The December issue of Los Angeles Magazine has a nice fat piece on County Fed leader Maria Elena Durazo: how the daughter of immigrant farmworkers came to be a union organizer in Los Angeles, marry the county's top labor boss and ascend to his job after his untimely death just days before the mayoral runoff election in 2005. The story by Hillel Aron reports how Durazo learned of Miguel Contreras' passing while she was at LAX and kind of freaked out, and how by the time she got to the hospital both of the candidates for mayor (Antonio Villaraigosa and James Hahn) were there along with a whole bevy of other politicos who began closing ranks to mask the true circumstances of the death (in a South LA botanicalater linked to prostitution. No autopsy was conducted.) The story's biggest revelation is that Contreras carried on a nine-year affair with Gloria Romero, who was the majority leader of the state Senate at the time he died. Durazo is pretty open about a lot of things in the story, but she's terse when asked about the affair.
"Stories may abound of Durazo’s dragon lady qualities—making threats and holding grudges. But I’m struck by a different side of her: a warm, indefatigable charm that most civic leaders lack," the writer says. The story is not online yet, though Aron and executive editor Matt Segal are expected to post a discussion of the reporting online later today on the magazine website. Here's an excerpt from the story:
Just how much influence does Durazo have in Los Angeles? Anyone who wants to build anything big—a hotel, a skyscraper, a sports stadium, a rail line—must first go through her and the County Fed, providing assurance that the project will create “good union jobs.” In the exceedingly rare instance that a nonunion project does get approved by the labor-friendly city council, it can face protests and even litigation. Developers are said to be frustrated that a single interest group has so much clout, but nobody is willing to speak openly. “I don’t know any developer who would go on record saying anything that would antagonize María,” a consultant told me.
“She’s one of the foremost power brokers in the city—there’s no question about that,” says Jaime Regalado, the former head of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs. “Call it a fear factor, call it a respect factor. Those who make decisions in the public sector have to listen to her.”
Lots of nice details in the story — you know how editors love nuggets of detail — including Durazo's tattoos and the ringtone on her phone.
Afternoon update: Here's the link to Segal and Aron's conversation. I'm surprised there's no reference to Romero's response when they sought her comment on the magazine's claim of an affair. Especially since they talk about why other reporters never used the "fact".