DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - When it comes to the 2013 mayor’s race, the principal question at this point is whether mall master Rick Caruso will enter and go nuclear on his opponents. In the city attorney’s campaign, some are wondering if incumbent Carmen Trutanich will pull off the impossible and miss his second consecutive runoff, following his disastrous third place finish in the June district attorney election.
The competition for the Ninth District council seat is generating less attention than the citywide contests, but it could end up being among the most interesting races in Los Angeles. A whopping 14 people have filed papers to raise money for the post being vacated by a termed-out Jan Perry, and at least a half dozen of them have the potential to be factors when voters head to the polls next March. If no one garners more than 50% of the ballots — and unless Los Angeles adopts old-school Chicago-style election rigging, no one will — the top two finishers will advance to a May runoff.
The Ninth is no stranger to tumult. It was a bitter battleground 11 years ago when Perry pulled an upset, beating Assemblyman Carl Washington in the runoff. This year, it was ripped apart during the council redistricting process, with José Huizar getting the spoils as most of Downtown was unceremoniously yanked from the Ninth and moved to the 14th.
The Ninth is now shaped like a sort of wobbly ice cream treat, with the cone and the cream comprising a largely poor portion of South Los Angeles, topped by a cherry that encompasses Staples Center, L.A. Live, the Convention Center and, if it comes to fruition, Farmers Field. The district also holds USC.
At this point there is no single frontrunner. Instead, there are a batch of figures who all have plusses and minuses. Here is a rundown, in alphabetical order, of the top six candidates, what they’ll bring to the table and where they could stumble.
Who: Ana Cubas, Jose Huizar's former chief of staff
Pros: Knows City Hall well from her years working for Huizar, and her Salvadoran background could provide a boost in a district with a heavy Latino presence. She’s the leading female contender in a district that elected Perry (currently the only woman on the council) three times and before that put Rita Walters (who has endorsed Cubas) in office. She also appears to be an aggressive fundraiser, and isn’t staying local — she had a Sept. 11 money event in lobbyist heaven, K Street in Washington, D.C.
Cons: There are a lot of people who, how shall I put this, like Cubas about as much as they like getting chicken pox. Some voters may also question why she wants to represent a district that, as part of CD 14, she helped tear apart. Her website is next to impossible to find, and her Facebook campaign page had only 130 likes at press time, which isn’t nearly enough votes to win even a low-turnout election. Her bio also said she is still Huizar’s chief of staff. Might want to update that.
Who: Mike Davis, state assemblyman, 48th District
Pros: Has as much name recognition as anyone in the race, and is a quasi-familiar African-American elected official in a district historically represented by an African American. Has political bona fides, occupying his seat for six years and with previous jobs as a deputy to former Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Also a pal of powerful Council president Herb Wesson.
Cons: Seems almost allergic to raising money. Although Davis was one of the first to enter the race, by June 30 he just barely eclipsed $50,000 in campaign donations, and that was only because he lent himself $15,000. There are a lot of questions about his desire to do the grunt work necessary to win the seat. Also, though he has held elected office for six years, Davis is not known as a great leader in Sacramento.
Who: Terry Hara, deputy chief, Los Angeles Police Department
Pros: His 32 years with the LAPD give him an unmatched record in a community where public safety is a primary concern. Spent a large portion of his career in divisions in the district and has more ties and relationships than one might think with local leaders, including the heads of the influential African-American churches. He is also the pacesetter so far in fundraising, with $118,000 secured by June 30. By all accounts he is intelligent, engaging and willing to work hard.
Cons: He’s a Japanese-American in a district with few Asian-American voters, and may have to spend more money than others to gain purchase. Is well known in Little Tokyo, but after redistricting that neighborhood no longer falls in the Ninth. Redistricting has also forced Hara to move from Bunker Hill to a home in the newly drawn area. Plus, while LAPD ties are a plus for some voters, they may be a negative to others distrustful of the police.
Who: Charyn Harris, founder of nonprofit organization Project MuszEd
Pros: Has a long involvement with South Los Angeles through the nonprofit formed to provide music education to youth. Is seen as thoughtful, committed and well-intentioned, and is an African-American woman in a district that has been represented by an African-American woman for more than two decades. Has a nice website and could nurture grass-roots support.
Cons: Raised only $12,000 by the last campaign reporting period, not nearly enough to pay for mailers, dig up dirt on opponents or spread a message. No real political experience, and is far eclipsed by other top candidates. May be in over her head. Seen now as someone who can get a small percentage of votes and impact others, but not win.
Who: David Roberts, former USC Government Relations official, former redistricting commissioner
Pros: Long history of work in South L.A., having served in offices of Councilmen Bernard Parks and Mark Ridley-Thomas. Has the endorsement of Parks, as well as affluent developer Steve Soboroff, who knows a lot of rich people. Fought hard to keep the Ninth together during redistricting. Appears formidable in fundraising, quickly reaching $50,000. His work as an economic development deputy for Parks means he knows how to get money for projects, a crucial task in an impoverished district. Seems willing to go door-to-door in a district where face time means more than email blasts.
Cons: Like many in the race, he suffers from low name recognition, and that is not easily bought. His work on the redistricting commission could be spun against him. So could his years with USC — though a major employer, the private university is viewed with suspicion by many residents. Plenty of former council staffers have tried, and failed, to ascend to elected office. Also like several others in race, Roberts had to move into the district to qualify for the ballot.
Who: Curren Price, state senator, 26th district
Pros: Experienced pol with time served in the state senate and assembly. Name recognition is as high, if not higher, than anyone else in the race, an advantage especially given Mike Davis’ fundraising woes. Has experience with multiple levels of government and the private sector. More importantly, he has strong ties to labor, and will benefit immensely if unions throw money and additional campaign resources his way. Has a simple but effective website that communicates his career highlights and achievements. Knows how to run a race.
Cons: Could be painted as a carpetbagger — just announced his candidacy and moved into the district after long being suspected as a future contender for the Eighth District seat. Could also take shots for backing the redistricting process that carved up the Ninth — the popular Parks repeatedly lambasted him during the process. He’s also behind perhaps the most tone-deaf political move of 2012: During an August event touting a domestic workers’ rights bill, Price, egads, invited reporters to watch him be a domestic worker for one whole hour, with tasks including walking someone’s dog. Probably well-intentioned, but it smelled pretentious.
Contact Jon Regardie at email@example.com.
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