Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has called Martin Ludlow a “good man” who “is like a son to me.” Assemblywoman Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) allows Ludlow to use her name to raise money to pay off his legal bills. Ludlow and longtime L.A. lobbyist Maureen Kindel have exchanged a draft proposal for a program for helping at-risk students.
In March, the former city councilman and ex-leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor pleaded guilty in federal and state courts to charges that involved diverting funds to his 2003 City Council election campaign. A union local representing school employees had put six workers for Ludlow’s campaign on its payroll. Ludlow quickly agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.
Rather than shun Ludlow, civic leaders have wrapped him in a warm embrace.
Politicians, labor leaders and others have begun a campaign to raise money to pay off more than $300,000 in fines and legal bills. Some say they have talked privately with Ludlow about rebuilding his life and, in time, one of Los Angeles’ most promising public careers.
He remains a figure with unique reach, maintaining deep relationships with various corners of the city.
“Why do I support him? L.A. needs him,” said attorney Connie Rice, who was among 16 people, including actor Danny Glover and Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), who were part of the “reception committee” at a recent fundraiser to benefit Ludlow. “The reason he’s important is that he bridges every L.A. divide there is -- whether it be racial, class, city, immigration. He is genuinely loved in every community.”
Ludlow, 41, was sentenced to five years’ federal and three years’ state probation and 2,000 hours of community service. He was ordered to pay $186,000 in restitution and fines. In addition, he is barred from holding public office for four years and a leadership position in a union for 13 years.
Ludlow declined to be interviewed for this article. According to accounts he gave while running for office, Ludlow, born to a black father and white mother, was adopted when he was 9 months old by a white family of social activists who had him walking picket lines by the time he was 6. He eventually went into politics, working in the presidential campaigns of Democrats Michael Dukakis and Al Gore, and in Gray Davis’ successful 1998 run for governor.
Ludlow also forged close ties to Latino and union leaders. He served as an aide to Villaraigosa when the mayor was in the state Assembly. Ludlow also was political director of the labor federation and a protege of its longtime leader, the late Miguel Contreras. And he developed profound personal ties to the city’s best-known African American churches. He worshiped at First African Methodist Episcopal Church and married the daughter of Bishop Charles E. Blake, pastor of West Angeles Church of God in Christ.
Friends from all these worlds have provided private and public help to Ludlow. When he resigned from his post at the labor federation earlier this year to face the federal and state charges, the federation gave Ludlow $15,000 in recognition of his service, according to three union officials familiar with the matter.
Through a spokeswoman, Maria Elena Durazo, the widow of Contreras who is now head of the federation, said she could not comment on personnel matters. But in a statement, she expressed her support of Ludlow.
“Martin Ludlow has dedicated his life to improving the lives of the poor and working men and women. We can’t forget that,” she said.
“I think he did a fantastic job,” said Pat McOsker, president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles, who credits Ludlow with helping defeat Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s initiatives in the 2005 special election. The firefighters union donated $2,500 to Ludlow’s legal defense funds early in the year, before he pleaded guilty. McOsker calls Ludlow “a great man who made a mistake and has really owned up to it.”
Ludlow established four legal defense funds that have been accepting donations for months, though the first formal fundraiser took place July 21 at a Holmby Hills estate. About 60 people passed through the home over the evening, with many of the attendees speaking privately with Ludlow. It was a subdued event, with no alcohol or dancing, said those in attendance.
The event’s host, businesswoman and philanthropist LaDoris McClaney, said she quoted from the Gospel of John: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.”
“I gave the party for him because I felt I could do it,” McClaney said. “I felt he deserved that. He made a mistake. He has apologized for the mistake. I think the public needs to move on.”
Ludlow and his wife, Kimberly, greeted visitors and thanked them for their support. An invitation requested donations in amounts from $500 to $4,000. The party’s organizers declined to say how much was raised but said it was only a fraction of the amount that will be needed.
More events and fundraising appeals are expected to take place.
Villaraigosa did not attend the fundraiser, according to an aide, but said he supported Ludlow’s efforts to pay his legal expenses.
“I know he’s struggling financially right now. I don’t know of any other way to pay that kind of money back,” Villaraigosa said.
Few political or union figures are willing to criticize Ludlow publicly. One of them, former City Councilman Nate Holden, whose aide Deron Williams lost to Ludlow in the election linked to the charges, said that, if Ludlow had not had the unfair advantage of extra union money, “Deron would have been elected.”
But Holden suggested that Ludlow may not have known he was breaking the law.
“To recover from this and go forward, the question is: What has he learned that he didn’t know before?” Holden said.
Newspapers have not been reluctant to criticize civic leaders for supporting Ludlow. The Times, in an editorial Tuesday, suggested that the recent fundraiser amounted to “a collective smirk sent to the people of Los Angeles” by Ludlow and political leaders. The Daily News editorialized last week: “Astonishingly, Ludlow has gotten nothing but sympathy from the city’s elite, as if he were a victim of wrongdoing and not a criminal.”
The deputy district attorney and assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted Ludlow say that there is nothing wrong with Ludlow’s raising money to pay legal bills and fines. In fact, prosecutors said they discussed the idea with Ludlow and his attorneys.
Family and friends have expressed frustration at criticism of their efforts to help Ludlow. They say the former councilman, between his legal burdens and short-circuited career, is paying a heavy price. His current financial situation is challenging.
He and his wife took out a mortgage to purchase a Baldwin Hills home last year; assessor’s office records show a sale price of $875,000. As of March 31, the most recent date for which records were available, Ludlow faced legal bills of at least $70,000, but the current amount is believed to be much higher. He does not have a full-time job, though he has received offers to work that friends declined to specify.
“Martin is doing very well. He’s a person of great inner strength,” said Blake, his father-in-law. “But he’s got very, very heavy fines. He’s barred from the two professions he would most like to pursue. He has absolutely no way to pay his lawyers or to pay his fines without the help of his friends. To demand that he is punished beyond his sentence is to have a vigilante mentality.”
With politics and labor closed to him, education and youth may be his new focus. Kindel, the lobbyist and consultant who also served as president of the Board of Public Works, said she had met recently with Ludlow and some family members. She urged him to focus on working with at-risk youth.
“He said he wanted to do that. He wanted to do that very badly,” Kindel said.
Ludlow sent her a plan for doing outreach work with students at Dorsey High School, and she suggested he broaden the plan to include Crenshaw and other high schools.
“I absolutely believe in redemption,” Kindel said. “I hope I’m not disappointed in the future.”
Times staff writer Duke Helfand contributed to this report.