Huizar staff graded civic leaders on their clout and support for him
Los Angeles City Council members are known for keeping a finger on the pulse of constituents, sorting out who are political friends and who are not.
Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar may have taken that practice into new territory by assigning his City Hall staff to prepare lists that graded civic leaders numerically on their level of support for him, according to three former Huizar employees.
Those lists, drafted during his first five years as a councilman, ranked dozens of people on their support for Huizar and influence in the 14th City Council district. The lists include politicians, school principals, church pastors, museum officials, high school cheer squad advisors, police officers and even presidents of local American Legion posts.
Enthusiastic Huizar backers received a 3, the highest score, while ardent Huizar foes earned a minus 3, based on a seven-point ranking system outlined in the documents, copies of which were provided to The Times by Rudy Martinez, the councilman’s opponent in the March 8 election. A second scoring system graded those same community leaders on political clout, with 5 being the best score.
Cynthia Ruiz, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s top political appointee on the Board of Public Works, received only a 2 out of 5 on her decision-making influence. So did Father Gregory Boyle, who has struggled to secure city support for his anti-gang programs at Homeboy Industries.
Even municipal buildings were assessed. One list gave Fire Station 55 on York Boulevard a 2 out of 5 in terms of political clout. Another ranked the Eagle Rock Public Library as a zero, which meant it was not on the radar politically, the list reads.
In a recent interview, Huizar acknowledged the existence of the lists but described them as “old news.” He said he ordered his employees to stop using the ranking system two or three years ago.
Nevertheless, he defended efforts to track his political standing. “Every council office, I assume, works on building relationships with constituents,” he said.
State and city laws prohibit elected officials from directing their staffs to perform campaign activities during regular work hours or letting them use government equipment, such as computers, for those activities. The Huizar lists gave no indication that they were prepared for a campaign purpose.
Still, the practice drew criticism from Kaye Beckham, who serves on the Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce board and received a 2 out of 5 on one influence list. “If he has to see names and numbers on a list of who supports him, that says to me he is very insecure,” said Beckham, who described herself as a Martinez supporter.
Laura Gutierrez, former president of the Glassell Park Improvement Assn., said Huizar’s office staff should have spent more energy delivering services and less time on assessing civic leaders. Gutierrez, whose group serves part of Huizar’s district, described the lists as “hilarious” and said she wasn’t surprised to receive a minus 2 on her degree of support for the councilman.
“If you question Jose Huizar or ask why he’s doing something, you fall out of favor,” she said.
Three council members whose districts border Huizar’s — Eric Garcetti, Jan Perry and Ed Reyes — said they have never used a written ranking system for leaders in their districts. Perry burst out laughing when she was shown a copy of one list. “Wow, this is complicated,” she said.
The Times asked Huizar for copies of his “power analysis” lists on Dec. 20 and was told by his spokesman, Rick Coca, that the state public records law did not require that they be made available. “The public interest served by protecting the council member’s decision-making process clearly outweighs the public interest served by the record’s disclosure,” he wrote.
That response did not surprise Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles nonprofit group that examines the voting patterns and campaign fundraising practices of local elected officials. Stern said releasing the lists would be “embarrassing” both for Huizar and for the people who received disappointing scores.
“Politicians keep lists like this in their heads,” he said. “I don’t think they usually write them down.”
The Times obtained four lists from Martinez, an Eagle Rock businessman who received the highest possible score on his support for Huizar on two of the lists. One list covered El Sereno, a second covered Boyle Heights and two dealt with the city’s northeast neighborhoods, including Eagle Rock and Mt. Washington.
Martinez knew about the lists because his mother, Juanita Martinez, worked for Huizar until June 2010 and was among those assigned to prepare them. Martinez said voters should judge their politicians, not the other way around.
Juanita Martinez said Huizar reviewed the lists with his aides, who drafted them during office hours, and sometimes changed scores when he disagreed with their assessments. In at least one case, she said, a constituent who was ranked as a “die-hard” Huizar foe became a lower priority for the council office compared to other residents who called with neighborhood issues.
A second former Huizar staffer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, said the councilman initially reviewed the lists every three months but did so more frequently starting in 2009, as his reelection campaign approached.
“He wanted to know who the friends of the office were; those were his words,” the ex-Huizar staffer said.
Huizar gave varying answers about the lists when asked about them. He initially said he believed the practice had been dropped in 2006. After The Times told Huizar that it had copies of office e-mails sent and received by his staff in 2009 making reference to such lists, he said the ranking system ended as recently as two years ago.
When Huizar was shown a copy of a list for the northeast section of his district, he described it as “familiar.” When he was shown one dealing with El Sereno, he said: “I’ve never seen this.”
On one list, Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina and State Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) both received a 4 out of 5, signifying that they were “active” participants in decision making. By contrast, the Rev. Peter Bradford, pastor of Boyle Heights Christian Center, scored a zero.
Douglas L. Semark, executive director of the graffiti paint-out group Gang Alternatives Program, was ranked twice in a single list, earning only 1 out of 5 on one page and 3 out of 5 on another. Semark, who praised Huizar for his work in the community, said he had never heard of such a scoring practice.
“The only other time I ever really remember anything like that, and I’m aging myself, is the Nixon White House,” he said. “But I don’t think this is anywhere near that kind of thing.”