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Online Extra: Political Notes: Tempers flare in LA Assembly runoff race

by Matthew S. Bajko

Accusations of carpetbagging and endorsement rigging are flying in a runoff race in east Los Angeles for a state Assembly seat that is pitting a gay health care leader against a straight journalist turned political candidate.

The two Latino candidates were the top vote-getters in the October 3 special primary for the 51st Assembly District seat, which includes the LGBT-friendly neighborhoods of Eagle Rock and Echo Park, as well as a portion of Silver Lake, historically one of Los Angeles' LGBT enclaves. The district also encompasses other neighborhoods north and east of downtown Los Angeles, such as Chinatown, Historic Filipinotown, and unincorporated East L.A.

The Assembly seat became vacant after former Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) won election to the state's 34th Congressional District seat in June. He succeeded Xavier Becerra, who was appointed the state's attorney general earlier this year by Governor Jerry Brown due to the election last fall of Kamala Harris as California's junior U.S. senator.

Wendy Carrillo, 37, who lost her bid for Becerra's congressional seat in the special election this summer, placed first in the Assembly race with 5,058 votes, or 22.2 percent of the total cast, according to the final results released last week. In second was Luis Lopez, 44, making his second bid for the legislative seat, with 4,243 votes, or 18.6 percent of the total vote.

Because neither surpassed the 50 percent threshold needed to capture the seat outright this month, the winner will now be decided by the December 5 runoff election. Should Lopez win, he would become the ninth member of the California Legislative LGBT Caucus, marking a record for the number of out legislators serving in the Statehouse.

A win by Carrillo would boost the number of female legislators in the Statehouse, which has been declining in recent years. Currently, there are 26 women serving in the state Legislature, the lowest number in nearly two decades.

Gomez, who defeated Lopez in their 2012 race for the Assembly seat, endorsed Carrillo to succeed him in Sacramento the day after the special primary. And the local Democratic Party threw its support behind Carrillo after holding a local endorsement caucus Saturday, October 7.

Yet supporters of Lopez cried foul about the outcome of the party's endorsement vote and accused party officials of "stacking the deck" in favor of Carrillo. Lesbian former Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, who held the seat in the early 2000s, was among those who signed on to an official objection of the party's endorsement.

They claim that party leaders disregarded the rules by allowing 20 people to serve as delegates to the endorsement caucus after the deadline to do so had closed.

"The effect was to improperly inject a series of delegates appointed by Member of Congress Jimmy Gomez and Senate President Kevin De Leon into the body in order to bias the outcome of the selection," wrote Goldberg in an October 10 email, as both of the political leaders endorsed Carrillo in the runoff.

Without the added delegates neither Carrillo nor Lopez would have secured the party's endorsement, Goldberg pointed out.

"The maneuver is the latest misstep by the state party that has raised concerns of cheating and led ordinary Democrats and elected leaders in the party to question the value of involvement," wrote Goldberg. "Officials at the highest level of the party have ignored the rules and stacked the deck to reward candidates out of step with the choices of local Democrats."

Asked for comment about the endorsement complaint, John G. Vigna, the communications director for the California Democratic Party, told the Bay Area Reporter that the complaint wasn't considered by party officials last week "because the challengers didn't turn in enough signatures to meet the threshold for consideration."

Lisa Gasperoni, a spokeswoman for Carrillo's campaign, did not respond to the B.A.R.'s request for comment about the party endorsement objection.

In a statement Carrillo's campaign released after receiving the party's endorsement, gay California Democratic Party Chair Eric C. Bauman called Carrillo "an unflinchingly progressive Democrat and a relentless fighter for our Democratic values. She is a champion for educational opportunity, access to quality healthcare, living wage jobs, and social justice."

Carrillo was quoted in the release as saying she appreciated "the faith that the party has put in me as their candidate in Assembly District 51. My campaign has been about opportunity, equality and social justice. I will continue to fight for our values and to ensure that those who need a voice in our political system are represented."

Last Wednesday, in an email to his supporters, Lopez lashed out against Carrillo, accusing her of being a carpetbagger and in the pocket of the oil and gas industry.

"My opponent in the runoff moved into this district to run for this seat," he wrote. "A pipeline of more than $350,000 in outside spending on her behalf included money from polluters like Chevron. It helped buy her spot in the runoff."

His victory in December, wrote Lopez, would "send a much-needed message that WE THE PEOPLE have power in our democracy, and we will not be bulldozed."

In an August interview with the B.A.R. for a story about the primary race, Carrillo expressed concern about being painted as a carpetbagger in the article. She acknowledged that she had moved into the district this summer in order to seek the Assembly seat. But she pointed out that she had grown up in the district and found herself priced out of the area after college.

Lopez also grew up in the district but had moved into the neighboring Assembly district after buying a home with his partner of 13 years, Hans Johnson, in a section of Silver Lake outside the 51st Assembly District. Then, in 2011, the couple moved back into the 51st Assembly District by buying a home in Eagle Rock.

They did so not only so Lopez could seek the legislative seat but also so he would not have to compete against several incumbent lawmakers who ended up in the district that covered his former home through the decennial redistricting process.

While the local party and top state leaders have lined up behind Carrillo in recent weeks, Lopez has also garnered support, announcing endorsements from gay Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, the first out citywide elected official in Los Angeles, and City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, the first Native American to serve on the L.A. council.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes .
Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com .

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