August 2 2002

Adios L.A.– Latinos Hold Key To Secession Vote

By Pilar Morrero
PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE

LOS ANGELES—The lines have been drawn and the troops brought out around the controversial proposal to create three cities where there has been only one.

In this battle to make the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood separate municipalities — or keep each a part of Los Angeles — both sides are investing millions of dollars to sway voters. Most believe the battle now hinges on gaining the support of Latinos.

Pro-secessionist forces say there is no better opportunity for political and social progress for the Latino community. This is now their rallying cry, in contrast to previous catchphrases such as “local control” and “better services.”

“Latinos will have an unprecedented opportunity to attain a sizeable amount of power in three cities,” said Jeffrey Gardfield, pro-city of Hollywood campaign manager. “On average, they will comprise 40 percent of the population in each of them. There will be more Latinos elected, more emphasis on the needs of the community and more resources for their neighborhoods.”

Similar comments are heard daily from supporters of Valley secession.

Opponents, however, predict a disaster of “biblical proportions,” as Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn put it. They point to the impoverished and misnamed “minorities” as the groups with the most to lose should the city be divided.

“Only the poor will suffer,” said Miguel Contreras, Los Angeles County AFL-CIO secretary and treasurer. “Those in favor of secession are a group of wealthy people who could care less what happens to East L.A. or South Central. By losing muscle in Washington by dropping to the third-largest city in the country, we will lose out greatly on our community program funds.”

In a recent Los Angeles Times poll, Valley Latinos favored secession by a margin of 52 to 33 percent, numbers close to the Valley’s general sentiment (52 percent in favor, 37 percent against). The rest of Los Angeles, however, shows secession losing overwhelmingly (47 percent against, 38 percent in favor) among all communities.

The goal of the secessionists is to obtain a very high, favorable percentage (up to 65 percent) within their area in order to compensate for the anticipated lack of support from the rest of the city.

To win, the initiatives must garner a majority of the vote within the particular area, as well as in the entire city. Thus, attracting the Latino vote has become crucial, for Latinos make up 20 percent of the population of Los Angeles as a whole, and 40 percent in the Valley.

This week’s withdrawal of Senator Richard Alarcon, a prominent Latino candidate for the Valley mayoralty, may have hurt secessionists’ chances to win Latino support.

“Richard’s absence is a hard blow against the secession movement,” said Harry Pachón of the Tomás Rivera Public Policy Institute. “Every time we ask Latino voters whose voice they consider when making political decisions, they say they listen to their representatives.”

From the start, secessionists have argued that a centralized government far from the Valley does not provide services equivalent to taxes paid by Valley residents.

Secessionists expect to collect sufficient funds to buy radio and television ads. They plan to hold community meetings and canvass door to door.

Secessionists have support from millionaires. Gene La Pietra, a wealthy businessman who has led the Hollywood movement, has said that he will invest “whatever is necessary” in his campaign. In the Valley, prominent people such as commissioner Bert Boeckman, owner of Galpin Ford, and ex-commissioner David Fleming have made significant contributions.

Since voters will be asked to choose the mayor of the new city and the 14 city council members on the same ballot as the vote for secession, secessionists hope the candidates’ campaigns and publicity will boost the movement.

“Our goal is to have up to 150 candidates if possible,” said Richard Close, a Valley VOTE leader. “They will help us win.”

Those who fight against secession want “to keep the city united.” The anti-secessionists’ main strategy has been to warn Angelinos of risks involved in the change.

“They must instill the fear factor, question secession and the cost to the city,” said analyst Jeffe. “They also need to emphasize the benefits of keeping the city united.”

Hahn is working against secession alongside former political opponents, such as Antonio Villaraigosa, ex-candidate for mayor, and former Mayor Richard Riordan as well as the majority of elected functionaries of the city. Prominent businesspeople, millionaires and Democratic Party contributors also support the anti-secessionists.

Hahn has said that he will raise at least $5 million to send out his message. He also has the support and organizational capacity of the Los Angeles County AFL-CIO, which opposes secession.

“We are bringing our campaign to our 240,000 union members. We will talk to every union. We are sending seven different mailings to homes, phoning voters, going door to door and using our volunteers,” said local union leader Miguel Contreras.

Villaraigosa said that he will work hard on the campaign by having community meetings to deliver the “unity” message to Latinos and others. Strategists are relying on Villaraigosa’s appeal among all Los Angeles Latinos to convince those in the Valley to oppose the initiative.

Marrero (pilar.marrero@laopinion.com) is a columnist and political editor for La Opinion, where a version of this article first appeared.

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