," people who always vote.

Organization is needed for this type of campaign. Molina has been good at assembling volunteers since she was elected to the Assembly. And so she began calling people like Pico Rivera school board members Maria Aguirre and Mary Eva Gomez. They brought out their followers and put in long hours of their own on the streets and in the headquarters.

But that's not the whole story.

You've got to inspire volunteers. Molina did that by walking precincts herself, three or four days a week, from 4 p.m. into the evening.

She also won because of her style. Molina, coldly prosecutorial during adversarial council hearings, glows under the warmth of a crowd. That was clear at Kennedy Hall. There was a cascade of cheers when she walked in. Supporters pushed close to photograph her.

Molina also won because she, more than Torres, seemed to connect with the Latino community's long sense of disenfranchisement. You could see that during the most poignant moment of the election night, when Congressman Roybal appeared on the platform.

In 1958, Roybal, then an up-and-coming liberal despised by Los Angeles' Establishment, was on the verge of being elected county supervisor from East L.A. When the vote count was completed on election night, he was 393 votes ahead. Then the county registrar said he'd found a 12,000-vote error. Four recounts followed and, in the end, Roybal lost.

"This victory should have been celebrated 30 years ago," Molina told the crowd. The cheers were overwhelming. Gray-haired men and women, and young people, joined in. "That is why I want to dedicate this victory to Congressman Ed Roybal. They stole the election from him 30 years ago."

She, more than Torres, projected the feeling that this wasn't just another election for county supervisor. This was history and on Tuesday night, history came full circle.

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