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Union Money Puts Huizar in Funding Lead in Contest to Succeed Villaraigosa on Council

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Times Staff Writer

Unions have spent more than $124,000 in support of City Council candidate Jose Huizar in the last month, with some of the money used for paid precinct walkers to knock on doors in the 14th District, according to campaign filings.

Unite Here, the national union for hotel and restaurant employees, has spent $64,470 in an effort to get Huizar elected in Tuesday’s election; the California State Council of Service Employees -- an arm of the massive Service Employees International Union -- has spent $56,979. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor has spent $2,800.

Huizar, a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District board, has been endorsed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and 10 of 13 members of the City Council. The hotel and restaurant workers union, in particular, has long-standing ties to the mayor.

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In the days before he took office, Villaraigosa helped avert a hotel workers strike in Los Angeles and helped negotiate a new contract for the union.

“In terms of why we’re interested, I think if you look at this summer when the mayor-elect helped us resolve our contract dispute,” said Amanda Cooper, a spokeswoman for the hotel workers union. “We need to support candidates who will look out for working people.”

Huizar has “done a very good job on the school board finding the balance between his constituents, the union and the mission of the district,” said Annelle Grajeda, general manager of SEIU Local 660.

Huizar has opened a significant fundraising lead in the race for Villaraigosa’s old council seat on the Eastside of Los Angeles, having received $352,967 in direct donations, plus $100,000 in matching funds from the city.

The 14th District includes Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights, Mount Washington, Highland Park and Eagle Rock. Villaraigosa represented the district from 2003 until July 1, when he became mayor.

Although Huizar has insisted that he would vote his conscience, if elected with the mayor’s support he would probably be a friendly vote on the council for Villaraigosa, who will need help enacting his legislative agenda.

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Six council members endorsed incumbent James K. Hahn in the election.

Of the 10 candidates seeking the District 14 seat, the next highest fundraiser is former Councilman Nick Pacheco, who in 2003 lost the seat to Villaraigosa, his longtime political adversary. Pacheco has raised $156,907, plus $57,938 in city matching funds.

Pacheco has vowed to be an independent voice. Huizar has argued that his planning and school board background make him better suited to address district and citywide problems.

About 146 people or businesses who gave to Villaraigosa’s 2005 mayoral campaign also have donated to Huizar’s council race.

Overall, about 885 individuals or businesses have given to Huizar, meaning that about 16% of his donors also supported the mayor. In the district and immediate vicinity, Pacheco has raised more money, the records show. In the 11 ZIP Codes that cover most of the district -- the boundaries do not exactly correspond -- Pacheco has raised $39,700 to Huizar’s $35,000. About 25% of the money raised by Pacheco has come from those ZIP Codes, compared with about 10% for Huizar.

Not all money that pours into elections goes directly to candidates. Supporters or opponents of candidates can spend money independently, as long as the source of the money is disclosed.

These expenditures on Huizar’s behalf have raised Pacheco’s ire. No independent money has been spent in support of Pacheco or any of the other eight candidates in this contest.

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The union money “is Washington and Sacramento money -- it’s not like it’s local residents or local leadership,” Pacheco said. “It’s outsiders spending big bucks to influence a local nonpartisan race where you have at least two labor-friendly candidates. That’s shocking.”

Tom Snyder, national political director for Unite Here, said the national union often makes independent expenditures at the request of its local unions.

Snyder also said it wasn’t unprecedented for Unite Here to spend such sums on council races. “We have probably done it in L.A.,” he said.

City Ethics Commission records indicate that Huizar is the only council candidate that Unite Here supported through independent expenditures this year. Eight council seats were up for grabs in the spring elections.

In the 2003 council races, when seven seats were contested, the local chapter of Unite Here spent $10,000 on one council candidate: Villaraigosa.

Huizar “is proud of his support from labor, and I’m glad they’re working for us,” said Monica Garcia, his campaign manager.

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Garcia added that she was pleased that volunteers and paid precinct walkers were working on Huizar’s behalf. “We’re absolutely the challenger” in the race, she said. “We’ve reached across the board to anyone who has an interest.”

At a City Hall news conference Thursday, Pacheco accused Huizar of sending negative mailers about controversies during his council term. Pacheco said the attacks were unfair because he was cleared of any wrongdoing by city and county officials.

Not all of the candidates are critical of Huizar’s campaign.

“Obviously, [Huizar] has raised more than I have and he has the help of the mayor and the City Council, and he has run twice before” for the school board, said Brian Heckmann, an Eagle Rock attorney who has raised $16,703 in his first bid for a City Council seat.

“I can’t criticize him for the way he’s handling things; he has run a clean campaign.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Fundraising at a glance

Jose Huizar, an LAUSD board member, has outraised Nick Pacheco, the former 14th District councilman, but Pacheco has raised more money from within the district.

*--* Jose Huizar Nick Pacheco Total donations $352,968 $156,907 City matching funds $100,000 $57,938 Independent expenditures* $124,250 $0 Donations from within district** $35,000 $39,700

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* Funds spent by supporters for activities not controlled by the campaign.

** Based on ZIP codes reported by donors. Some ZIP codes extend outside the district.

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Source: Los Angeles City Ethics Commission

Times staff writer Patrick McGreevy and researcher Maloy Moore contributed to this report.

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