Solid backing from Latino and black voters, along with a strong financial boost from the mayor and business interests, propelled Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo into the city attorney's office.
With his five-point margin in Tuesday's election, Delgadillo became the first minority group member ever to win the post and the first Latino in more than 100 years to win citywide office in Los Angeles.
Still seeming a bit stunned by his upset victory, Delgadillo on Wednesday said he would quickly take steps to make good on his campaign promises to pay attention to neighborhoods and help improve the independently operated Los Angeles Unified School District.
He said he has the "strength of character" to stand up when necessary to the special interests that helped him win his first try for elected office, including the billboard industry, which mounted a $425,000 advertising campaign on his behalf.
Mayor Richard Riordan, for whom Delgadillo heads up city economic development programs, spent more than $256,000 of his personal wealth on political mail and an ad on Spanish-language television promoting Delgadillo's candidacy.
"I've said no to special interests and developers" for nearly eight years as a Riordan appointee, Delgadillo said at a news conference outside City Hall. He was joined by his wife, Michelle, and their week-old son, Christian Rockard, as he thanked supporters.
They included former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher--who Delgadillo said will be part of his transition team--and former Laker star Magic Johnson, whose appearances in TV ads helped the candidate win black voters.
Delgadillo repeated his campaign promises to cut city legal liability payments--recently estimated at $1 billion--by one-third and to use the savings for after-school programs and city services.
He also said he will assign a city prosecutor to various neighborhoods to help combat graffiti and other "quality of life" crimes.
He has already talked with L.A. schools Supt. Roy Romer about ways the city attorney's office can help improve school safety and clear the way for construction of new campuses, he said.
Delgadillo touted his winning coalition--primarily of minority, moderate and conservative voters--as a model for a better Los Angeles. "We can redefine the way in which people of different cultures live and work and dream together," he said.
His opponent, Councilman Mike Feuer, said Wednesday that he plans to take time off when his City Council term expires at month's end but vowed to remain in public service and said he would probably run for office again.
He wished Delgadillo well, noting that the office's newest duties include overseeing the federal consent decree stemming from the Rampart police corruption scandal and the continuing implementation of the city's recently revised charter.
"He needs all the support he can get," Feuer said. "It will require great skill at a very important time for the city."
Feuer's campaign aides attributed the six-year councilman's loss mainly to Delgadillo's ability to raise and spend more on his campaign. The biggest aid came from individuals and groups who spent major sums of their own on Delgadillo's behalf.
"Dick Riordan and the billboard companies bought themselves a city attorney," said Samantha Stevens, Feuer's campaign manager.
In fact, there appeared to be many elements that contributed to the outcome. Ironically, at least some of the blame for Feuer's loss can be laid at the feet of two of his powerful allies, organized labor and the California Democratic Party.
Both groups were so intent on getting out the vote for former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa's failed mayoral bid that their efforts had the unintended effect of bringing out Latinos who ended up casting ballots for Delgadillo. Feuer supporters had worried privately about just such a twist, and Delgadillo strategists acknowledged Wednesday that they had seen the trend developing.
Because Feuer ran no negative TV ads, Delgadillo did not have to fend off the kind of attacks on his record and character that Villaraigosa endured. Delgadillo won 79% of the record-high Latino vote--Latinos cast 22% of the total ballots--and won a solid majority of black votes as well.
Moreover, he garnered the majority of votes cast by conservatives and moderates, according to a Los Angeles Times survey of voters as they left their polling places Tuesday.
An analysis of precinct returns showed that the deputy mayor narrowly carried the San Fernando Valley and won handily in the southern and eastern parts of the city. He held Feuer to 56% of the votes in the councilman's own Westside base.
The exit poll also found that Feuer's support was not as strong as expected among whites and liberals. "Delgadillo did well across a broad spectrum of groups in the city. He won majorities among blacks--the key to this and the mayor's race--and Latinos, while still pulling a respectable number of whites and Asians," said Jill Darling Richardson, associate director of the Times Poll.
Latino leaders compared Delgadillo's victory to Cruz Bustamante's election as lieutenant governor in 1998. That made Bustamante the first Latino to hold a statewide elective office in modern times.
"This is a huge deal," said Arturo Vargas of the National Assn. of Latino Elected Officials.
Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a nonpartisan electoral think tank specializing in the Latino vote, said Delgadillo owes an enormous debt to the interest sparked by Villaraigosa's race for mayor.
"He should be offering Antonio a job. He should be sending thank you notes and flowers and champagne," Gonzalez said.
Times staff writers Patrick McDonnell, Noaki Schwartz and Doug Smith contributed to this story.