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Jose Huizar, Rudy Martinez dial down rhetoric during City Council campaign debate

February 9, 2011 |  8:17 am

The two candidates for an Eastside seat on the Los Angeles City Council dialed down the rhetoric at a neighborhood forum Tuesday night, talking instead about low-voltage issues such as sidewalk repairs and installing more bike racks.

The Tuesday night forum, which followed on the heels of nasty exchanges between first-time candidate Rudy Martinez and Councilman Jose Huizar, had been hyped as an event that would fall just short of a barroom brawl. One business in Eagle Rock, where the debate was held, even drew up a boxing poster to promote it.

Instead, Martinez spent much of the 90-minute forum describing his experiences running small businesses, saying job creation would be his top priority. Huizar, showing greater familiarity than his opponent with the ins and outs of city government, talked about public safety and the dire budget crisis.

Neither would say what they would cut to deal with the city's projected $350-million shortfall, a problem the council must address in the next three months.

Both insisted they would decline a pay increase if one was offered, and Huizar told the audience he would give that money to charity.

"My wife's looking at me," he said with a laugh. "We have four kids to feed at home."

The civil exchange provided a sharp contrast to campaign attacks of recent days, in which Huizar spent part of last week highlighting an LAPD investigation into Martinez's possession of an unauthorized police badge.

Martinez, in turn, excoriated his opponent over an e-mail sent by a Huizar campaign aide, telling supporters he would put a "political bullet" in Martinez's forehead.

Both men sounded contrite before the crowd of more than 100 at Eagle Rock's Center for the Arts, promising not to engage in personal attacks.

Huizar apologized for the e-mail and fired the author, campaign consultant Michael Trujillo. Martinez apologized to the audience for ripping out a tree in front of a bar he owns in Highland Park -- a campaign issue for his neighbors -- and promised to plant a new one soon.

Both promised to direct more resources to the district, which covers such neighborhoods as El Sereno, Boyle Heights and parts of Mount Washington, even at a time when council members will be asked to scale back services.

"The city needs to make cuts, and I will make the tough cuts to balance that budget," said Martinez, declining to provide any specifics.

Martinez tended to describe volunteering as the answer to the city's problems. Asked about transportation, he lectured audience members to get off their couches and walk or ride bicycles.

With both men promising not to make personal attacks, much of the evening focused on the custodial aspects of city government: Tree trimming, removing blight and shutting down nuisance businesses.

Huizar promised to crack down on illegal medical marijuana dispensaries, while Martinez vowed to send more LAPD vice officers to shutter massage parlors that allow prostitution.

Both managed to trip on their words or mangle their message.

Huizar said his family had learned to "embellish the diversity" of his district, which takes in immigrant neighborhoods. Martinez repeatedly bemoaned the condition of the city's "mediums" -- his word for the landscaped strips that run down the middle of corridors, such as Colorado Boulevard.

At one point, Huizar said he had been "fighting for irresponsible development on our hillsides." Half an hour later, Martinez told the audience he considered himself to be the most innovative person he had ever met.


Voter guide: March 8 Los Angeles Election

Badge of dead police officer becomes issue in L.A. council race

Fired Huizar campaign aide also terminated from representing school board member

-- David Zahniser in Eagle Rock