When Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo officially announced that he was running for state attorney general, he set himself on a collision course with a fixture of California politics–current Oakland Mayor and former Gov. Jerry Brown.
Of course, Delgadillo, who calls himself a “bleeding heart moderate,” has been all but officially running for the job of California’s top cop for most of the past year. He’s been touring the state and raising money–and his political profile.
“I am not the son of a governor. I wasn’t governor. I haven’t run for president,” said Delgadillo, pointedly trying to differentiate himself from the 67-year old Brown, who has been both secretary of state and governor. “I’m a kid from the neighborhood. I was born and bred in the community. I wasn’t born and bred into politics.”
“It’s not youth versus old,” adds Delgadillo, who himself is 45. “I do think it is about our tomorrows and not our yesterdays.”
“I don’t think that is much of a message at this point. It’s kind of a collection of bumper stickers,” Brown told Capitol Weekly while on his honeymoon with Anne Gust, his wife and campaign manager. “He will have to be more specific about what he means in those phrases. I don’t think those are particularly relevant to the office of the attorney general.”
For several years, Delgadillo has been touted as a face of the next generation of California’s Democratic politicians.
In 2001, his election as city attorney made him the highest elected Latino official in Los Angeles in more than a century, until Antonio Villaraigosa’s recent mayoral victory. In 2003, the Democratic Leadership Council named Delgadillo one of the “100 New Democrats to Watch,” along with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, gubernatorial hopeful and State Treasurer Phil Angelides, and then-Illinois State Sen. Barak Obama.
Delgadillo has garnered the endorsement of former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican, and certainly has one eye towards the future: Just eight days after Delgadillo was reelected as city attorney, he set up an exploratory committee to run for attorney general.
As of the latest reporting date for campaign contributions, Brown’s campaign treasury bulged with $1 million more than Delgadillo’s. But the Delgadillo camp retorts that in the first reporting period this year Rocky raked in contributions at a faster pace than Brown.
Delgadillo’s money–more than $1.3 million in all–is crucial for a candidate who must raise his profile in a state that, outside of Los Angeles, knows next to nothing about him. In contrast, Brown already has statewide name recognition.
“We have to communicate our story to millions of Californians,” says Delgadillo, who would not commit to running a positive-only campaign. “I am sure our respective records should be available to the California voters, and we’ll make sure our records are compared,” Delgadillo told Capitol Weekly.
The frontrunner for the Republican nomination for attorney general, Sen. Charles Poochigian, R-Fresno, said, “We are pleased to see there will be a robust Democratic primary. I will be prepared to run against whoever the Democrat is.”
One episode in Brown’s storied political past that the Delgadillo campaign is likely to highlight is Brown’s nomination of Rose Bird as chief justice of the California Supreme Court. Bird was eventually rejected at the polls, in large part due to voters’ unhappiness with her uncompromising anti-death penalty position.
Tops on the list of Delgadillo’s achievements to tout is Operation Bright Future, an anti-truancy program he implemented in Los Angeles.
“Parents get a letter from me, as the city’s chief law enforcement officer and city’s prosecutor saying, essentially, that if you’re child’s not back in class you are going to go to jail. It’s very effective,” said Delgadillo.
In two years, he claims a 99 percent success rate among 6000 formerly chronically truant students, with only five parents facing penalties–a year-long parenting course–and no parents going to jail. It’s a program Delgadillo would like to expand statewide.
“I think the attorney general can go to every local prosecutor, every DA, every city prosecutor in the state and give them this program and hold parents accountable for sending their kids to school.”
As if his name was not enough, Rocky–whose given name is Rockard–almost begs for references and comparisons to perennial underdog and box office boxer Rocky, played in the movies by Sylvester Stallone.
“After all, don’t Californians want their attorney general to be someone who has beaten the odds? That’s what we’re up against–big odds. Ignorance, apathy, poverty, crime–these are all big things. And I am not sure anyone would say that we’re the favorites in that battle. Certainly, I’ve demonstrated an ability to beat the odds. I think I will be able to do it again.”