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A Blot on Valley Campaign

Finally, two weeks after voters cast ballots, the last race of the June 2 primary is almost certainly over: Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon has defeated former Assemblyman Richard Katz by a scant 31 votes in the race for the Democratic nomination to succeed state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal, a result that a probable recount is not likely to change. But the aftermath of this race lingers like a bad smell.

What should have been, and largely was, a vigorous, honorable contest between two centrist Democrats from the San Fernando Valley turned in its last days into ugly ethnic politicking--a shift that understandably disgusted everyone from the vanquished Katz to a large portion of Alarcon’s potential constituents.

All along, campaign strategists figured Alarcon--Latino and Catholic--would be stronger in the heavily Latino northern parts of the district and that Katz--white and Jewish--would do better in the largely Anglo southern neighborhoods. To their credit, though, both Alarcon and Katz said ethnicity would not be a campaign issue, that each had ably represented the interests of the Valley’s different ethnic communities. That was before a despicable letter from state Sen. Richard Polanco, chairman of the California Latino Caucus, showed up in mailboxes from Sylmar to Van Nuys at the last moment of the campaign.

The letter all but branded Katz an immigrant-hater. Worse, though, is that Alarcon has yet to publicly disavow the letter that may well have bought him his 31-vote lead. Alarcon, otherwise a fresh and welcome voice in Sacramento, has a lot of work to do to make things right.

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For his part, Polanco on Wednesday said--unconvincingly--that the mailer he had signed was not ethnically divisive and that the Katz campaign was guilty of sending such material.

Tactics like the Polanco campaign letter ought to be a thing of the past in a region and state where Latinos, African Americans, Asians and women have all made significant strides in their campaigns for elected office. Sadly, it is not. Injecting division into otherwise above-board campaigns only sharpens the contrast between “us” and “them.” As one critic pointed out Wednesday, “It cheapens everything we do.”


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