Portantino bows out of senate race

Citing family responsibilities, lawmaker abandons campaign plans.

  • California Assemblyman Anthony Portantino speaks at the newly named Larry Zarian Transportation Center dedication ceremony in Glendale on Wednesday, November 30, 2011. Portantino has decided not to seek election in November. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
California Assemblyman Anthony Portantino speaks at the newly named Larry…
January 19, 2012|By Mark Kellam and Joe Piasecki mark.kellam@latimes.com, joe.piasecki@latimes.com

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) has decided not to seek election in 2012, ending an exploratory bid to challenge a longtime political ally, state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge).

Portantino, who will be forced out of the Assembly by term limits later this year, said he will travel to New Jersey in February to care for his ailing mother. He is leaving open the possibility of running for office in the future.

“You only have one mom,” Portantino said in a phone message Thursday. “I’m committed to finishing out my last year in the Legislature with my political accountability agenda and serving my constituents to the best of my ability. Once the family situation is settled, there’s plenty of time to make decisions about later. But family comes first.”

Portantino would have faced an uphill battle by entering the race against Liu, and recently was painted into a political corner. He first eyed running against Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) and raised money for that race, but a new congressional map drawn up by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission moved the district away from Portantino’s political base.

When he began to consider a faceoff against Liu, his former colleague on the La Cañada City Council, Democratic Party support wasn’t strong. Another Democrat, Ameenah Fuller, of Upland, also is seeking that seat.

Last week the Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley unanimously endorsed Liu for the seat, according to party chair Agi Kessler. The organization is comprised of 27 smaller clubs, including the Glendale and Burbank Democratic clubs.

Liu acknowledged Friday she was “disappointed” when Portantino started seeking endorsements for the new 25th District, which includes Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena. But Portantino now has told Liu he will support her re-election bid.

“Anthony has my best wishes as he deals with his family’s health issues,” Liu said.

Dario Frommer, a former Democratic Assemblyman who represented Glendale, said leaders in Democratic circles were uncomfortable with the prospect of a race between Portantino and Liu.

“There was no compelling reason to toss out Sen. Liu,” he said. “I think it was a situation that left everyone scratching their heads, thinking, ‘Why is Anthony doing this to someone who is a mentor and supporter?’ They are two very good public servants, both very popular in this community, and I don’t think anybody was relishing a fight between them.”

Democratic consultant Fred Register, who is on retainer to both Portantino and Liu, said redistricting left Portantino without a political home. “If things had worked out well for him [with redistricting], Anthony would not have chosen to sit out. I think it was a combination of the political situation and health issues of his mother that helped him make his decision,” Register said.

Portantino has close to $1 million spread among three campaign accounts: $556,000 left over from his 2010 reelection to the Assembly, $330,000 in his congressional account and $46,000 in a Portantino for Senate 2016 account. Money in different campaign accounts generally can be transferred and combined for use in another race.

In 2016, Liu will be forced out of the state Senate by term limits.

In Portantino’s letter to supporters, he stated, “I hope you will understand that this decision in no way ends my political career.”

But political observers said it can be hard for candidates to return to office after a few years out of the limelight.

“There’s no doubt that when you’re out of office, it can be more difficult to come back,” Frommer said. “But Anthony is a hard worker and people like him. He’ll have to hustle a bit, but it’s not impossible.”

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