One candidate has been steeped in political activism, the other schooled in the intricacies of City Hall.
Although the two men competing to succeed Councilman Nate Holden both agree that the neighborhoods of the 10th City Council District need economic development, better community policing and more after-school programs, Deron Williams and Martin Ludlow would each bring a different brand of experience to the post.
For the last 14 1/2 years, Williams has worked as an aide to Holden, most recently as his chief field deputy. The 35-year-old can rattle off the names of the city’s general managers and the breakdown of renters and homeowners in the district. Williams, who got 39% of the vote in the March election, says he already knows the community’s needs and how to meet them.
Ludlow has spent much of his career immersed in community organizing, working as a field deputy for Gov. Gray Davis and former Vice President Al Gore, as well as a top aide to two state Assembly speakers. The 38-year-old former labor organizer, who won 26% of the vote in the first round of the election, vows to bring a fresh approach to the job.
The candidates’ professional backgrounds have at times been overshadowed, however, by accusations of misconduct and discussions of their personal histories.
Last week, a former Williams campaign worker charged that the campaign raised money through a church organization to avoid city-imposed limits on political contributions. Rick Taylor, a political consultant managing Williams’ council bid, called the worker a disgruntled employee who made up allegations to damage Williams’ candidacy.
Last month Williams was forced to admit that he was arrested in 1988 at Ontario International Airport with bags of cocaine hidden in his underwear. He pleaded guilty to felony cocaine possession and spent four months in County Jail. In 1998, a judge found that Williams had served the conditions of his three-year probation, and expunged the conviction.
Ludlow has criticized his opponent for not being upfront about the cocaine conviction. Williams did not reveal it during the first round of the election, and initially denied that he served jail time or knew he was carrying cocaine when he was arrested.
For his part, Williams insists that he has been forthright. He has tried to use the incident to illustrate his trajectory from a troubled South Los Angeles youth to a top aide at City Hall, saying he hopes to be a role model to teenagers.
“I want to let them know that they can turn their lives around, that they can make a mistake and do something positive and constructive,” he said.
In a district that stretches across the center of Los Angeles -- including parts of Koreatown, Leimert Park, Hancock Park and Pico-Robertson -- many residents have expressed conflicting feelings about the cocaine incident.
“I’m really mixed,” said Janet Keane, a second-grade teacher who lives in the West Adams district. “Ludlow seems so up-and-up, and Deron’s got his issue of his past.”
“I thought, ‘Who cares? The past is the past,’ ” added Keane, who said she has been pleased with the work done by Holden’s office. “But at the same time, you are voting for somebody and their credibility.”
Meanwhile, Williams’ campaign has criticized Ludlow for filing for bankruptcy in 1998, questioning whether he would be able to manage the city’s finances. Ludlow defended his track record, saying he has successfully balanced the budgets of several organizations. He said his personal financial problems arose when he began paying for two households after he and his wife divorced.
“After a period of time, it just became very difficult, and I made a financial decision that I believe was in the best interest of my family,” he said.
As voters digest these revelations, both candidates are trying to distinguish themselves from the powerful patrons backing their council bids.
The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, which ran a large get-out-the-vote effort that helped Antonio Villaraigosa win the 14th Council District seat in March, has vowed to work hard to elect Ludlow, once district director for then-Assembly Speaker Villaraigosa. So far, several unions have spent a total of more than $180,000 on independent campaigns advocating Ludlow’s election. Miguel Contreras, head of the federation, said the group will have 500 union members walking precincts in the final weekend before the election.
However, Ludlow, once the political director of the federation, says his relationship with labor will not govern his decisions as a councilman.
“It’s going to take business and labor to build this economy,” he said.
The former organizer moves at a fast clip as he campaigns throughout the district, dashing from one house to another and describing his commitment to helping the area’s youth, as he did in working to establish the first Little League franchise in South Los Angeles.
With his cell phone and water bottle affixed to a pack on his waist, Ludlow talks about his desire to create a community task force to identify summer jobs for youths. He wants to beautify the major corridors in the area and build a 10th District constituent center on Crenshaw Boulevard that would house offices of city departments.
Part of Ludlow’s campaign is built on criticism of Holden, a controversial figure who has garnered both ethics violations and loyal support during his 16 years in office.
“Where we are as a community right now is so desperately in need of proof that government can work, that politicians are honorable,” Ludlow said.
On a recent afternoon, the candidate made that argument to Bartley Fain, 66, as the retired plumber sat on the stoop of his West Adams house, smoking a cigarette.
“We’ve had Nate Holden and Deron Williams running things, and I just think it’s time for a change,” Ludlow said.
“Yeah, it’s time for a change,” Fain agreed, as he took the candidate’s 14-page proposal to combat crime.
Williams rejects Ludlow’s charge that he will pattern himself after Holden, who hired him shortly after his cocaine arrest.
“I thank the councilman for giving me an opportunity for 15 years to turn my life around,” Williams said. “I took advantage of that. But my vision will be my vision, not Councilman Holden’s vision.”
“He is his own man, and that’s what gives me a lot of stress sometimes,” the councilman said. “He won’t do it my way. He does it his way.”
After encountering Williams in a drugstore parking lot, Holden gave him a job as a member of the district cleanup crew, sweeping up litter and painting over graffiti. Williams eventually rose to chief field deputy, a position he has held for eight years. In that post, he has helped bring businesses such as Krispy Kreme and Blockbuster to South Los Angeles and worked to establish an auto shop job training program at Dorsey High School.
“It gave me a knowledge and understanding of the job,” he said of his experience on Holden’s staff. “I know how to cut the red tape and get things done in this city.”
Williams said he wants to draw more economic development to the area. He also hopes to fix traffic problems by synchronizing stoplights, to bring more programs for youths to the area and to hire an education deputy to help locate sites for new schools.