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O'Grady Remains Upbeat Through Election Night

Tom Dotan |
March 9, 2011 | 3:10 a.m. PST

Associate News Editor

O'Grady Stands in Front of Early Election Returns (Photo Tom Dotan)
O'Grady Stands in Front of Early Election Returns (Photo Tom Dotan)

The din of Tomás O’Grady’s election night party is spilling into the neighborhood.

Street parking is scarce too. But given how many “Tomás O’Grady for Town Council” signs are staked out in the lawns of this hilly Los Feliz neighborhood, any neighbor who might complain is at the candidate’s house this evening anyway.

As it turned out, the night would end in disappointment with L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge earning re-election.

But inside, Esau Tenorio is holding court for a handful of casually dressed middle-aged gentlemen clustered around the wine table. 

“Man, I was phone banking like crazy, working like 11 hours a day!” Tonirio says excitedly. Maybe too excitedly as he spills a bit of wine on the floor, quickly apologizing. “I come from a sales background though, so I’m used to talking to a bunch of people and making a pitch.”

He began volunteering for this campaign six-weeks earlier, and knew Tomás—everyone here calls him Tomás—from his involvement in Los Feliz schools. Tenorio would hardly consider himself a political guy, but he said he was sold on O’Grady’s work ethic and nice-guy attitude.

“(Tom) Labonge is a decent guy too but he’s totally a career politician," Tenorio said. "And he also has that Charlie Sheen ‘winning’ thing when he talks. We need a change.”

There’s a group milling about the kitchen while a petite woman with brown hair hurries some homemade pizzas out of the oven. Lauren O’Grady, Tomás’s wife and a campaigner, deftly slides a pie onto the counter, resting it beside an iced bottle of champagne. She admires her work for a moment before tending to a comically large pile of spaghetti on the stove.

One of the onlookers swooping in for a slice is Matt Ward. He too worked phone banks for Tomás and even some door-to-door canvassing.

“Stephen Box ran a tech-savvy campaign, but I think it was maybe too tech-savvy, you know what I mean? We had great outreach with minorities.” Ward, 23, has worked on several other grassroots political efforts, as well as editing a psychologist’s dissertation and co-managing a pizza parlor.

He takes a long gulp of red wine before continuing.

“I’m really hoping for a strong second-place finish tonight. If Labonge gets under 50 percent then it’s a runoff. Totally new ballgame.”

At 9:10 and 30 minutes before the election results are set to roll in, Daniel Tamm stands up in the family room, next to the baby-grand piano, and begins clapping. It takes some time to catch on, but soon enough the room is clapping together, cheering and stamping their feet, then getting quiet.

“I just wanted to say that I’ve been honored to lead Tomás’ campaign," Tamm said. "He’s just an amazing person to work for and no matter what happens tonight, this has been such an inspiration.”

Tamm shakes Tomás’s hand and pulls in for the half-hug. The guests clap and cheer again, but instantly hush as the slim, sliver-haired business owner wearing a blue shirt and a gold tie begins speaking.

“It still shocks me that you can be born in the west of Ireland, you can somehow arrive in Los Angeles, you can run for office, you can open up the LA Times on a Sunday and see your name there," O'Grady said. "It’s just amazing. You have no idea what that feels like.”

The audience chortles at the mention of the Times, which endorsed Tomás for 4th Council District seat.

His speech is spontaneous and unscripted, and soon trails off into tangents about high schools and council salaries. But he reiterates his message about his pride in the country and belief in average people running for office.

Campaign headquarters is a nook with sofas and a 52-inch TV displaying the city clerk’s website. Tamm refreshes the page every so often, waiting for the returns to finally trickle in. He’s a wintery looking man with balding white hair and pinkish skin. Tamm has advised in campaigns for City Councilman Paul Koretz as well as leading regional efforts for Barack Obama.

“I coach youth soccer and I’m always talking to my players about tenacity,” said Tamm. He met Tomás at an endorsement event and was impressed enough with the immigrant from Ireland to offer his services. “Tomas is just the embodiment of that. Such a great work ethic.”

Campaigners Await the Results (Photo Tom Dotan)
Campaigners Await the Results (Photo Tom Dotan)
Michael McCue from the San Fernando Valley Green Party enters the conversation. His party endorsed Tomás after holding a forum for the candidates. Labonge did not attend the event.

“He didn’t even show up, because he knew we'd slam him!” McCue squealed. “Just as well. I don’t think I have ever met a bigger gasbag in my life!”

At 9:40 the first results appear on screen. A girl with freckles and shoulder-length brown hair leans her face in until it’s mere inches away from the TV. Tomás pops into the room to take a look.

“You’re behind 62 to 22 daddy,” the girl says, turning her head. “But someone told me that the early people are more conservative. Or maybe it was the later people are less conservative.”

“That’s okay Lauren.” Tomás pats her on the head. He looks hopefully at Tamm.

“These are early votes, probably sent in before the LA Times,” Tamm assures.

“I’m surprised how bad Box is doing. He should be doing better.” Tomás shakes his head. He theorized that the more votes Box gets the less likely Lebonge is to get 50 percent.

I ask Tomás, who put in $25,000 of his own money, how nervous he is this evening. He pauses before responding.

“I’m not worried about the election. I just want to make sure that everyone here gets fed.” He glances around at the people listening in. “And I want people to stop messing up my wine table.”

“Hey you’re Irish, you have great alcohol!” someone yells.

“I resent that!” roars Tomás. The surrounding group laughs heartily and follows the candidate out of the headquarters and into the party.

An hour later there still isn’t an update to the website. The party is still going strong, though a few have said goodbye. Tamm is seated at his chair in front the monitor while McCue gives him a backrub.

In one of the bedrooms adjoining the living room, a young boy is lying asleep on a bed. A guest closes the door a bit to keep out some of the noise, though given how passed out he looks it hardly makes a difference.

Michael Mills is in the front yard sipping a beer. He lives in Burbank—not one of the cities in CD4—and came to the campaign by answering a craigslist ad for volunteers.

“I worked on some campaigns when I was way younger, but it’s been some time. I just thought doing this would be a good experience.”

Mills was once an investment banker, but lost his job during the financial crisis. He says he now a job working at a restaurant downtown but couldn’t remember the name of it. He says he'll need to remember soon, because he'll be showing up tomorrow.


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