In cream khakis, grey Oakley sneakers and a sherbet-colored striped polo shirt, Alex Villanueva regarded extra like your uncle from Santa Clarita than the sheriff of Los Angeles County.
On the sunny Third Avenue Promenade in Santa Monica round noontime Saturday, he stood in entrance of a now-closed Mediterranean restaurant with a “Re-Elect Villanueva” banner hanging beneath a “For Lease” signal. A safety guard stood on the door.
L.A. County’s high lawman regarded relaxed, even blissful. After which he checked out me.
His marketing campaign had despatched out a press launch promoting a walk-and-talk about homelessness with residents and shopkeepers. It gave the impression of a repeat of what Villanueva did in June 2021, when he strutted by means of the Venice boardwalk in a cowboy hat and vowed robust motion in a jurisdiction that wasn’t even his.
I anticipated the identical charade in Santa Monica, so I had dressed the rancho libertarian half. I wore my 501s, good leather-based sneakers, a pearl snap western shirt and the coup de grace: my superb cinto piteado full with arabesque designs and my full initials — GAM, for Gustavo Arellano Miranda — on the belt buckle.
For the final 12 months, Villanueva and I had dropped diss tracks on one another in public, on-line and in print. I figured a lunchtime stroll — the wannabe cowboy and the scribbling son of 1 — can be a becoming subsequent spherical.
“I’m going to comply with you round immediately,” I advised El Sheriff.
“How about that?” Villanueva replied, eyeing my ensemble. He then slunk again contained in the restaurant-turned-temporary marketing campaign headquarters.
These are determined occasions for the incumbent. His opponent, retired Lengthy Seashore Police Chief Robert Luna, attended a “Ladies for Luna” occasion that very same afternoon in East Los Angeles that included group organizers and politicians who helped Villanueva pull off an upset in 2018.
An October ballot by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Research, co-sponsored by The Instances, discovered 36% of possible voters favored Luna, whereas 26% wished Villanueva. Forty-four % seen the sheriff unfavorably.
On the Third Avenue Promenade, customers barely cared. They paid extra consideration to the dinosaur-shaped bushes, to the large Día de los Muertos skeletons, to the couple dressed like Edward Scissorhands and Swamp Factor. One man did go inside Villanueva’s headquarters to seize a marketing campaign hat, then advised to his spouse — who had been shopping on the clothes store subsequent door — that they snap a fast photograph with the person of the day.
“No,” she replied. They walked away.
Quickly after, Villanueva emitted a loud whistle. About 20 volunteers filed in. Some time later, a middle-aged Latina cornered me.
“Why do it’s important to say so many lies?” mentioned Michelle, who refused to present her final identify or the place she lived. Once I requested for examples, she said that I had unfold “false unfavourable propaganda” about Villanueva.
“That he drinks the blood of youngsters,” Michelle replied.
Um, that’s the language Villanueva himself used to explain how the political institution views him.
Michelle went on and on extolling Villanueva’s supposed virtues, till I noticed what she was doing: The sheriff had escaped by means of a again alley and right into a getaway automobile.
I hurried to my Yukon with a Instances photographer and sped by means of Santa Monica’s Pico neighborhood, the place his marketing campaign spokesperson advised me Villanueva was going to canvass.
After a fruitless half-hour — think about “The Quick and Livid” meets “Mario Kart” — we returned to the Promenade, the place extra volunteers now waited for his or her man. Steps away, a busker performed “Can You Really feel the Love Tonight” on violin.
The sheriff emerged with Tariq Ali and Chie Lunn on both facet of him. Ali is a safety guard in Venice who misplaced a finger final summer season after an attacker slashed him with a damaged vodka bottle. Lunn is a Venice resident and instructor on the Realm Inventive Academy in Santa Monica. She has publicly criticized L.A. Metropolis Councilmember Mike Bonin and different public officers over their dealing with of homeless individuals, whom she blamed for making it unsafe to take her college students to the seashore or on the Metro.
“Once I yelled for assist, I couldn’t let you know who the sheriff was,” Lunn advised me. “Solely he and Choose [U.S. District Court Judge David O.] Carter listened. I get an entire lot of flak for being a Black lady who helps the sheriff. Effectively, I’m not a token for anybody.”
