LOS ANGELES — Two weeks after the FBI conducted searches of her home and two of her husband’s offices, Richelle Huizar, wife of City Councilman Jose Huizar, announced Nov. 21 she is withdrawing from the race to fill her husband’s seat in 2020.
Richelle Huizar only publicly announced her intention to run for her husband’s seat in September, but that was before two lawsuits were filed by two former staffers of Jose Huizar’s, one of which accused him of forcing staff to work on planning his wife’s campaign, and before the FBI searches occurred on Nov. 7.
“Today, I am announcing my withdrawal as a candidate for City Council in order to focus on my family,” Richelle Huizar wrote in a statement. “I am eternally grateful for the support that I have received since announcing our campaign in September. I look forward to continuing to work on issues I’m passionate about and staying involved in improving our communities.”
On Nov. 20, Jose Huizar returned to his first City Council meeting since the searches, but he declined to answer any inquiries from reporters, only repeating variations of “I’m here to work” in response to a number of questions.
No arrests have resulted from the searches, which occurred at Jose Huizar’s City Hall office, a Boyle Heights field office and the Huizars’ Boyle Heights home. The FBI has not commented on what the purpose of the searches was, but agents did seize a large amount of boxes and bags of potential evidence.
Huizar has been stripped of all of his committee assignments by City Council President Herb Wesson.
“We’re optimistic Angelenos will be best served by these changes as the Los Angeles City Council continues the people’s work without interruption,” Wesson spokeswoman Vanessa Rodriguez told City News Service about the move, offering no further comment.
Jose Huizar was recently targeted in two lawsuits filed by two former employees, both of whom accused him of ethics violations and other misdeeds, although it is unknown if the FBI searches are related to the lawsuits.
One of the complaints was filed in October by Mayra Alvarez, who was Huizar’s executive assistant and scheduler for about three years. In her suit, Alvarez, who contends that she left in July because she was demoted after returning from maternity leave, accuses Huizar of doctoring his schedule to hide certain meetings from the media, along with other ethics violations, including that his staff was pressured to plan Richelle Huizar’s campaign on city time.
The lawsuit makes a number of allegations, including that Huizar would direct Alvarez to alter his calendar entries to conceal the nature of his meetings from public and media scrutiny.
“Huizar did not want the media or general public to know that he was meeting with certain lobbyists and developers — particularly when their particular issue or project was soon to be considered by the City Council or the Planning and Land Use Management Committee [which Huizar used to chair],” according to the complaint. “Those meetings were, of course, often followed close in time by donations to Huizar’s campaign coffers.”
A second lawsuit was filed about a week after the first by Pauline Medina, a former staffer for Huizar. Medina alleges that Huizar launched a campaign to push her out in 2017 after she told the councilman’s chief of staff that her boss was in a relationship with someone else in the office. Medina also alleges that Huizar secretly used city funds to pay for his personal expenses.
Medina, who left Huizar’s office in June, said she also was punished for complaining about a “lack of boundaries” in her workplace, with staffers being ordered to pick up the councilman’s dry cleaning, collect his children from school and move his wife’s car so that she would not get a parking ticket on street-sweeping day.
The councilman has denied the claims in both lawsuits.
“It is nothing more than a hit piece orchestrated by political operatives who seek to undermine all the good work I’ve accomplished on behalf of my constituents,” Huizar said in a statement about Alvarez’s lawsuit after it was filed. “I find it suspicious that these claims have surfaced now when my wife has announced her candidacy for my seat. This further supports that this is politics at its worst.”
Jose Huizar has served on the City Council since 2005 representing the 14th District and is prevented by term limits from running again.
No stranger to controversy, the councilman previously admitted to an affair with former staffer Francine Godoy, who sued him on allegations of harassment and retaliation in 2013. He denied any harassment and the suit was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. A report from the city’s Special Committee on Investigative Oversight concluded there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Huizar.
Richelle Huizar had served on the Los Angeles Commission on the Status of Women since 2017, but resigned on Oct. 30, and previously served as both a policy director and later as the assistant executive director of the Commission for Children, Youth and Their Families.
It has been common practice for some time for city commissioners to resign if they announce they are seeking elected office, and Derek Humphrey, a political consultant who helped launch Richelle Huizar’s campaign, wrote in an email to City News Service that “the resignation was in order to comply with a policy laid out by the mayor’s office related to commissioners who declare as candidates for office.” Garcetti’s office would not confirm this or comment on Richelle Huizar’s resignation.
By CRAIG CLOUGH
City News Service