Robert Luna waited within the doorway main right into a small ballroom at The Grand in Lengthy Seaside on Tuesday evening.
Earlier than him, about 200 individuals returned his large grin. On a stage backed by an enormous American flag, Mariachi Las Flores blew the jaunty opening notes of “La Diana,” the normal Mexican tune of triumph. Evangelical pastors blew shofars — as a result of, why not?
The primary election returns had simply are available for Los Angeles County sheriff. Luna, a retired Lengthy Seaside police chief, had a commanding lead over incumbent Alex Villanueva. Many ballots had been but to be counted, however victory was all anybody needed to speak about.
Luna slowly made his technique to the stage as the gang swarmed him for handshakes and hugs. So many individuals needed to supply congrats that Luna’s spouse, Celines, couldn’t get a cup of water to him, lastly asking somebody to move it alongside.
Nearly everybody had whipped out their telephones to take photographs and movies. My eyes had been caught on Luna’s ft.
The final time he and I met was on the contest’s first and solely debate. I had questioned Luna then about his selection of white-soled, brown leather-based sneakers — the kind that middle-aged males put on to look cooler than they really are. It seemed like he had them on once more.
“Identical sneakers?” I requested Luna.
“Nah, they’re completely different!” he stated with amusing. “I upgraded!”
The mariachi converted to “El Sinaloense,” one other celebratory ranchera. I requested Celines concerning the centerpieces on all of the tables.
Earlier that day, she and Luna had gone to the Los Angeles Flower Market to pick the sunflowers that had been now inside Mason jars alongside branches of child’s breath.
“I’ve been at peace the entire day,” stated Celines, who wore an emerald-green sequined costume. “The colour yellow was a part of Robert’s marketing campaign. The flowers are happiness. It’s a shiny day. There’s going to be change for the individuals.”
The occasion that evening was for each Luna and Robert Garcia, the Lengthy Seaside mayor who was operating for Congress. However the evening belonged to Luna.
The sheriff’s race has drawn nationwide consideration, pitting the voluble and controversial Villanueva towards the staid Luna. But the vibe at Luna’s occasion jogged my memory of the quinceañeras I’ve attended at The Grand.
Older people requested mariachi songs to clap together with and shimmy. Visitors sucked on the Tootsie Roll lollipops strewn on tables or devoured up plates of macaroni. A DJ spun Chicano occasion classics — Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, “Atomic Canine” by George Clinton, Selena and cumbias. Everybody partied like they had been making an attempt to exorcise the previous 4 years of paranoia and vendettas Villanueva has wrought upon L.A. County.
“It’s the primary time [Luna and his wife] had a marketing campaign occasion,” stated Jeff Millman, his marketing campaign strategist and one of many few individuals within the room carrying a masks. “Final time, they celebrated of their yard.”
He was referring to June’s main. Villanueva got here in first towards eight challengers however obtained lower than 50% of the vote, triggering a runoff towards Luna.
I attended the sheriff’s occasion that election evening, at a bar in East Los Angeles. It reeked of exclusivity and menace. Along with a check-in squad on the door, there have been a minimum of three different individuals guarding the doorway to the upstairs lounge the place Villanueva was spending time with a well-liked few.
At The Grand, Luna seemed like a proud uncle who needed to greet each final niece and nephew.
He had campaigned on a return to decency for a division so distrusted by voters that they overwhelmingly authorized a measure on this election to permit the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to fireplace a sitting sheriff.
Luna let Villanueva swing and miss time and again till el sheriff appeared like a determined man who knew he was on his manner out. Luna got here off as regular, even boring.
Isn’t boring what we have to lead the L.A. Sheriff’s Division proper now?
Luna is not any wide-eyed harmless, in fact. Critics accused him of secrecy and never disciplining dangerous cops throughout his seven years atop the Lengthy Seaside Police Division. Jim McDonnell, former L.A. County sheriff and Luna’s former boss in Lengthy Seaside, was on the occasion. So had been state Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-Lengthy Seaside) and Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (D-North Hollywood). Burly deputies, some with Blue Lives Matter pins pinned to their fits, high-fived one another and clinked Coronas.
Almost all of Luna’s opponents through the main had been in attendance, together with Eric Sturdy, who completed third. The sheriff’s lieutenant stated he and Luna “sat down and had lengthy conversations” after the first, leaving him assured that his former rival was the appropriate individual to guide the most important sheriff’s division within the nation.
“Luna would be the altering of the guard,” he stated. “And we certain want it.”
There have been additionally common individuals. I have to’ve run into a minimum of half a dozen of my Lengthy Seaside pals — school professors, highschool counselors and stay-at-home mothers alike.
George Rivera’s household owns a Mexican restaurant within the metropolis that Luna has patronized for over a decade.
“No se le ha subido,” Rivera stated, utilizing a Mexican Spanish time period that roughly means success hasn’t gone to at least one’s head. “And I do know he’s going to be that very same man as sheriff.”
Rivera instantly responded once I requested what Luna’s common order was. “Combo #1. Taco and enchilada plate. That’s what he’s going to be — primary!”
Luna stayed to listen to Garcia’s victory speech, then disappeared to work on what he would say that evening. When he returned at 10:45, the ballroom had thinned out solely a bit of.
Accompanied by his brother, sister, Celines and her daughter Cesie, Luna took the rostrum backed by Jackie Wilson’s “(Your Love Retains Lifting Me) Larger and Larger” and hailed by — yep — shofars.
“So final Sunday, once I heard these horns,” he joked, “I used to be speaking about possibly exchange the sirens on the black and whites with these horns.”
He talked about that the vote numbers “look[ed] good” to this point.
“Landslide!” somebody shouted to applause.
Luna grinned once more.
His speech was boilerplate politeness. He was sleek. He was grateful. He gave due to God. He proclaimed legislation enforcement to be probably the greatest professions on Earth and praised the L.A. County sheriff’s deputies who had been “brave sufficient” to talk out towards Villanueva.
Luna by no means talked about the incumbent by title however drew the loudest applause of the evening when he stated that L.A. County residents had been “searching for a sheriff who doesn’t blame different individuals” when one thing goes incorrect within the division “however appears to be like on the mirror and says, ‘It’s on me.’ ”
The speech concluded with Luna handing out bouquets to his marketing campaign volunteers. He acknowledged the uncertainty of the second, as his lead narrowed each couple of hours. “This was going to be a celebration of some variety, or a retirement occasion — I nonetheless don’t know what it’ll be,” he stated.
The gang wouldn’t hear of any doubts. They applauded and partied and swarmed him anew.
By the morning, Luna’s lead over Villanueva had shrunk by 4 share factors however was nonetheless large — 57% to 43%. The ultimate outcomes won’t be identified for days, and even weeks.
However Luna seemed prepared to guide final evening. Earlier than I left, I checked out his sneakers one remaining time.
There was a single black scuff, on the entrance of his sole. Nobody cared.