In Nick Pacheco and Alex Padilla, the young newcomers elected to the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday, the city’s next generation of Latino leaders gets men whose defining characteristic is an unbroken, deeply rooted connection to the communities into which they were born.
As such, they suggest that the story of the assertive new generation of Latino leaders now emerging ultimately may be titled, “Back to the Future.”
After going off to earn degrees at prestigious universities--Pacheco at UC Berkeley and Padilla at Massachusetts Institute of Technology--they returned home. Padilla, 26, lives with his parents in Pacoima, and Pacheco, 35, lives in the Boyle Heights home of his childhood.
Pacheco said he and Padilla represent “a new generation of Latino politicians” who “had the opportunity to leave because of our success, but we stayed in our communities.” Padilla said he brings “new energy, what a lot of people call a breath of fresh air.”
Underfunded and bucking most of the Eastside’s traditional power brokers--including organized labor--Pacheco, a deputy district attorney, played up his intimate neighborhood ties and his life-long connection to the 14th District. He also traded on his antipathy to the old-boy machine into which outgoing Councilman Richard Alatorre fits so comfortably.
“It’s one of the biggest upsets we’ve had in a long time in this city,” Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute Center in Claremont, said of Pacheco’s narrow win over seasoned, well-connected political consultant Victor Griego.
“I attribute it to his grass-roots origins. . . . This is one case in which endorsements didn’t count,” Pachon added.
But Pacheco had important backing from area Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra, in whose first campaign he volunteered, and from Mayor Richard Riordan. Pacheco also showed his electability by winning a seat two years ago on a charter reform commission--besting one candidate with labor’s backing and another favored by the mayor.
Flush with endorsements, money and considerable labor backing, Padilla parlayed his experience as a local legislator’s aide into a formula that convinced voters of his intense focus on the east San Fernando Valley’s 7th District’s particular needs. He easily beat Corinne Sanchez, the choice of the former councilman he is succeeding, Richard Alarcon.
“They focused on services . . . on things that council members are expected to pursue,” said Fernando Guerra, director of Loyola Marymount University’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles.
Padilla, for example, said his first act as councilman would be to improve street crossing safety at his old elementary school, Telfair Avenue.
And Pacheco, at a news conference Wednesday, said he will use his office to organize residents and promote activism, creating neighborhood councils that will keep him connected with his constituents.
“I’m going to live up to the expectation that the community will have a friend in office, someone to listen to them,” Pacheco said. “This will be a partnership with the community.”
In focusing on the basics, Pacheco and Padilla followed the same recipe as controversial 10th District Councilman Nate Holden. Holden, the only incumbent to be forced into a runoff this spring, won a tough reelection campaign essentially by filling potholes and trimming trees--a formula he learned at the feet of his own mentor, the inimitable Kenny Hahn, the longtime councilman and county supervisor who never met a street he didn’t want to repave.
Holden said Wednesday he was willing to let bygones be bygones and predicted that he could work with the four council members who had backed his opponent, the Rev. Madison Shockley. He contended that their endorsements actually had the opposite of the intended effect.
“People in my district resent outsiders telling them what to do. They’re independent, and I’m independent,” Holden said.
Holden also strongly implied that the Shockley campaign littered district streets to make the councilman look bad.
“Absurd,” responded Shockley. “Outrageous. It’s crazy.”
Organized labor backed winners in Holden and Padilla but came up empty with their independent campaign on Griego’s behalf in the 14th District.
Miguel Contreras, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, downplayed the significance of the loss.
“We fell short there, and we’re disappointed, but Pacheco had a better message,” Contreras said Wednesday. But both candidates “embraced the union agenda and both vied for the union vote . . . so [the outcome] still bodes well for us.”
Upon Pacheco and Padilla’s shoulders will fall the twin responsibilities of mastering City Hall’s power corridors to deliver services to their districts and of taking the lead in redrawing political boundaries to ensure that the city’s burgeoning Latino population gets its fair share of power.
Loyola Marymount’s Guerra said both newcomers, but especially Pacheco, who succeeds longtime officeholder Alatorre, will face high expectations from constituents and colleagues alike.
“There’s a lot of talk right now about a new brand of leaders, but in some areas, such as delivery of services and reapportionment, people are going to be asking for the old brand of leadership,” said Guerra.
The Tomas Rivera organization’s Pachon, however, said that while “Alatorre’s absence will be felt, you’ve got two quick studies here.”
“The experience isn’t there but certainly the passion and the commitment are,” Pachon said.
Learning the Ropes at City Hall
For now, both newly elected councilmen must concentrate on more immediate concerns, such as assembling staffs and learning the ropes at City Hall.
Alatorre, whose 30 years in public office were groundbreaking and yet marred by political scandals in recent times, Wednesday offered his congratulations to both victorious candidates.
“Both of them are part of a new wave, and I wish them well,” Alatorre said. “They will have some learning to do, and then they will have the right to stir things up and raise questions.”
On election night, some of the emotions that propelled Pacheco to victory were evident at his victory party at the Highland Park Ebell Club.
An ecstatic crowd of several hundred screamed wildly as his victory was announced. Women cried and many grabbed onto Pacheco’s jacket as he made his way to the stage to thank his supporters.
“Si se puede! [It can be done!]” people shouted as he took the microphone.
“To all the mothers of the community, thank you!” Pacheco said in Spanish as people stamped their feet and screamed until they were hoarse.
“We’ve said all along that this campaign would be won in the community, and the people won!”
Times staff writers Miguel Bustillo, Peter Hong and Patrick McGreevy contributed to this story.
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LOS ANGELES ELECTION RETURNS
Los Angeles City Council District 7
97% Precincts Reporting Votes % Alex Padilla 8,642 67 Corinne Sanchez 4,203 33 District 10 98% Precincts Reporting Votes % Nate Holden* 10,341 54 Madison T. Shockley 8,679 46 District 14 100% Precincts Reporting Votes % Nick Pacheco 9,438 52 Victor Griego 8,818 48
99% Precincts Reporting Votes % 1--Adoption of New Charter Yes 136,147 60 No 90,486 40 2--Amendment 2. Election of School Board Members Yes 134,133 62 No 80,503 38 3--Amendment 3. Increase Council to 21 Members Yes 77,752 37 No 135,063 63 4--Amendment 4. Increase Council to 25 Members Yes 74,686 35 No 140,799 65
Measures 2, 3, and 4 depend on the passage of measure 1.
If both measure 3 and 4 are passed, the measure with the most yes votes will become law.
Los Angeles Community College District
99% Precincts Reporting Votes % Office 1 Sylvia Scott-Hayes 128,038 57 Nancy Pearlman 98,205 43 Office 3 Mona Field 133,902 59 Julia L. Wu 92,586 41
Los Angeles Unified School District
District 1 99% Precincts Reporting Votes % Genethia Hayes 23,674 51 Barbara M. Boudreaux* 22,429 49
An asterisk (*) denotes an incumbent candidate.
Elected candidates and approved measures--or those leading with 99% of precincts reporting--are in bold type. Results are not official and could be affected by absentee ballots.