Among the seven city council races in Los Angeles, one stands out. The race for the 14th District features two men who once called each other friends. The race turned bitter for a time, but it appears more civil – for the moment.
Between the two candidates, the more interesting resume may belong to Rudy Martinez – who jokes about being a Latino guy who owns a successful sushi restaurant. The LAPD arrested Martinez four times during his 20s – for battery, for reckless driving. They were the mistakes of a younger man, he says.
Now, Martinez is a 44-year-old entrepreneur who’s hosted the TV show “Flip This House” on A&E. “Well if you watch my TV, you can tell that I’m a no-nonsense guy. I don’t allow people to walk over me. I engage people. I’m not afraid of anything. I take chances in life, including this one," said Martinez, chuckling.
Martinez wants to unseat incumbent L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar and represent the quarter-million or so people who live in a district that stretches from Boyle Heights to Eagle Rock. He told an audience at a debate that he’s thrown 200,000 of his own dollars into his campaign. “No one’s going to own me. Nobody’s going to own me but you.”
Martinez used to raise money for Huizar. His mother was a paid staffer for the councilman. He decided to run against his old friend, he says, because Huizar wasn’t paying enough attention to the district.
The two have traded bitter barbs, and a debate moderator this week almost sounded like a marriage counselor. “Sometimes we are the most cruel to those we are close to and to that end we would like to step in tonight and try to rescue a friendship," said Michael Larsen.
Both pledged to end negative campaigning that’s included revelations that Huizar kept secret lists of people that ranked their influence and level of support. The councilman reportedly had said those lists didn’t exist.
Martinez has faced questions about his possession of a replica LAPD badge when he was a reserve cop. At the debate, Huizar apologized for an internal campaign email that said Martinez was a “disgusting human being” who’d get a “political bullet” through his forehead.
“I want to apologize to my opponent Rudy Martinez, I want to apologize to his campaign and I want to apologize to his mother," said Huizar.
Huizar, who’s 42 years old, is a Mexican immigrant who grew up in Boyle Heights and ended up graduating from UCLA's law school. He said that as the city of L.A. faces a $350 million deficit, his district needs someone who knows his way around City Hall.
“For the next couple of years," said Huizar, "you need someone experienced like myself that sat on the budget and finance committee, knows where the money is, to make sure we deliver.”
Martinez countered that he’d do just fine in Council chambers. “I am the most innovative person I have met. And I’ll tell you one thing, if you give me a challenge, and every challenge I’ve had, I will fix it.”
After the debate at the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock, voters seemed relieved at the tone. "I thought it went very well – very insightful," said one woman. Peter Hilton and Joe Carmona have lived in the district for decades. “Very civilized for once," said Hilton.
“I was surprised," said Carmona, "but pleasantly surprised. We don’t need all this rhetoric that goes on. We don’t need that kind of thing. Our community needs to get right to the issues.”
Quality-of-life issues dominated the discussion. Martinez promised to cut red tape for businesses, to rid Eagle Rock of street vendors and swap meets, and to go after dozens of massage parlors – one of which operates next to his restaurant.
“Families come to my patio and they watch people drive into the parking lot, and leave in 10 minutes," said Martinez. "You know exactly what’s going on there. And I will fight to close these places down. They are disgusting.”
Huizar said he’s been working on the issue with the LAPD. He emphasized his work to limit pot dispensaries, and to make York Boulevard friendlier to bicyclists.
“In a couple of weeks," said Huizar, "we are going to open up the first-ever city bike corral in front of Café de Leche. We are going to take away two parking spots and allow for 24 bicycles to park there on the street.”
Huizar has more money and name recognition than his opponent. He’s also the incumbent – but these days that’s not necessarily an advantage in politics. The election is March 8.