Former Los Angeles school board member Nury Martinez pulled off a come-from-behind victory Tuesday in her race against rival Cindy Montañez for an open City Council seat in the east San Fernando Valley to become City Hall's only elected female officeholder.
Just two months ago Montañez, a former state senator, led Martinez by 19 percentage points in the primary election. She had been far ahead in fundraising during the runoff. But Martinez overcame her disadvantages to pull ahead Tuesday night by 10 points, taking 55% of the vote to Montañez's 45%. Turnout was a low 10.2% of the more than 89,000 registered voters.
"I feel like I just overcame an impossible mission," Martinez said. "The people responded. I can't wait to get to work."
Montañez said she called Martinez around 11 p.m., when the final tally was posted by the city clerk's office. "It was definitely a hard-fought campaign," Montañez said. "I think there's a lot of things that we can do together to improve Council District 6. This doesn't change that."
The candidates fought to gain voters' attention in a race that concluded just two months after a new mayor, city attorney and controller were elected and eight months after the president's reelection.
Balloting was light throughout the day. Polls opened at 7 a.m. and about five hours later, one poll worker, who declined to give a name because the workers were not authorized to speak to reporters, said, "I've been going around precinct to precinct and it's been very low numbers."
Only 36 people had voted by midday at a polling place at the Church on the Way in Van Nuys — and that was a location where two precincts were combined, the poll worker said.
Montañez, 39, an executive at the Department of Water and Power, positioned herself as an experienced negotiator who would get things done.
She said the district had been neglected by City Hall and promised to bring new vitality to neighborhoods, including shops and eateries along the Van Nuys Boulevard corridor.
Martinez, 40, promised to make the east San Fernando Valley communities of Van Nuys, Pacoima and Sun Valley cleaner, safer and more business-friendly. She also pledged to address crime in the parks and along San Fernando Road.
The campaign took a sharp turn last week when Martinez said in a Los Angeles Times interview that she had been sexually abused as a small child. She said she decided to share her story after her rival sent out attack mailers accusing her of not doing enough to protect students from predatory teachers as a member of the Los Angeles Unified School District board.
Both women are daughters of immigrant parents. They were raised in the northeast Valley and speak fluent Spanish in the heavily Latino district.
Sandra Jimenez, 27, and two of her friends came out to Panorama Recreation Center to support Montañez.
"She has the experience," Jimenez said. "She was the youngest in the Senate and now she's ready to take on our city. She will bring change to our city."
John Clement, 58, said his family was hounded by the two candidates.
Both Martinez and Montañez sent representatives to his home to persuade his family to cast their ballots for them.
In the end, he chose to vote for Martinez.
"We like the fact that she was a teacher and her overall background," he said as his son, Joshua Clement, 28, nodded in agreement.
Times staff writers Ari Bloomekatz and Angel Jennings contributed to this report.