Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 13, 1988)
Title – “The West Side’s unfair shot at Richard Alatorre”
For the past two weeks, my West Side friends have been calling me to ask why Councilman Richard Alatorre voted against measure that would have made it easier for the City Council to revoke the ordinances allowing Occidental Petroleum to drill for oil in the Pacific Palisades. The question reminded me of my junior-high teaching days, when my white colleagues would always ask me to explain why Chicano students were misbehaving, or why Chicanos had so many babies.
Some members of the press have certainly been no help. One explanation of Alatorre’s vote has it that the councilman was angry at the West Side “political machine” of Democratic Congressmen Howard Berman and Henry Waxman because it supported then-Assemblywoman Gloria Molina, not his candidate, for the newly created Latino 1st District seat. Supposedly, Molina received machine money. Alatorre thus voted for Palisades drilling to get even with the West Side machine, and, at the same time, collect a few political chips from Mayor Tom Bradley, who didn’t want to face the issues yet again.
For starters, the account’s implicit portrayal of Molina as the little sister of the rich, white liberal West Siders is sexist and racist. She simply doesn’t need progressive white males, wherever they may live, to protect her from East Side machos. Ask Alatorre. Furthermore, Molina says that she received only a small donation from Berman, not the Berman-Waxman machine, which, in any case, is hardly preoccupied with any significant East Side concerns.
Second, I have known Alatorre for more than 20 years. If revenge was on his mind, he certainly would not have been barely audible, as news accounts described it, when voicing his “no” vote. That kind of meekness is not in his character. Alatorre enjoys paying the role of Big Daddy. He’s even belligerent at times. It is unthinkable that he would have stuck the knife in without smiling, as he did when he abandoned then-Assemblyman Berman in the latter’s bid for the speaker of the Assembly in 1980.
Why Alatorre voted the way he did can only remain the subject of speculation. Much more important is the feeling among my West Side friends, and no doubt among others who live there, that the councilman should be punished for siding with Occidental.
Truth be told, Latinos have little reason to empathize with West Side angst over Palisades oil drilling much less sympathize with the liberal supporters of Berman-Waxman. Latinos remember that Congressman Berman was one of the leading architects of the immigration laws that now threatens to keep thousands of immigrants underground in America. Neither has he nor any other West Side politician decried the toxic waste yards on the East Side or opposed dumping prisons in minority neighborhoods. Gang activity, and the economic deterioration that feeds it, in East Los Angeles is hardly noticed until gang-related violence hits close to their homes.
Moreover, East Siders remember that it was another West Side liberal machine in the 1960s, led by then-Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman, that pitted Latinos against blacks and appointed a non-Mexican to fill Edward R. Roybal’s seat on the City Council after his election to Congress, then reappointed his district to make it impossible to elect a Latino for the next two dozen years. And it was that same machine that joined with conservative business forces in Los Angeles to wipe out Latinos’ homes in Bunker Hill and Chavez Ravine.
Latino for the next two dozen years. And it was that same machine that joined with conservative business forces in Los Angeles to wipe out Latinos’ homes in Bunker Hill and Chavez Ravine.
Unlike Alatorre, I would have voted against Occidental because the company’s oil drilling plan unduly risks polluting the surrounding environment. No doubt, my motives, too, would have been fair game for a news media reflexively suspicious of Latinos who hold political power. How could I, they would ask, vote against a project that could mean more city dollars, as a result of oil royalties, going to the East Side? Regrettably, such scrutiny is never applied to the motives of whites when voting on our pet projects.