Modelos and margaritas flowed. Dance music rang out. Bruschetta and cheeseburgers are gone. The party at Cities Restaurant in East Los Angeles was erupting – again.
In 2018, this two-story bar on Cesar Chavez Avenue hosted history. In November, on election night, Alex Villanueva became Los Angeles County Sheriff after beating Jim McDonnell – the first time a challenger had beaten a living incumbent in over a century.
Four years later, more than 200 people poured into the cities, expecting another historic night. What other result could be? The left was retreating into the deep blue of California, they thought.
In San Francisco, voters overwhelmingly recalled the progressive Dist. Atti. Chesa Boudin. In Los Angeles, Dulce Vasquez and Eunisses Hernandez, young Latinas who preached a police defunding message in their city council races, were losing. The recall campaign against Los Angeles Dist. Atti. George Gascón was well placed to obtain the number of signatures required to qualify.
When Villanueva finally arrived at his victory party through a backdoor, the crowd roared. Everyone looked dressed like they were attending a reunion for the Class of 1987 at Schurr High in Montebello — Tommy Bahama shirts and plaid long-sleeve shirts for men, modest dresses and skirt-and-top combos for women. Everyone was baking a strawberry cake topped with white icing and green and white sprinkles, the colors of the Villanueva countryside.
Their man shook hands, posed for photos, then went up to the VIP lounge, where he mingled with friends and family to await the first results of the night’s poll. About 10 minutes later, the cheery spirit in the room disappeared as people opened their smartphones to visit the Los Angeles County Registrar of Electors website.
Villanueva was in first place, at 30.4%. In second place was former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna at 28%. Six other challengers won the rest of the votes.
As more votes are counted, those percentages will change, but that likely won’t be the case: the sheriff will be forced into a runoff. At that point, there’s a good chance voters will kick him out.
Villanueva will have to compete with Luna in November despite the sheriff raising more than three times as many campaign contributions as Luna and outscoring him nearly 6 to 1. LA County jails crack down on theft wages, leaning on labor and liberal activists for support – for a scorched earth campaign that aimed to put all the ills of society on the ‘woke left’ and the region’s Democratic politicians, a party that Villanueva happens to belong to.
At a time when poll after poll shows crime and homelessness — two issues Villanueva claims only he can truly solve — are on the minds of every voter.
The crowd at the sheriff’s party was mumbling, drinking and waiting.
This party did not go as planned.
The sheriff hasn’t come down in a while. When he did, his smile now seemed to be nailed on, like the smile of a Mr. Potato Head.
He shook more hands, posed for more photos, barely recognized the Puerto Rican flags someone had unfurled, and headed back upstairs. He did this several times, each session shorter than the last. At one point, the televisions behind the bar showed an image of Luna, as Villanueva watched helplessly.
Moses Castillo, a retired Los Angeles police detective who runs an Instagram account that praises Villanueva and disparages his opponents — including me — was subdued. “I didn’t expect Luna to be so stoned,” he said during a livestream to his audience.
Every outgoing Los Angeles County sheriff today who has faced a runoff has lost – McDonnell four years earlier and Sherman Block in 1998, who was set to suffer a loss to Lee Baca but died just four days before. on election day.
Around 10 a.m., Villanueva finally took the stage to deliver a speech. His favorite song: “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty.
But the sheriff did.
He started with a jab at Boudin, then said “George Gascón, you’re next!” to cheers. It was red meat to his followers, but they wanted reassurance that the disastrous results before them couldn’t be true.
“It’s kind of hard to see where [the votes] go”, Villanueva finally. “But we are on top, and we will stay.”
He then started complaining. Her disappointing lead that night was not because of her scandals, her brusque attitude, her paranoid and mean-spirited approach to perceived enemies like my colleague Alene Chekmedyian, whom Villanueva had insinuated at a press conference earlier. this year was part of a criminal investigation into the leaks and which the campaign refused entry to earlier in the day because they wanted to keep a “positive environment”.
No. It was the fault of others.
He said the sheriff’s run was like playing “eight-to-one basketball”, with opponents funded by “opportunists” who wanted to torpedo his regime.
You know, that despicable process called democracy.
He railed against the “political establishment” and the LA County Board of Supervisors and “cancel culture” and “fake media” and people who “hang around[ged] me under 50% of the vote and therefore denied him an outright victory.
He has vowed to win in November, although his detractors – who have never managed to coalesce around a single challenger – will likely unite behind Luna then, like the Avengers going after Thanos. .
“When the truth and the Good Lord are on your side, we will win,” the sheriff said. “We work with reality, with facts and with evidence.”
“What did Mr. T say?” Villanueva suddenly blurted out, much to everyone’s annoyance. “I pity the madman.”
The sheriff finished and headed for the stairs. The loudspeakers blasted Petty, moaning, “Hey, baby! There is no easy way out.
People bravely tried the chants of “Four More Years!” and “Villa-naked-go!” but they died out quickly. The crowd that had wanted to hang out with him before was just big enough to kick off a cover band playing sad country songs.
Two volunteers prevented me and a KPCC reporter from approaching the sheriff as he offered remarks to TV stations. When it became apparent that we couldn’t talk to him at that time, I shouted my question:
If Los Angeles was so afraid of crime, then why couldn’t Villanueva beat 50% of the vote?
He stopped his ascent, as if thinking of answering. But Villanueva continued upstairs.
I repeated my question. “Because Gascón,” quipped one of the volunteer doormen, a young woman who had been friendly to me until then and who now refused to give her name.
I asked him to explain how the prosecutor caused Villanueva’s disappointing night.
“Because he lets people out,” she replied. When I pointed out the AD not showing up against Villanueva, the volunteer didn’t respond. Instead, she motioned for someone to come upstairs and resumed her arm-locked position.
By late evening, Villanueva had slightly increased her lead over Luna. But even then, it was the lowest percentage an incumbent sheriff had ever received in a primary election in at least a century.
And so the sheriff would do what no titular Los Angeles sheriff ever wants to do – get into a risky runoff.
It turned out that Cities Restaurant had once again hosted the story. But not the kind Villanueva was hoping for.
Los Angeles Times