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Rough-and-tumble politics are nothing new to L.A.'s 14th District

Ray Regalado has watched the bitter political contest between Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar and businessman Rudy Martinez with disappointment, but not surprise.

“It’s a dirty race,” said Regalado, 58, a physical therapist from El Sereno. “But it’s what you come to expect in the 14th District.”

The district straddles a diverse swath of the Eastside that includes the bustling streets of Boyle Heights, the laid-back cafes of Eagle Rock and the pricey hillside homes of Mount Washington.

It is known as a hub of rough-and-tumble politics. It is also known as the place that elected two City Council members who went on to leave office in disgrace.

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Art Snyder, who represented the district for 18 years, stepped down in 1985 in the midst of a nasty child custody battle and after being fined for violating conflict-of-interest and financial disclosure laws. His successor, Richard Alatorre, resigned in 1999 after federal prosecutors investigated him for alleged tax evasion and he admitted using cocaine.

To Brice Harris, a former history professor at Occidental College who has lived in Eagle Rock since 1965, Huizar and Martinez are the latest in the district’s lineage of “shady” politicos.

He rattled off a few highlights in a string of recent attacks in the campaign: Huizar bringing up a 2005 LAPD investigation into Martinez’s unauthorized possession of a police badge; Martinez airing an e-mail sent by a Huizar campaign aide that promised supporters he would put a “political bullet” in the challenger’s forehead.

“Despicable,” Harris said when asked his opinion of the candidates. “No, that’s too much. Dubious.”

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Harris, 78, was sipping coffee and reading the Economist outside of Swork, a hip coffee shop at the corner of Eagle Rock and Colorado boulevards.

Unlike some constituents who said they had tuned out the ugly run-up to the March 8 election, Harris has been closely following the drama unfolding in his district — the stress of the campaign was so great for Martinez that he collapsed after a candidate forum in El Sereno last Thursday and spent the night in a hospital.

Harris said he wished the contenders would spend more time talking about real issues, like funding for schools, and less time assaulting each other’s character.

Once friends, Martinez and Huizar have disclosed damaging information about each other in news reports and a barrage of automated telephone calls, radio ads and campaign mailers. Each campaign has a well-funded arsenal; recent reports show each has raised more money than all but one of the 24 other council candidates on the ballot.

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In January, Martinez gave The Times a copy of a list assembled by Huizar’s staff that ranked various civic leaders based on their level of support for him. A few weeks later, Huizar’s campaign went to the media with the details of a 2005 Los Angeles Police Department investigation of Martinez over an unauthorized police badge that was discovered in his car.

Huizar has dredged up Martinez’s past arrests for battery and reckless driving, and Martinez has said he was interviewed by FBI agents about work performed on Huizar’s rental house.

“It’s mudslinging,” said Marilyn Jensen, 78, a Huizar supporter who has lived in Mount Washington for 25 years. “I don’t know who started it, but the other one threw it back.”

Pushing a cart through a Trader Joe’s store in Eagle Rock, Jensen said the tenor of the campaign had little to do with District 14 and was typical of campaigns across the nation. “There’s ugly races all over the place,” she said.

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Consultants for each candidate said they knew smear campaigns were a turn-off. “Voters don’t want this,” said Huizar campaign consultant Parke Skelton. “We hear from people who are upset about the tenor of the campaign.” But, he said, “we can’t unilaterally disarm.”

During a candidate forum in Eagle Rock last week, a moderator asked that Huizar and Martinez pledge “from now and for the remainder of their campaigns, to focus on community issues and solutions rather than personal attacks.” They agreed. But a few days later, both had sent out mailers assailing the other.

Mauro Avila, 56, a retired upholsterer who lived for years in Boyle Heights and who now lives in Alhambra, said what the Eastside really needs is jobs, not an ugly political campaign.

“I don’t know if they’re putting the focus on the people,” Avila said. “They’re not thinking about what is best for the community.”

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Voter turnout is typically low in council elections that don’t coincide with national or statewide races. Alvaro Medina, 34, an out-of-work teacher, said many people were “too concerned with daily survival” to pay attention to the current race.

“They’re thinking about gas prices, about job loss,” said Medina, who was having lunch with his brother, Alfonso, 46, and his niece at El Tepeyac, the Boyle Heights restaurant known for serving enormous burritos.

Alfonso said he hadn’t heard about the Huizar-Martinez race. But told of their traded accusations, he offered a novel solution

“I say give them boxing gloves and let them duke it out,” he said.

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kate.linthicum@latimes.com


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