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Garcetti garners endorsement of Art Torres

Mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti speaks to supporters last week on election night. He has won the endorsement of Art Torres in the mayoral contest against Wendy Greuel.Comparing Eric Garcetti to President Obama, former California Democratic Party chairman and state Sen. Art Torres on Monday endorsed Garcetti for mayor of Los Angeles.

Garcetti will prevail in the runoff against Controller Wendy Greuel, Torres predicted, because, like the president, he holds progressive ideals and is appealing to a younger demographic who will turn out to vote for him.

"He's got the same kind of leadership that the president exhibited,'' Torres said to a small crowd of supporters and Democratic activists gathered outside Casa Torres restaurant in Sylmar. "Eric is going to exhibit that leadership as mayor."

Torres was in the state Legislature for 20 years, representing the east side of Los Angeles first as an Assembly member and later as a senator. He also served as chairman of the California Democratic Party for 13 years, stepping aside in 2009.

Torres said he's known Garcetti most of his life because he worked with the candidate's father, former Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti, on anti-gang and crime laws while in the Legislature. Eric Garcetti showed signs of leadership early on, Torres said, but "I just didn't know he would move up so quickly."

Garcetti is a three-term city councilman. Greuel served on the City Council before becoming controller. They will face off in a May 21 mayoral runoff.

The Garcetti campaign announced the Torres endorsement on the eve of a meeting at which the L.A. County Democratic Party will decide whether to endorse in the mayoral election. The campaign hopes Torres' nod will help sway some of the delegates who will vote on the endorsement Tuesday night.

At Monday's rally, Garcetti told a reporter that Torres' backing "helps me continue to build momentum." But he warned supporters that he was taking nothing for granted in the weeks of hard campaigning ahead.

"I finished first in the primary but I'm going to run like I'm 20 points behind," he said, then exhorted supporters to make phone calls, raise money and, critically, get voters to the polls.

Facing a field of strong Democratic contenders, the party declined to endorse any of the candidates in early January after a series of votes in which no one reached the 60% threshold needed to win backing.

Even then, the tally was close. Garcetti and Greuel personally courted many of the group’s 200 delegates, and Assembly Speaker John A. Perez made a strong push to secure support for Greuel. Ultimately during that late-night January meeting, Garcetti won the support of 46% of the delegates voting, to Greuel's 41%.

An further 12% of the delegates voted in favor of “no endorsement,” which is also a possibility Tuesday.

It was an early reflection of how close the primary race would be. In the March 5 contest, Garcetti led  the field with 33% of the vote to Greuel’s 29%. In city races, if no candidate wins 50% of the vote, the contest moves to a runoff.

Although Greuel has secured endorsements of many labor groups active in Democratic politics, Garcetti has won the backing of groups such as the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley, which represents 27 Democratic clubs.

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-- Catherine Saillant in Sylmar and Maeve Reston in Los Angeles

Photo: Mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti speaks to supporters last week on election night. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

 
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