Kevin de León sprints in the final days of the Los Angeles mayoral race

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León, who is in third place in the mayoral campaign polls, drove to Armon’s restaurant in Eagle Rock at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, ready to fuel up for the final leg of the race.

He always orders the same thing, Chef Pat Chinda said. corned beef mince, and make sure the edges are crispy.

But De León shook it up, ordering sausage and eggs, with chili flakes cooked in the sausage.

Now De León is trying to shake up his campaign and turn up the heat. With just over a week remaining, he is trying to catch up with leaders Rick Caruso and Karen Bass.

“I was kicking off a youth program and a 10-year-old Latina came up to me and said, ‘Are you going to beat Caruso?'” De told me. Leon. “And I said, ‘I will surely try. “”

Is it already too late?

When he entered the race last fall, a few months before Caruso, De León — the first Latino to lead the state Senate — seemed like one of the strongest candidates. He’s a liberal Democrat in a political establishment that has shifted to the left in recent years, and he’s the son of Spanish-speaking immigrants in a town that’s roughly half Latino.

In 2005, Antonio Villaraigosa defeated Mayor Jim Hahn, winning over 80% of the Latino vote and about half of the black and white vote. So why has De León been stuck in single digits in the polls when Caruso and Bass hover around 30%, with Caruso holding about as much Latino support as De León in at least one poll.

Lots of reasons.

First and foremost, it’s not a fair race.

With his legislative record and success as a working-class immigrant, De León would lead the race if he spent like Caruso, said Sonja Diaz, director of UCLA’s Latino Policy & Politics Initiative.

“His political savvy is second to none…whether on climate change, pension reform or immigrant rights,” Diaz said.

But Caruso dipped into a piggy bank the size of Arena. The billionaire mall mogul has poured nearly $30 million into his campaign so far, and that’s just the primary. He flooded the English and Spanish airwaves and digital media with relentless self-promotion and promises of easy solutions to complicated problems.

De León, who is not wealthy, did not raise enough money to refuel Caruso’s yacht. He will have spent about $2 million by the June 7 primary, and Bass will have spent about $3 million.

It’s Kevin and Karen versus Goliath.

De León noted that when Villaraigosa beat incumbent Hahn in 2005, Hahn was a pauper compared to Caruso. Another detail in Villaraigosa’s favor was that he was running to be the city’s first Latino ruler in modern times. It wasn’t quite Fernandomania, but the Latinos were thrilled.

Besides, Villaraigosa was homegrown, with a glimmer of fame and a gift for gossip. De León, on the other hand, was born in Los Angeles but raised in San Diego, most of his notable work was recorded in Sacramento, he’s only been on the city council for two years, and he’s reserved and private. Villaraigosa, by the way, says he and De León are friends, but he committed to Bass before De León got into the race.

“I respect Antonio’s good faith and where he comes from,” De León said in a somewhat heated moment over breakfast. “But we are two very different people. I don’t party with Charlie Sheen in Cabo, and I don’t drink thousand-dollar bottles of wine at the best restaurants in LA. I keep my nose to the grindstone like my mother did, I work very hard, I come home late at night. If you talk to my friends and colleagues, they’ll tell you that I live a pretty boring life.

Antonia Hernandez, president of the California Community Foundation, put it this way:

“Kevin’s not the type of guy who pats on the back, that’s just not who he is… But I think he would be a very good mayor. He knows how to work bureaucracies. He l did in Sacramento, and as a member of the city council, he understands that anyone who wants to be a good mayor has to involve the council.

De León has the support of some unions, but not all, and some Latino leaders, but not all. And some Democratic power brokers still resent De León for trying to bring down Dianne Feinstein four years ago in a failed bid for her U.S. Senate seat.

De León knows he’s a longshot, but says it’s not over. He saved his limited funds for an 11th-hour-long flash of publicity and canvassing, hoping to make a runoff for the two-person general election. He thinks that if he manages to obtain 60% of the Latin American votes, he has a chance.

“I still think Kevin will get the biggest chunk of the Latino vote,” said Fernando Guerra, who directs the Loyola Marymount Center for the Los Angeles Study.

Historically, Guerra said, many Latinos tune in near the end of a campaign and vote on election day. De León needs a strong turnout to qualify for a second round, Guerra said. The higher the turnout, the higher the percentage of Latino voters.

Homelessness and crime are the two hottest topics in the race, and Caruso addressed both. When it comes to homelessness, he says the problem is lousy leadership by a cabal of corrupt and/or incompetent politicians, and you can’t trust longtime incumbents like Bass and De León to suddenly find the solutions.

There’s some truth to that, but after sitting down with Caruso, Bass, and De León, I can tell you that the latter two have a much more nuanced understanding of the problem and what to do about it. . Whether this translates into improvement is a big question. But Caruso tells people what they want to hear without laying out a realistic plan.

On the other hand, De León was in the state legislature for a 12-year period when the housing affordability and homelessness crisis spiraled out of control, and he and other legislators haven’t done enough.

He told me that housing was not an area of ​​expertise for him as a legislator, but that in two years he had more homeless people inside than any other member of council, using temporary and permanent accommodation.

To make the runoff, however, he knows he has to sell voters something bigger.

Namely that as the son of a single immigrant mother who worked as a housekeeper (and died of ovarian cancer at age 54), he understands Los Angeles in a way that Caruso will never understand. .

“You have to be super rich or you’re out of luck in this town,” said De León, who says he will offer help to workers who can’t afford to buy a house.

Los Angeles needs economic transformation, he said, and that should start with community colleges training students for green jobs that pay decent wages and help fight climate change.

At Armon’s restaurant, De León found three voices at a table where George and Alcira Acevedo were having breakfast with their daughter Alyssa, a student at Cornell University. She said she plans to become a labor lawyer and wants a mayor who can identify with workers of color.

At a cheer rally for a few dozen campaign workers on Saturday morning in Hermon, De León said he was running for mayor because “I’m so tired of seeing people like my mother left behind.” .

It was brought up by US Representative for LA-area Democrats Jimmy Gomez, Assembly Members Miguel Santiago and Mike Fong and State Senator Maria Elena Durazo, the former labor leader. Durazo said he met De León nearly 30 years ago when he was protesting Proposition 187, the landmark ballot initiative to limit immigrant rights.

“Kevin was one of those young kids who came in and said we had to fight back,” Durazo said.

Campaign volunteer Suzanne Manriquez, a retiree, told me that De León’s office answered when she called about problems in El Sereno, and that he got homeless people off the streets “in a compassionate way. “.

“What I love about him is that he doesn’t give up,” said David Rockello, an artist who lives in Mid-City. “He’s still fighting.”

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