It's easy to understand why special interests are pouring dollars into the mayor's race in Los Angeles -- the mayor is the most powerful official in the second-largest city in America. What's less intuitive is why they're spending so much in the race for the City Council's 9th District, the city's poorest.
According to financial disclosures compiled by the city Ethics Commission, candidates in the 9th have attracted $330,000 in independent expenditures so far -- more than any other council seat. More than 95% of that money has flowed to one candidate: state Sen. Curren D. Price Jr. (D-Los Angeles).
To put that in perspective, the $322,000 spent on behalf of Price is three times as much as Price has spent on his own campaign, and at least 50% more than any of the candidates in the race has raised.
The benignly named "Better Schools and Safer Neighborhoods for Los Angeles Committee," funded mainly by the trade associations for California dentists and eye doctors, has spent more than $90,000 on mailers and polls. The Service Employees International Union, which represents home health aides, hotel workers, security guards and probation officers, has spent more than $75,000 on mailers, fliers and other promotional efforts.
The Los Angeles County branch of the AFL-CIO, funded in part by the SEIU and the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, has invested more than $71,000 in mailers, phone banks and consultants. Rounding out the major donors are the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (the union for Department of Water and Power staffers), which has spent about $32,000 on billboards and consultants, and the California Black Political Action Committee, which has ponied up $20,000 for signs, mailers and related expenses.
The IBEW's interest in city politics is clear: Whoever wins in the 9th District will be voting on the DWP workers' next contract with the city. Many of the other independent spenders, though, have at least as much interest in Price's work in Sacramento as in Los Angeles. So for them, supporting Price pays off whether he wins or loses.
That's the unique advantage Price has in this race. Although one of his rivals, Mike Davis, is a former state assemblyman, only Price is still in office and still capable of helping (or opposing) special interests with their legislative needs. Throw in the fact that the 9th District is a competitive race for an open seat, and it's easier to see why Price is attracting more independent dollars from special interests than even the incumbents who are running for reelection in two other council races.
The only council candidate who's attracted a level of independent support that approaches Price's is former assemblyman Gil Cedillo, who is running in the 1st District -- another of the city's poorer enclaves. Most of the $255,000 reported so far has come from the AFL-CIO, although his candidacy has also drawn hefty expenditures from the L.A. Chamber of Commerce, the IBEW and taxi cab companies.
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