Saturday, September 30, 2023
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As late mail-in ballots are tallied, LA’s election results skew to the left

City Hall braces for an upheaval, with one city councilman on the verge of being unseated, and another heading toward a tough runoff.

(CN) — As the late-arriving vote-by-mail ballots are counted, Los Angeles's primary election, held last Tuesday, is looking more and more like a progressive victory.

According to the results of the latest batch of votes tallied by the county clerk and announced on Friday, Congresswoman Karen Bass leads mall developer Rick Caruso by 40,000 votes in the race to become the city's next mayor. The result is somewhat academic, since the two will face each other in the November runoff. But whereas Caruso woke up Wednesday morning with a robust-looking 5% lead, he now trails Bass by 6.5 percentage points (Bass has 42.9%, while Caruso has 36.3%) — a deficit which appears likely to grow when the rest of the ballots are counted — showing that he has much ground to make up in the next five months.

Asked to comment on the rather dramatic 11-point swing, both the Bass and Caruso campaigns sent anodyne written statements about why their candidate would prevail in November.

"Angelenos want a mission-driven, battle-tested leader with the experience of pulling people together to confront the crises we are facing," said Bass spokesperson, Anna Bahr.

“Voters will have a clear choice when they go to the polls between a career politician... and a leader who can clean up LA and deal with homelessness, crime and corruption," said Caruso's spokesperson, Peter Ragone.

There are still 74,000 mail-in ballots left to be counted.

Caruso, who for much of his life was registered as a Republican (he became a Democrat weeks before entering the race), has run a right-of-center campaign (at least by LA's left-wing standards), promising to hire 1,500 more LAPD officers and to build 30,000 shelter beds to address the city's homeless crisis. Both he and Bass have promised to enforce bans on street encampments, but Caruso has said he would use police officers to do the clearing, while Bass has said she would use social workers. Bass has said that solving the homeless crisis will take time; Caruso has promised quicker action.

Bass, meanwhile, has campaigned as a mainstream Democrat, frequently touting her political connections to President Joe Biden and to Congress. While the Democratic Party did not endorse any candidate in the primary, both the state and the county party endorsed Bass in the runoff election this week.

In other races, the progressive wave looks even more pronounced. Pakistani-born Faisal Gill is running for city attorney on a platform of police and criminal justice reform. After Friday's update, Gill holds a four-point lead over his next two closest rivals, Marina Torres and Hydee Feldstein Soto. Torres leads Soto by just 173 votes in the race for second place and a spot in the November runoff.

Kenneth Meija, a former Green Party member, holds a commanding 19-point lead over City Council Paul Koretz in the race for city controller.

Perhaps most surprisingly, two incumbent city councilman are in danger of losing their seats to candidates who were endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America's LA chapter, both of whom have proposed slashing the LAPD's budget to pay for housing and social services.

After Friday's update, City Councilman Gil Cedillo trails challenger Eunisses Hernandez by seven points, an imposing margin that looks all but decisive. Since there are only two candidates in that race, there will be no runoff. Meanwhile, City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, the president pro tempore of the Council, trails challenger Hugo Soto-Martinez by eight points. That race will go to a runoff.

When progressive Nithya Raman unseated David Ryu in 2020, she was the first candidate to defeat in an incumbent council member in 17 years. Now, two of them could fall in a single cycle, an unprecedented upheaval that would roil City Hall.

"It’s a remarkable change, ousting a couple of the most conservative people on the City Council and replacing them with some of the most progressive," said Rob Quan, a progressive activist who advocates for transparency and publicly funded elections.

The results were, perhaps, a long time coming. Both districts on the east side of Los Angeles, which include such fashionable neighborhoods as Silver Lake and Echo Park, voted overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders in the 2020 presidential primary. And even though Cedillo was himself endorsed by Bernie Sanders, his politics have not kept pace with progressive activists, who argue that the Council has criminalized homelessness by instituting encampment bans in certain areas.

"Mitch and Cedillo didn’t necessarily line up with their district," said Quan.

Mike Trujillo, a political consultant who worked for a number of candidates, including Cedillo and Torres, attributes the progressive victories not to the candidates' campaigns, but to Rick Caruso, whose three-plank platform included a pledge to fight city hall corruption. That message, Trujillo said, hurt incumbents.

"I think all these defund-the-police candidates have billionaire Rick Caruso to thank," said Trujillo. "That’s a $40 million campaign telling people if you’re an incumbent City Councilman, you’re bad news."

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