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Arrests or laziness: L.A. City Council candidates discuss unfair campaign accusations

January 14, 2011 | 10:49 am

The first forum held by two candidates running to represent an Eastside seat on the Los Angeles City Council veered into unusual territory when one reviewed details of his arrest record and the other said he had been falsely accused of being lazy.

Councilman Jose Huizar and his lone opponent, businessman Rudy Martinez, spent much of the one-hour event discussing typical council fare, such as graffiti removal and the city's budget crisis.

But a single question put a jolt into the evening when both candidates were asked to describe what they felt were unfair campaign accusations about themselves. Martinez, who owns a sushi bar in Eagle Rock, described two arrests -- one for drunk driving in 1988 and another for assault in 1991.

He said the latter case, which resulted in a battery conviction, occurred after a fight at his father's restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Martinez then told the audience, gathered in a meeting room of Hermon Community Church, that he had been accused -- falsely, he later said -- of beating his wife.

Huizar swiftly responded, interrupting Martinez to announce he had never made such an allegation. Martinez apologized to Huizar and told audience members he was willing to talk to them further about the arrests.

"I have made mistakes in my life, and I have learned from them," he said.

Moments later, however, Huizar said Martinez had unfairly accused him of not working hard as the representative of the 14th District, which includes Eagle Rock, El Sereno and Boyle Heights. The councilman, who served on the school board from 2001 to 2005, said he had worked various jobs since the sixth grade.

"For someone to claim I'm lazy, I would just like to point out where I started out in life and where I am now," said Huizar, who emigrated from Mexico as a child and went on to earn a degree from Princeton University.

The race between the two candidates has quickly gotten heated. Huizar's campaign put out a news release in December asserting that Martinez racked up four criminal convictions -- two for battery, one for reckless driving and one for loitering.

After the debate, Martinez said he had been convicted of loitering, reckless driving and battery but said he could not provide details of the fourth case without looking up the information.

Highland Park resident Rosario Howard, who attended the forum, said she was not troubled by Martinez's arrests but viewed Huizar as the superior candidate, largely because she considered him to be responsive to his constituents.

"We all make mistakes, and [Martinez] sounds like he learned from them," she said. "That's not why I'm not voting for him. I just think Jose has a track record."

The election is March 8.

-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall