Robert Luna showed up two and a half hours early for his debate with Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at the Skirball Center. The challenger showed up so early that the guard didn’t have the VIP parking list yet. The technicians in the auditorium were still conducting audio checks.
Luna went to his green room – a closet two doors down from Villanueva’s spacious suite. His footsteps echoed through the skirball’s empty courtyard. That’s when I noticed Luna’s shoes.
They were brown, had thick white soles, and looked like other brands of Top-Siders. Middle-aged and middle-class Latino men have favored these for the last decade when they want to upgrade their look but don’t have the money or hipster fashion sense to buy something more offbeat.
“I grew up poor,” said the retired Long Beach police chief. “If I ever spend more than $100 on something, I immediately feel like I’ve done something wrong.”
He looked at his wife, who was wearing a Luna for Sheriff campaign button.
“Where did I get them – Marshalls? Macy’s? I can’t even remember,” he said.
Villanueva finally emerged an hour before the debate and swept through the skirball’s side entrance, accompanied by a security detail that seemed to grow in size.
He only came out of his green room to have his make-up done. Just before that, the sheriff downed a brownie. His shoes were standard loafers, as black as the shoes police officers wear.
He and Luna both wore blue ties. That was one of the few similarities of the evening.
The two faced each other for the first time after a poor summer for Villanueva. Luna had forced him into a runoff because Villanueva had received the lowest percentage in an incumbent LA County sheriff’s primary in at least a century.
He was just over a month in which his department lost a $31 million lawsuit for improperly publishing photos of the helicopter crash scene that killed Kobe Bryant, daughter Gianna and seven others.
And Villanueva was sentenced nationally last week for a morning raid on the home of Sheila Kuehl, an LA County warden and his frequent critic. He characterized it as an investigation into public corruption, but many others saw it as a thinly veiled witch hunt.
The sheriff had a plan for the debate: he would set a double trap to embarrass Luna.
Hours before they competed, Villanueva’s camp released to the news media a 34-page list titled “A Record of Racial Violence and Harassment,” which collected police reports, lawsuits and more from Luna’s decades-long career and claimed to prove the Long Beach police force Department’s “Disturbing Anti-Black History”.
What he didn’t tell the media was that he would also offer a memoir on why he’s more Latino than Luna.
Strategically, it seemed like a brilliant move. During that year, Villanueva was plagued by accusations from activists and members of his own department that he had animosity towards black people. Polls show that black voters are the least supportive of Villanueva, while Latinos support him the most. If he can portray Luna as anti-Black and A whitewashed Latino, he will be able to shore up his support with two voting blocs essential to his re-election.
The debate was sharp and heated. Big issues were discussed – homelessness, gangs, public corruption – but then dismissed in favor of personal attacks. Villanueva called Luna a “puppet” and accused him of using catchphrases. Luna has repeatedly described his opponent’s tendency to lie as “scary” and stayed cool despite Villanueva’s constant goading.
When Villanueva finally revealed his two-pronged ethnic strategy, he failed. Poorly.
He continued to attack Luna without responding to questions from the moderators. His anti-black allegations came to nothing.
When Villanueva tried to attack Luna’s Latino credentials, he turned out to be a midget pendejo.
A Univision presenter once asked a viewer a question about public safety. Villanueva replied in technically perfect Spanish.
But his accent sounded like that of a white man studying Spanish from a fancy school, not the street.
When Luna was asked to translate what Villanueva said, she declined, implying that his Spanish might not be the best. So what? He’s like millions of Latinos.
Villanueva’s biggest swing involved his wife Vivian. He once rattled off the names of every East Los Angeles school she attended, from elementary school to Cal State LA
“Born and raised in East LA means real,” the sheriff said, pointing at Luna. “You want to talk about integrity – maybe you want to clarify where you grew up and what schools you went to.”
When a moderator asked if Luna had integrity, Villanueva replied, “He needs to clarify where he grew up.”
The implication: Luna tried to embellish his Eastlos credentials to try and make himself look more Latino than he really was.
Luna stumbled a little, then admitted his sin. Yes, he started out in East LA. But after his parents got some money, they bought a house in Santa Fe Springs, and he went to middle and high school there.
Incidentally, Santa Fe Springs is the headquarters of the Villanueva campaign.
What a burn.
Fox 11 co-host Elex Michaelson asked what the point of Villanueva’s appeal was.
“Because he claimed he saw MPs at work in East LA and knew a good cop from a bad cop,” Villanueva replied. “And I really had my doubts, when you’re that young you can understand the difference between the two.”
Luna responded by reviewing one of the most notorious incidents in the history of the LA County Sheriff’s Department: the 1970 Chicano Moratorium, when lawmakers brutalized peaceful anti-Vietnam War protesters and Times columnist Ruben Salazar with a tear gas canister to his head killed .
“When you see MPs using violence against people with batons, I don’t know any of you in the crowd, I’ve never forgotten that,” he replied. “So once again we have the LA County Sheriff who’s supposed to be speaking about proxy-related shootings, natural disasters and all these critical incidents — and he’s fabricating all the information right here in front of you.”
Not only was Luna not upset by Villanueva’s attack, he reverted to his teenage years in Santa Fe Springs when asked if the sheriff’s department should use alternative strategies besides violence to stop Latinos on bikes — a scandal under Villanueva.
“I’m speaking to you as a person who was riding a bike as a 13-year-old and was thrown face first onto the hood of a sheriff’s car when I was in middle school in Santa Fe Springs when the sheriffs had that contract there” , he said. “I saw it from the other side. It doesn’t feel good.”
Villanueva had no answer.
In the end, the presenters attempted to ask some light-hearted quick questions that revealed more of each candidate’s Latino credentials.
Favorite TV Shows? They both replied “Big Bang Theory,” which surprised them enough that they high-fived each other. Who says Latinos can’t be nerds?
favorite band? Luna responded with Ranchera icon Vicente Fernández. Villanueva’s response was Maná, Mexico’s reserve U2s.
Favorite sports team? Villanueva left with the Dodgers. Luna said Dodgers and lakers
¿Quien es más Latino? Only Villanueva cares. His moves were so weak salsa that they made Pace Picante Sauce seem as fiery as Tapatío.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-21/alex-villanueva-robert-luna-debate Alex Villanueva thought his ‘Quien es más Latino?’ strategy would sink his opponent. Nope