Villaraigosa Is Set for a Well-Funded Race

*The councilman reports more than $600,000 on hand, behind the mayor and Bob Hertzberg.

By Noam N. Levey and Patrick McGreevy, Times Staff Writers

Two months after he entered the race to unseat Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, Antonio Villaraigosa has raised more than $643,000, quickly positioning himself among the best-funded candidates in the race.

The city councilman, who finished second to Hahn in 2001, still trails the mayor and fellow challenger Bob Hertzberg in the important race for cash before the March election.

But Villaraigosa said Wednesday that his rapid fundraising should put to rest questions about the viability of his young campaign. "This closes the door on those who argued that I got in too late and that I'm not going to stay in this race until the end," he said.

Minus expenses, Villaraigosa's campaign account now totals almost $610,000, according to his campaign finance report.

That probably puts him several hundred thousand dollars behind Hertzberg and as much as $1 million behind the mayor.

Neither Hahn nor Hertzberg has filed a report yet.

Three years ago, Villaraigosa and Hahn spent $3.8 million and $4.4 million on their campaigns to become the top two finishers in the election and earn the right to face each other in a runoff.

Mayoral candidate and state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sun Valley) also reported his latest fundraising Wednesday, filing papers that showed he raised $50,456 during the last three months. Alarcon's campaign war chest now totals about $180,000, his report shows.

Villaraigosa and Alarcon were required to disclose their fundraising earlier than other mayoral candidates because they also have active state campaign committees.

Hahn, Hertzberg, Councilman Bernard C. Parks and the four other mayoral candidates have until Monday to mail their campaign finance reports for the three-month period ending Sept. 30.

Like Villaraigosa, Alarcon said he was satisfied with his fundraising, adding: "I have always said my campaign is not about money."

"I have been spending my time fighting the water rate increase," Alarcon said, referring to a lawsuit he is supporting that alleges that Hahn and the City Council illegally raised water rates this year. "I think that is more important to the people of Los Angeles than raising money for the campaign."

But Hahn political strategist Bill Wardlaw said raising money was the most important race at the moment, and that he was confident the mayor would retain a healthy lead when all the candidates report their finances.

"There's no question who has raised the most money," Wardlaw said.

"The only interesting thing to focus on is who will be in second place."

In his last report, Hahn reported that he had about $1.5 million in the bank as of June 30.

Hertzberg, who raised more money than the mayor in the first six months of the year, reported that he then had about $670,000.

Hertzberg campaign spokesman Matt Szabo said Wednesday that Hertzberg was certain he would remain the best-funded challenger. "That is exactly where we want to be," Szabo said.

Parks' campaign, which reported having about $66,000 in the bank on June 30, did not respond to a request for comment.

Villaraigosa, who has attacked the mayor for presiding over a City Hall that is being investigated by local and federal prosecutors looking into city contracting, interpreted his fundraising success and that of other challengers as a repudiation of the mayor's position.

"If you look at the collective filings, what you see is a groundswell of opposition to an administration racked by a corruption scandal," Villaraigosa said.

Villaraigosa received money from a broad spectrum of interests, including attorneys, developers, City Hall lobbyists, teachers, unions, entertainment industry executives, city contractors, and state lawmakers who worked with him when he was speaker of the state Assembly.

City Hall lobbyists Arnie Berghoff and Stephen Afriat gave Villaraigosa's campaign $500 and $300 checks, respectively.

Villaraigosa also received at least $500 each from three towing and two cab companies with city contracts.

Villaraigosa's biggest donors â€" who were able to give more than the usual $1,000 because donation limits were partially suspended when Parks loaned himself $50,000 earlier this year â€" were developer Ramon Bonin, American Apparel Chief Executive Dov Charney, New York-based HL Capital Chairman Leo Hindery Jr. and retiree Homero Meruelo. Each gave $7,000.

Former Los Angeles councilman and lobbyist Art Snyder, who in 1996 pleaded guilty to conspiracy and money laundering charges before his conviction was overturned by an appellate court, gave $2,000.

Villaraigosa said there would be no favorable treatment for those who support him. "My policy has been throughout my years of public service to make decisions based on the merits, not on any help that they have given."


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