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Ludlow: The End of the Mayor's Honeymoon?
Martin Ludlow and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on election night, 2005. Gary McCarthy Staff Photo
Martin Ludlow and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on election night, 2005. Gary McCarthy Staff Photo

Politics: Villaraigosa’s stronghold on labor support may wind up the loser in Ludlow’s troubles.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spent a restless weekend knowing he could do little about the inevitability awaiting his good friend and political protege, Martin Ludlow.

Secreted away with his family, Ludlow was coming to terms with an unceremonious fall from grace — a federal criminal conviction that would force him to give up all the power and influence he had amassed in a short, whirlwind political career.

Elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 2003, his political star had risen with Villaraigosa’s, who was elected to the council that same year and catapulted to the mayorship last summer in a historic election.

For Ludlow, he too rose with Villaraigosa. Both were former union activists, and just days before the election the head of the County Federation of Labor — Miguel Contreras — died suddenly of a heart attack.

In the weeks that followed, through a series of backroom deals and arm-twisting, Villaraigosa was able to galvanize his tremendous union following to make Ludlow Contreras’ successor — elevating him to one of the most powerful labor figures in the country.

But the past has come back to haunt.

A federal investigation into alleged fundraising contributions in Ludlow’s 2003 council campaign that dogged him for much of his brief tenure as executive director came full circle last week and culminated Tuesday.

Faced with the possibility of going to prison, Ludlow, 41, accepted a plea bargain deal that stripped him of office and power in leading the County Federation of Labor, which represents 354 unions with a membership totaling 825,000.

On Tuesday, Ludlow stepped down as head of that union as part of the plea bargain — which reportedly will involve Ludlow paying $181,000 in fines and $81,000 in restitution in exchange for pleading guilty to one felony count of conspiracy to violate city campaign limits.

Ludlow also accepted a 10-year ban from holding public office or union positions, effectively putting an end to a promising career in public life.

Ludlow’s demise may also signal a sobering wake-up call to Villaraigosa and possibly the end to the extended political honeymoon he has enjoyed since taking office last July.,

Villaraigosa now faces the daunting task of contract negotiations in the coming months with several city unions, as well as his campaign to takeover the city’s public school system in which he faces opposition from the teachers union.

In Ludlow, Villaraigosa had the consummate loyalist — the mayor referred to Ludlow as being “like a brother” at a news conference last week. Ludlow might have been able to marshal a significant amount of pressure on the mayor’s behalf in dealing with both the city unions and the teachers.

“Whoever replaces him, it's hard to imagine that it would be someone with the stature of Martin Ludlow or someone with the same relationship with Antonio,” Erwin Chemerinsky, a Duke University law professor who has known both men more than 15 years, told the Los Angeles Times. “This is a blow to labor, a blow to Antonio and a blow to the city.”

Villaraigosa may still wind up with a close ally as Ludlow’s successor, but the County Federation of Labor now faces closer scrutiny in its political dealings after the findings of investigations by U.S. Attorney's Office, the District Attorney's Office and the city's ethics commission.

Authorities have found evidence that Ludlow's successful 2003 campaign for the Los Angeles City Council campaign benefited from a secret effort by leaders of Service Employees International Union, Local 99, which represents school employees, according to reports.

Investigators suspect Local 99 leaders illegally spent at least $53,000 in union funds to hire political operatives as phantom employees and pay for cell phones, computers and phone banks benefiting Ludlow's campaign.

Federal laws regulate political spending by unions.

Meanwhile, at Getty House, the official mayoral residence in Windsor Square, Villaraigosa’s restless weekend was not altogether because of Ludlow’s fall from power but over the mayor laying out a Plan B — coming up with a strategy that would allow him to again broker a deal for the person who succeeds Ludlow.

A City Hall insider close to Villaraigosa said that the mayor’s choice is Maria Elena Durazo, Contreras’ widow and president of UNITE HERE Local 11.

Villaraigosa’s friendship with Durazo dates back to the 1970s when both were young activists in the union movement.

“Antonio thought she would have been a good choice to succeed Miguel,” the insider insisted, “but Antonio knew what she was going through and that she needed time and space to grieve her loss.

“If Maria Elena succeeds Martin, it will be as if the leadership [of the County Federation] never skipped a beat. It would be the best of all worlds for the mayor.”

Tony Castro can be reached at tcastro@laindependent.com.

Tony Castro Archives


 more . . . Tony Castro
26.JUL.06 The melancholy prince of undercover cops
07.JUN.06 What the election means to Villaraigosa
17.MAY.06 Give us this day, our daily bread
10.MAY.06 Looking for Hemingway
22.FEB.06 Ludlow: The End of the Mayor's Honeymoon?
15.FEB.06 The New American Icon: Heroics and Flaws
18.JAN.06 Villaraigosa: 'I Want My Picture on That Wall'
22.NOV.05 The Remaking of Los Angeles - Part II
16.NOV.05 The Remaking of Los Angeles
09.NOV.05 Political Pickup Lines and Romancing the City
19.OCT.05 Getting Stars to Give Back to Hollywood Blvd.
12.OCT.05 Rod Stewart at 60: D'ya Think He's Still Sexy?
05.OCT.05 Villaraigosaizing the Urban Blighted Dodgers
21.SEP.05 'The Villaraigosas of Hancock Park'
17.AUG.05 Cover Story: Having a Nose for Michael
13.JUL.05 Cover Story: L.A. and the Jedi Mayor
25.MAY.05 Theme Songs for Antonio Villaraigosa
04.MAY.05 Can Hahn Steal the Thunder?
09.FEB.05 Cover Story: The Inevitability of Jim Hahn
02.FEB.05 Cover Story: The Power of Coach K
26.JAN.05 Cover Story: An American in Cuba
19.JAN.05 Cover Story: 'The Earth Is Cracking!'
12.JAN.05 Cover Story: 'Jim Morrison Is Alive'
29.DEC.04 The Best and The Brightest of 2004

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