By Ron Kaye.
Anyone who watched Richard Alarcon go from being an earnest and idealistic young man into a slick and cynical politician knew it would come to this someday.
Back in the day 30 years ago when Tom Bradley anointed Alarcon as his deputy mayor for the San Fernando Valley, it was obvious he had a bright future in politics.
He was good-looking, (photo) well-spoken, a Latino at a time when the demographics were changing so dramatically that the Northeast Valley, represented for three decades by Ernani Bernardi, was rapidly becoming 90 percent minority.
Doors swung open to Alarcon — business, civic and community leaders, everyone in the Valley who wanted the ear of the mayor or his man in the Valley courted him. The Valley had a Latino political star, finally.
There were warning signs even before Alarcon first ran for office. At some events, Alarcon clung so closely to the side of some fat cat or another that it looked like he had his hand in the guy’s money pocket. He was always working the room, learning how the game was played in a town where public service had pretty much become self-service.
With Bradley done after five terms and the city ready to turn around with Dick Riordan, Alarcon jumped into race in 1993 to succeed Bernardi, the one-time big band musician who was the only politician of the generation to actually stand first and foremost for his constituents and the Valley as a whole. He single-handedly handcuffed the CRA from even worse abuses by winning a lawsuit capping the agency’s borrowing.
For his part, Alarcon was a breakthrough figure, the first Latino pol from the Valley, one who harbored a vision of creating a Latino political machine in the Valley like the one in East LA.
Controversy soon swirled around Alarcon over who actually paid for his condominium and then the alliance with other community leaders fell apart.
Alarcon developed a reputation among lawmakers at the city and state level for being a lone wolf, an opportunist jumping on politically popular issues of the moment but achieving very little.
He was also endlessly restless, always ready to seek a new office as if his record of low achievement would be obscured by job jumping.
In 1998, just one year into his second term on the City Council, he decided to run for an open state Senate seat, winning the primary over former Assembly leader Richard Katz in a close race concluding one of the nastiest campaigns ever in the Valley.
Near the end of his second and final term in the Senate, Alarcon launched a mayoral campaign in 2005 that turned into a dismal failure. He ran fifth with barely 2 percent of the vote.
A year later, he took the consolation prize moving to the State Assembly. But he didn’t stay long – only 102 days, the shortest tenure of a state legislator since 1981. A Council seat in the Valley opened up and with his usual flare of wheeling and dealing he jumped into the race and soon was back at City Hall for six more years.
The only problem was that he was living with his new wife in the 2nd Council District, not the 7th which he was elected to serve. There was grumbling about it for quite a while before an investigation was opened, leading to charges against Alarcon and his wife in 2010.
Astonishingly it took four years to bring the Alarcons to trial after their indictment, time that allowed the councilman to continue with the support of his City Hall colleagues to represent the nearly 300,000 people in a district he wasn’t legally qualified to serve.
He also got to pad his six-figure city pension during that period and even to run once again for the legislature – another dismal failure, losing in a landslide to a former aide, Raul Bocanegra.
Alarcon’s long overdue day of reckoning came Wednesday when he and his wife were convicted of perjury and voter fraud for lying about their residency on voter forms and on his papers to run for the City Council.
This betrayal of the public trust is no small matter since the reason we have districts is to afford the constituents the certainty that they are electing someone who lives in their community – even if they are mostly beholden to special interests elsewhere.
It was a 30-year political journey for Richard Alarcon that should have turned out differently. He could have been a contender for higher office, not just a wannabe playing political musical chairs. He could have been a hero to his community, instead of a disgrace. He could have been a leader who made the lives of all of us better.
Instead, he is a bum who let a lot of people down. Still, the odds are he’ll walk away without jail time since he’s a member of the protected class, the professional politicians.
Originally posted at City Watch LA.