June 5 was not a good day for former and current elected officials seeking office in L.A., especially those from Sacramento.

Former state Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa, former state Sen. Tom Hayden and former state Assemblyman Carl Washington all came out on the losing end in the runoff election. Villaraigosa lost to James Hahn; Washington was trounced by Jan Perry in the ninth L.A. City Council District and Hayden was narrowly defeated in the fifth Council District by Jack Weiss. (The Hayden-Weiss race was still in doubt at press time, as the number of outstanding absentee ballots exceeded the 289-vote margin.)

Add in termed-out Councilman Mike Feuer, who lost in an upset to Rocky Delgadillo for city attorney, and former City Councilman Mike Woo, who lost to newcomer Eric Garcetti in the 13th Council District, and the rout of current and former elected officials was virtually complete. Indeed, only City Attorney Hahn and former state Sen. Diane Watson won their races, and Watson's victory was widely regarded as a cakewalk in the heavily Democratic congressional district.

So why were voters turned off by former Sacramento and local politicians? While each race was different, there did seem to be a common theme: Most of the people they ran against seemed to connect more with voters on a local level.

"Voters drew a distinction between work done at the local level like fixing potholes and taking care of that parking space problem and the more-complex issues dealt with at the state level, like education and energy," said local political consultant Jorge Flores. "And each time one of these Sacramento politicians came down to run locally, the voters felt the local candidate was closer to the community."

As for the local politicians like Feuer and Woo, they were simply out-campaigned by their opponents.

Delgadillo outraised Feuer and came up with probably the best commercial in this entire campaign cycle, using basketball star Magic Johnson to tell his life story. And the youthful Garcetti campaigned hard for the younger voters in his Hollywood district.

Business Favorites Win Seats

Contrary to expectations that liberals and unions would end up controlling the City Council after this election cycle, candidates preferred by the local business community did well in last week's council elections, winning most of the open seats they were vying for.

Business-backed candidates Jack Weiss, Jan Perry and Janice Hahn all won over their liberal or union-backed opponents.

"We're thrilled with those victories," said Anita Zusman, a lobbyist with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber's political action committee had endorsed all three candidates, and had made getting them elected a top priority.

"The choices in these three races were very clear cut. We definitely did not want to see Tom Hayden, Carl Washington or Hector Cepeda on the Council," Zusman said. (Cepeda ran in the 15th Council District against Hahn.)

In the two other runoff races, chamber-backed candidates Judith Hirshberg and Mike Woo narrowly lost. But those races had been lower priorities for the chamber, and the endorsement choices there were less stark, Zusman said. "In those races, the endorsement could have gone either way, and it came down to one or two differences on key issues," she said.

Indeed, the chamber's endorsement of Mike Woo for the Hollywood district council seat surprised many, given his liberal, often anti-business track record when he was on the Council in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But, Zusman said, since then, he had worked closely with the chamber on housing issues, while his opponent Eric Garcetti was a relative unknown.

"There's no question that this will still be a liberal City Council," pointed out chamber Chairman Charlie Woo, who is also president of Megatoys Inc. "But the difference is that we now have people willing to listen to both sides and to be accessible to business. That simply wasn't there with the previous Council."

Party Central

Election night parties are often more about symbolism than substance, and last week was no exception. Just as in the primary, mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa threw a huge block party on the outskirts of downtown, while James Hahn was in relatively tight quarters at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel. The symbolism: Villaraigosa was striving to be a "man of the people," while Hahn was rewarding a comparatively close-knit group of supporters.

But this time, the location of Villaraigosa's party was just as symbolic. Instead of Union Station where he held his primary election night fiesta he chose L.A. Center Studios on the site of the old Unocal headquarters. It was a fantastic setting, with the full moon rising over the downtown skyline.

Yet it also gave the feeling of being on the outside looking in. There was the citadel of downtown L.A., separated from the Villaraigosa camp by the "moat" of the Harbor Freeway. Hahn's location, of course, was just inside that moat at the Bonaventure, emphasizing his image as part of the downtown establishment.

This symbolism was reinforced by the election results. Hahn was inside, while the city center remained within sight but just beyond the grasp of Villaraigosa, a mere seven-minute walk that Villaraigosa and some might say the city's Latino community will now take at least another four years to make.

Staff Reporter Howard Fine can be contacted by phone at (323) 549-5225, ext. 227 or by e-mail at hfine@labusinessjournal.com.

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