Portantino struggles to find political footing
California Assemblyman Anthony Portantino speaks at the newly named Larry Zarian Transportation Center dedication ceremony in Glendale on Wednesday, November 30, 2011. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
Portantino, who will be termed out of office next year, has so far refused to say which way he intends to go, but his two-track approach could also put him at odds with some donors, who contributed $310,000 to support a challenge to unseat Rep. David Dreier, a longtime San Gabriel Valley Republican.
That money could instead help finance a campaign to unseat Liu, another La Cañada Democrat who remains popular with local party members.
Mary Urquhart, a South Pasadena resident long active in regional politics, donated $2,750 to the congressional campaign fund, but said she would not have if she knew he would end up running against Liu.
“I think he’s wonderful, a very good public servant,” Urquhart said, referring to Portantino’s opposition to the Long Beach (710) Freeway extension and other issues. “But I’m supporting Carol Liu. I’m not requesting the money back, but I would not have donated it if I thought that was how it was going to be used.”
Both Democrats, in addition to challenger Ameenah Fuller, are seeking endorsements from two local Democratic organizations for the Senate seat in the new 25th District, which includes Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena as well as La Cañada.
The earliest candidates for state office can declare their intent to run is Feb. 13. But Portantino said he’s waiting for a decision from the California Supreme Court regarding the revised senate district map before committing to a particular race.
Liu’s office did not return calls requesting comment on the potential match-up.
Earlier this year, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission settled on new legislative district maps for the 2012 election. But since it appears a referendum regarding the senate districts may head to voters, the state Supreme Court is holding up implementation of the new map.
If Portantino does challenge Liu, he may have to strike a delicate balance in an area where there is a lot of overlap among their constituencies and donors.
Even Liu’s husband, Michael Peevey, gave $200 to Portantino’s congressional campaign.
Portantino has about $900,000 in various campaign accounts, including about $310,000 in a fund created when he was more actively pursuing a run for Congress. He has not added any money to the congressional fund for several months.
ActBlue, a national Democratic fundraising committee that pooled individual contributions and backed Portantino in a potential face-off with Dreier, gave roughly $40,000, according to financial statements filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Portantino said Tuesday that he will reach out to all supporters, including contributors, and inform them if he decides to run against Liu. If that happens, he said he would let contributors decide if they want their donations transferred into a fund for his state senate campaign.
“I will provide the opportunity for supporters to have input into that decision,” Portantino said.
One person who does not want his contribution moved into a state senate campaign fund is La Cañada Flintridge resident Nelson Rising, a commercial property developer.
Rising and his wife each donated $2,400 to Portantino’s congressional campaign.
“I would find it difficult if I knew that the money would be used against a friend,” Rising said, adding that he would expect Portantino to return the donations.
But Glendale City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian, who donated $250, said he gave to Portantino’s congressional campaign because he believes in his values and principles.
“When you give to a campaign, you contribute to an individual,” Kassakhian said. “I haven’t lost my faith that [Portantino] won’t continue to fight for those values that drove me to contribute to begin with.”
Pasadena Sun City Editor Bill Kisliuk contributed to this article.