When he was first elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 2005, Jose Huizar appeared to be the second coming of the history-making new mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa.
Perhaps even better, some said.
Huizar, after all, had the trappings that possibly could better rally the Democratic Party that controlled Los Angeles, Calif., and that could potentially lead to a new American political landscape nationally.
He was the first Latino immigrant elected to the city council of a major American city. He was likable, attractive, smart and educated and connected in a way Villaraigosa wasn’t.
Jose Huizar: The future of his people?
Jose Huizar has an undergraduate degree from UC Berkeley, a law degree from UCLA and a master’s degree in public affairs and urban and regional planning from Princeton University, which in 2005 named him to the board of trustees.
“I know I am the future of my people,” Huizar told me in one of several interviews we have had over the years. “I’ve been preparing myself for this all my life. I’m ready.”
But 8 years later, Huizar’s political career is on the brink of having been another who might fit F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous quote about potential greatness: “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.”
Jose Huizar, 44, the fourth of five children of Simon and Isidra, who brought him to Los Angeles from Zacatecas, Mexico, when he was five, is reeling from a sex scandal that could doom any political future if he doesn’t recover from it.
“New York has Anthony Weiner,” the city’s alternative L.A. Weekly wrote this week. “And now Los Angeles City Hall might have a sex scandal of its own.”
A woman who rose from a lowly $47,000-a-year position on Huizar’s City Hall staff to a $130,000-a-year top aide position has filed a workplace discrimination complaint, alleging she was “subjected to sexual harassment… and retaliated against” because of her “refusal to engage in sex.”
The complaint by Francine Godoy, 33, now an almost $119,000-a-year employee in the city’s sanitation agency, caught Huizar by surprise when it became public this week, even though it was filed June 7.
Through a spokesman, Huizar vehemently denied the allegation.
“The councilmember is surprised by the claim,” his office said in a statement. “He strongly and emphatically denies the assertions made in the claim sent to the city and intends to fully cooperate with the city in any investigation of this matter.
“Because of the potential for litigation, we cannot at this time comment on this issue any further.”
Huizar and his wife Richelle have been married 14 years. They have three daughters and a son.
According to the longtime city politics blog Mayor Sam’s Sister City, anonymous postings alleged a relationship between Huizar and Godoy as far back as 2007, shortly after she joined his staff.
“The quick promotional rise within [Huizar’s office] by Godoy has provided blogging fodder for speculation within the last few years,” that same blog posted Tuesday, while asking:
“We ponder whether this latest controversy to befallen the Princeton Graduate… City Councilman will have profound consequences come 2015.”
That year’s re-election campaign could be the ultimate test of any damage to Huizar’s illustrious public career, which has included serving as a deputy city attorney and as a Los Angeles School Board member.
In his election to the city council in 2005, with Villaraigosa’s endorsement, Huizar defeated a former councilman, marking an incredible political stride for immigrant political power in America.
“The distinction is significant,” noted Harry Pachon, the late president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California, “and it shows that the immigrant is integrating into the political system even quicker than anyone expected.”