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Faced with lawsuits and FBI raids targeting her husband, Richelle Huizar drops her campaign for his L.A. City Council seat

Faced with lawsuits and FBI raids targeting her husband, Richelle Huizar drops her campaign for his L.A. City Council seat
Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar with his wife, Richelle, at his election night party in 2015. Richelle Huizar says she is ending her campaign for his seat. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Richelle Huizar ended her brief campaign for Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday, following a tumultuous month marked by two lawsuits against her husband and an FBI raid of her home.

Huizar, wife of Councilman Jose Huizar, had launched a bid for her husband’s seat two months ago and was immediately seen as a major contender. But her campaign plans were disrupted dramatically two weeks ago, with federal investigators searching the couple’s residence in Boyle Heights and two of her husband’s offices.

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“Today, I am announcing my withdrawal as a candidate for City Council in order to focus on my family,” she said in a statement. “I am eternally grateful for the support that I have received since announcing our campaign in September.”

In her statement, Huizar also said she intended to remain involved in “improving our communities.”

Her political consultant, Derek Humphrey, said Huizar, a former city commissioner and a mother of four, would have no further comment. “We ask that everyone respect her privacy and the privacy of her children at this time,” he said.

Richelle Huizar’s campaign had been silent in the wake of the FBI searches. What had started out as a campaign asset — the Huizar family name — suddenly became a glaring liability, said political consultant Dermot Givens, who does not have a candidate in the race.

“I would assume that whatever consultant they had probably told her, there’s no way they could even raise money for her,” he said. “Who would bet on that horse?”

Richelle Huizar had been running in the 2020 election in a district stretching from Boyle Heights to Eagle Rock. As recently as late October, she held fundraisers with community leaders, City Hall lobbyists and veteran Eastside politicians, including former state Sen. Richard Polanco and former Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Hernandez.

Jose Huizar, first elected to public office in 2001 and facing term limits in two years, accompanied her to community events and regularly promoted her on social media.

But those efforts were upended dramatically, first by lawsuits, then by the raids.

One former Huizar staffer filed a lawsuit against the councilman on Oct. 22, alleging that he retaliated against her for complaining about unethical activities. In her filing, Mayra Alvarez accused Huizar of instructing staffers to work on his wife’s upcoming campaign on city time.

The second lawsuit, filed by another former Huizar staffer roughly a week later, accused the councilman of engaging in retaliation and discrimination. That aide, Pauline Medina, claimed that Huizar staffers had been assigned to perform inappropriate tasks, such as moving Richelle Huizar’s car to the other side of the street on street-sweeping day so that she would not receive a parking ticket.

Both staffers also alleged that Jose Huizar had an affair with an unnamed aide.

Jose Huizar said the various allegations were “outlandish” and “completely false” — and part of a coordinated political attack. Still, the assertions in the two lawsuits had the potential to become campaign issues for Richelle Huizar.

FBI agents raided the Huizar home and two of the councilman’s offices on Nov. 7, carrying out an array of materials, including a cardboard box labeled “Fundraising.” An FBI spokeswoman declined to say what investigators were looking for but confirmed the IRS was involved in the investigation.

Richelle Huizar, 49, earned a law degree from UCLA and has served off and on in various roles at City Hall. For a decade, she worked for the city’s Commission for Children, Youth and Their Families. Until last month, she was on the Commission on the Status of Women, serving as an appointee of Mayor Eric Garcetti.

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Hernandez, the former councilman, said he was sad to hear of Richelle Huizar’s decision. He said that in recent weeks, he had been hoping she could continue her campaign and be “judged on her merits” — rather than on any issues surrounding her spouse.

“If it’s strictly because of her husband’s activities, I think that’s sad,” said Hernandez, who served on the council from 1991 to 2001. “I‘ve always seen her as an advocate for families and for children, and I thought the council could use that.”

Jose Huizar, 50, was elected to the school board in 2001. He won a seat on the council four years later, replacing Antonio Villaraigosa, who vacated the seat to serve as mayor. Since then, he has repeatedly won reelection by comfortable margins.

On Tuesday, Huizar made his first appearance on the council floor since the raids. He declined to discuss the FBI investigation, saying only that he was at City Hall to do his job. A day later, however, he did not show up for the council’s regularly scheduled 10 a.m. meeting.

Four other people have filed paperwork to raise money to run for Huizar’s seat.

Wednesday’s announcement could open the door to additional candidates who may have thought twice about running against a family member of Jose Huizar, a veteran campaigner and skilled fundraiser, said Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science at Cal State Los Angeles.

Candidates might have held back, Regalado said, out of fear that they “couldn’t match the money that would be poured into the race on her behalf,” he said.

Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles) declined to say whether she has ruled out a run for Huizar’s seat but noted that “several community leaders” had mentioned her as a possible candidate. “At the moment, I’m committed to my district-focused agenda that best helps improve the lives of people I was elected to serve,” she said.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) declined in recent days to comment on whether he is considering a run for the seat. Yet another possible contender is state Sen. Kevin de León, who lost his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein two weeks ago.

De León spokesman Jonathan Underland would not say whether his boss was eyeing Huizar’s seat.

“Ever since election night, he’s expressed a firm commitment to public service,” Underland said. “But what that looks like remains to be seen.”

3:40 p.m.: This article was updated with reaction and background.

This article was originally published at 12:20 p.m.

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