Gatto is Democrats' choice to replace Portantino

Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) is the Democratic Party’s choice to represent La Cañada when Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D- La Cañada Flintridge) steps down at the end of 2012.

On Sunday, local Democratic Party delegates endorsed Gatto, who was unchallenged, for the redrawn 43rd Assembly District. Pasadena City Councilman Chris Holden got the nod over South Pasadena Mayor Michael Cacciotti as the party’s nominee for the new 41st Assembly District, which includes part of Portantino’s Pasadena turf.

Both districts have a higher number of registered Democrats than Republicans. The primary is June 5.

Portantino, who served on the La Cañada City Council for eight years before winning an Assembly seat in 2006, will be forced out of office by term limits at the end of 2012. Last week he announced he would not seek election to another office in 2012, though he had explored both a run for Congress and a challenge to state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge).

Portantino cited family reasons, including his desire to spend time in New Jersey with his ailing mother, for his decision.

“You only have one mom,” Portantino said last Thursday. “I’m committed to finishing out my last year in the Legislature with my political accountability agenda and serving my constituents to the best of my ability. Once the family situation is settled, there’s plenty of time to make decisions about later. But family comes first.”

In an email to supporters, he wrote, “I hope you will understand that this decision in no way ends my political career.”

Among the nearly $1 million Portantino has in various campaign accounts is a fund for a state Senate run in 2016, when Liu herself will be forced out by term limits.

Portantino was painted into a political corner as 2012 approached. He first eyed running against Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), but a new map drawn up by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission moved the congressional district away from Portantino’s political base. When he began to consider a faceoff against Liu, a Democratic incumbent and former La Cañada councilwoman, party leaders grew uncomfortable with the notion that two Democrats would be squaring off. Last week, the Democrat Party of the San Fernando Valley voted to endorse Liu over Portantino for the Senate seat.

Joe Mealy, a past president of the Cañada Crescenta Democratic Club, said, “We had all assumed he would run for Congress against David Dreier, but when the [district] borders changed, that opportunity went away. I think it would have been a tough battle [against Liu]. Honestly, I’m glad they won’t be fighting each other, rather than the Republicans.”

Assembly districts were redrawn by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission last year. Beginning with the 2012 election, La Cañada, including Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will be part of the new 43rd Assembly district that also includes Glendale, La Crescenta and Burbank.

Pasadena, which formerly shared a district with La Cañada, will be in the new 41st Assembly District, which stretches from Hahamongha Watershed Park to Rancho Cucamonga.

At Sunday’s meeting, Liu also easily won the party’s endorsement for the 25th District Senate seat over Upland businesswoman Ameenah Fuller. The district, stretching from Burbank to Upland, includes several areas Liu currently represents.

Party endorsements will become official next month during the state Democratic Party convention in San Diego.

Staff writer Mark Kellam contributed to this story.

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