Los Angeles City Council aide Greig Smith captured the San Fernando Valley seat of his boss, Councilman Hal Bernson, while former legislative deputy Martin Ludlow pulled ahead of council deputy Deron Williams in their campaign to replace Nate Holden.
With more than half the votes counted, Ludlow’s labor-backed campaign was running ahead of Williams’ effort to take over Holden’s Mid-City 10th District seat. Meanwhile, Smith, a longtime aide to Bernson, was significantly outpolling school board member Julie Korenstein for the 12th District seat.
Tuesday’s runoff determined the two remaining City Council seats in this year’s municipal elections. The other races were decided in March.
At Smith’s headquarters, a spacious Granada Hills storefront decked with colorful balloons and filled to bursting with jovial supporters, the candidate worked the room, shaking hands.
“I feel like Disneyland,” Smith said.
The longtime City Hall aide declared victory as supporters cheered and howled.
“This election wasn’t about me,” he said. “It was about an idea
The mood was a stark contrast with Korenstein’s election-night gathering nearby, where she conceded the election soon afterward. “There are a lot of disappointed people here, people who have worked really hard for months and months,” Korenstein said.
“It was a sleazy, dirty campaign,” she added. “I’ve been in a lot of campaigns, but this was most definitely the dirtiest of all of them.”
Across town, excited Ludlow supporters jammed a Koreatown union hall decorated with yellow and blue balloons, chanting “Martin! Martin!” as the ebullient candidate came to the stage. Councilman-elect Antonio Villaraigosa, along with council members Eric Garcetti and Jack Weiss, stood with Ludlow as he addressed the cheering crowd. Minutes later, council members Wendy Greuel, Ruth Galanter, Cindy Miscikowski, along with Council President Alex Padilla and Assemblyman Mark Ridley-Thomas, a former councilman, joined the party.
“You feel good?” Ludlow asked with a smile. “I can’t tell you how exciting this moment is, right now, to see so many people who made such a contribution to this campaign.”
At Williams’ election-night headquarters, a Crenshaw warehouse festooned with campaign posters, hopeful volunteers milled under an array of gold balloons that spelled out “DERON.”
“This is a hard-fought race, and we worked hard,” Williams said in a phone interview. “Right now, the numbers are looking bleak for me.” But he refused to concede. “We’ll see how things turn out,” he said.
The 10th District race was viewed by many analysts as a referendum on Holden, whose 16-year stint in office has been marked by controversy over his fund-raising and other matters. Still, the loquacious councilman commands strong loyalty in his district, where a large share of residents see him as a powerful voice for neighborhoods that have often been neglected.
In the last few months, Holden has worked hard to elect Williams, his top field deputy, defending him when Williams was forced to admit he had been convicted of felony cocaine possession in 1988. At one point, the councilman broke down in tears as he described his deputy’s journey from an impoverished childhood in South Los Angeles to a top position at City Hall.
Many political observers also viewed the 10th District race as a test of the political might of the labor federation, which has had mixed results backing candidates in recent municipal elections.
“If they come up empty, the symbolic appearance is that they have a louder bark than bite,” said Jaime Regalado, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.
In March, organized labor helped former Assembly speaker Villaraigosa beat Councilman Nick Pacheco in the 14th District, one in a string of victories unions have had on the Eastside, home to many immigrant Latino workers.
The federation’s push to elect Ludlow -- a former labor organizer and onetime political director for the federation -- measured its clout in a different part of the city.
“This is a new area for us,” Contreras said of campaigning in South Los Angeles. “In the past, we’ve had labor-friendly candidates, but we’ve never had a labor family candidate.”
The unions went all out for Ludlow, spending more than $337,000 and sending 650 union members to knock on doors in the final few days. The federation ran three separate campaigns to reach voters, according to Contreras -- one geared toward African Americans, one targeting Latinos and another aimed at union members.
In the northwest San Fernando Valley, where voters supported the creation of a separate Valley city in last fall’s secession vote by the largest margin than anywhere else in Los Angeles, both candidates scrambled to position themselves as the one who would deliver the most services to the area.
Smith said one of his top priorities would be changing city law to allocate police deployment and other services based on population, which would benefit the 12th District. Korenstein, a 16-year veteran of the Los Angeles Board of Education, has said she would do more to manage growth in the area to prevent overdevelopment.
At times, the campaign turned muddy.
Korenstein accused Smith of being beholden to developers, while Smith attacked Korenstein’s record on the school board.
The unions, which were divided in the 12th District race, played less of a role in the outcome. Korenstein got backing of the federation and the teachers union.
But both organizations had resources in other elections and invested little in her council bid. Smith, meanwhile, was endorsed by the city employees union, as well as the police and firefighter unions.
Times staff writer Wendy Thermos contributed to this report.