Facing a tough reelection battle in March, Los Angeles City Councilman Nick Pacheco sparred with his challengers, former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and one-time Olympic boxing champion Paul Gonzalez, during a debate in Highland Park on Monday evening.
It marked the first time that Villaraigosa and Pacheco have met publicly since one of Pacheco's associates mailed two disparaging fliers about Villaraigosa's character in November.
In front of a standing-room crowd of 400 at Ramona Hall, the two men shook hands. Villaraigosa asked the audience for a moment of silence in memory of Pacheco's chief of staff, who died last week after surgery. Gonzalez took a seat between the two. He is best known for winning a gold medal in boxing at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Telling the crowd that it was time for a leadership change, Villaraigosa argued that he could be a consensus builder who would help make neighborhoods safer and strengthen youth programs.
"We are going to roll up our sleeves and build a community. I will never embarrass you, I will always fight for you," he said.
Pacheco said that, during his 3 1/2-year tenure, he has made tremendous strides in improving the 14th district, which includes parts of Mount Washington, Eagle Rock, Highland Park and Boyle Heights.
"I'm asking you to open your eyes and embrace your community. I love this district," Pacheco said.
On Nov. 6, the day Villaraigosa declared his candidacy for Pacheco's 14th district seat, newly registered voters on the Eastside received an anonymous flier that accused Villaraigosa of turning his back on Latinos at the urging of "white advisors" and "gringos." A second mailer delivered two days later called him a "womanizer" and questioned the character of his father and one of his daughters.
Attorney Ricardo Torres, who went to UC Berkeley and Loyola Law School with Pacheco, said he was responsible for sending the ads.
Pacheco publicly disavowed the mailers. Torres, who threatened to send out a mailer a week until Villaraigosa dropped out of the race, said he would suspend his efforts.
Villaraigosa ran unsuccessfully for Los Angeles mayor in 2001. Pacheco supported eventual winner James K. Hahn.