Would L.A. elect a Latino?

Times columnist Steve Lopez writes today that he ran into councilmen Alex Padilla and Tony Cardenas at Pete's Cafe downtown on election night and got into a discussion about whether Los Angeles is ready to elect a Latino mayor. Any Latino mayor. I'd argue that, for politics junkies, Lopez buried the news lede: Padilla, who endorsed Jim Hahn last time—but has stayed neutral this time—and is generally on the other side of the city's gaping Latino political divide from Antonio Villaraigosa, said he thinks the Latino will eke out a runoff victory. That's the president of the city council saying he thinks the mayor will lose.

But the column is more about what Cardenas, who shares Padilla's politics and also is so-far unaligned in the race, had to say. He bet Lopez a steak dinner that Hahn would win, since the city isn't about to embrace a Latino for mayor:

He doesn't see Villaraigosa picking up enough black votes in South L.A., or white votes in the San Fernando Valley, to do any better than he did in the runoff four years ago.

"It's painful for me to say that as a Latino," Cardenas said, "because I wish it were different. I really do."

It doesn't help, Lopez writes, that Villaraigosa created a hard-to-pronounce identity when he and his wife merged their last names in 1987. "I remember saying to him, 'You just violated one of the major tenets of politics,'" says Fernando Guerra of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount. "Villar was not only simple, but while it sounds Latino, it could also be Italian. Is it Latino? It might be, but maybe not. Then you go to Villaraigosa, which is clearly Latino." Guerra, however, says the name has become a plus because it's memorable. Meanwhile, racist comments about beaners and telling Villaraigosa "to go back to Mexico" have already begun at the Mayor Sam blog—anonymously, of course.

Also: Labor leaders said Thursday they will turn out more union members for Hahn in the runoff. Although the mayor got the endorsement of most big unions, the Times exit poll found that 35% of union members voted for Villaraigosa and only 27% for Hahn.

And: A Times story says that Hahn paid his campaign consultant Kam Kuwata $46,000 in public discretionary funds to press the city's agenda in Sacramento.

Finally: Bob Hertzberg posts a "Dearest Friends" message on the Hertz-Blog, thanking supporters: "The energy in Los Angeles just astounds me. I tapped into it by talking about the issues that really matter to people, like making our schools better and fixing traffic. Just by sharing some big ideas, I was propelled from polling in the low single digits to coming within less than two percentage points of defeating the incumbent mayor. I am proud of the campaign we ran and I couldn’t have done it without your energy, your ideas and your support." He says BIGideas4LA.com will go online shortly and stay around. Brian Hay, the staffer who has been writing the daily news digest at the Hertzberg campaign site, says he too will continue in some undetermined forum.

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