Right here, as in Venice, residents can vote within the Nov. 8 sheriff’s contest, however their streets are patrolled by metropolis cops.
A hatless Villanueva and his supporters marched up after which down two blocks of the Promenade. If he was anticipating throngs to hitch, that didn’t occur. Only some individuals went as much as greet him. A gaggle of zillennials consuming mimosas applauded solely on the prompting of a volunteer. The warmest reception got here from Sandro Martin, co-owner of his household’s restaurant, Casa Martin.
“You have been right here a couple of month in the past!” he advised Villanueva. “That is your home.”
However the chumminess was considerably contrived: It turned out that Martin and Villanueva’s fundamental strategist, Javier Gonzalez, had grown up collectively in Santa Monica. Gonzalez even had a tattoo of the identify of Martin’s late cousin on his proper shoulder.
The rally resulted in entrance of a Día de los Muertos statue. The busking violinist’s playlist had turned somber. Villanueva mentioned nothing past his key speaking factors — that homelessness, violent crime and public corruption are destroying Los Angeles County, and solely he’s courageous sufficient to struggle again. There have been boos when somebody talked about L.A. mayoral candidate Karen Bass, and laughs when he trashed the L.A. Instances.
That was my cue.
Surrounded by dozens of Villanueva followers, I requested how he anticipated to win with polls displaying him behind.
The relaxed Villanueva disappeared. The Villanueva everyone knows — a person who twists information like a pretzel maker and who retains vendettas on his thoughts always — returned.
“One ballot,” he mentioned, placing up his index finger, then pointing it at me. “Your ballot.”
He didn’t trouble to say that there have truly been two Berkeley/L.A. Instances polls — and the share of possible voters who favored him shrank every time.
Villanueva went on to say that his marketing campaign did “a authentic ballot the place we truly requested all the suitable questions.” And wouldn’t ? He and Luna have been tied.
So how do you win? I repeated.
“We’re going to proceed doing what we’re doing,” he mentioned. “My opponent — first candidate in historical past [who] decides to run with no single plan to do something. His solely factor he says is on the homeless entrance: ‘It’s unacceptable.’ Oh, gee, thanks for that revelation.”
Earlier than I might level out that Luna way back revealed a multi-pronged technique on a variety of points, a supporter yelled, “He’s going to win as a result of we’re going to vote for it. That’s why.”
Somebody requested if Villanueva and Luna had debated. “He’s working away from me,” Villanueva mentioned. “He needs nothing to do with me on the stage with him.”
The truth is, the candidates have appeared collectively or on-line at three major debates and at two group boards the place every had an opportunity to reply questions from moderators and the viewers.
Their solely one-on-one debate was such a non sequitur of a catastrophe — Villanueva insinuated Luna was a gang member and racist, recited all of the East L.A. faculties his spouse Vivian had attended, and answered a query in too-formal Spanish for causes identified solely to him — that nobody besides Villanueva has mourned the shortage of a repeat.
The sheriff went on to insist that Luna would change into a “corrupt politician” as a result of he has expressed curiosity in repairing the Sheriff’s Division’s relationship with, effectively, everybody.
“He’s actually born and raised in forms — a failed one — and he needs to marry himself to larger forms,” Villanueva mentioned. “That’s not going to repair something.”
Then he checked out me once more.
“You realize that very effectively, since you’re a sensible man, and I’ve but to see the L.A. Instances decide aside Mr. Luna’s reply to something, as a result of he has no solutions. However the worst half is you’re not even asking the questions. That’s the scariest half proper there.”
I didn’t have the center to inform his admirers that it was Villanueva, not Luna, who used his assembly with the L.A. Instances editorial board to bray with no proof by any means that one among his fundamental critics, L.A. County Inspector Basic Max Huntsman, is a Holocaust denier.
The busking violinist all of a sudden struck up a brand new tune: “Winter,” from Vivaldi’s “The 4 Seasons.” The concerto’s darkish, frenetic notes of chaos and closure gave the impression of a cosmic joke as Villanueva returned to his headquarters, the place everybody munched on pizza.
Or was it a warning?