The last time a reform-minded insurgent candidate aiming to challenge the status quo was supported by the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times, lightning-rod progressive District Attorney George Gascón took office. Currently, Gascón is polling at 29 percent and staring down his second recall. So earlier this month, when the board at the Times endorsed a political neophyte and self-described radical for the staid position of city controller, some critics wondered what its members were smoking. At that time, Kenneth Mejia had an enthusiastic base of supporters on lefty Twitter and a glowing endorsement from Black Lives Matter, but the 31-year-old accountant was a virtual unknown before he threw his hat in the race—not to mention that Mejia has a record that is certain to give many voters pause.
The deliberations of the Times editorial board can, at times, seem as opaque as Vatican papal conclaves choosing a new Pope. But one thing is clear: Mejia has a friend in a high place at the Times in Nika Soon-Shiong, the social justice-crusading daughter of biotech billionaire and the publisher of the Times, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, who famously scooped up the paper in 2018 for $500 million. The heiress, a young Millennial Westsider, is an avowed supporter of Mejia’s campaign.
But a funny thing happened just two days after the Times ran its Mejia endorsement. From the newsroom side of the supposedly thick firewall between the paper’s reporters and editors and its editorial board appeared an article by staff writers David Zahniser and Julia Wick that was potentially damaging to Mejia and his campaign. Headlined “He called Biden a rapist. Now his deleted tweets are shaking up the city controller’s race,” the report delves into Mejia’s recent past as a member of the Green Party, a phase in which he promoted now-discredited rape allegations against Joe Biden, endorsed Green Party candidate Jill Stein and called to defund the LAPD.
In additional tweets reviewed by Los Angeles Magazine, Mejia also called health insurers “murderers,” expressed solidarity with Venezuela, Palestine, and Yemen, and asserted to his followers that “the police exists to uphold white supremacy” [sic].
While the city controller is technically powerless over the mayor, the City Council and department heads, he or she can, via fiscal and performance audits of L.A.’s departments and programs, use the bully pulpit to be heard. Which explains why many of the city’s avid social justice advocates—including BLM leaders, tenant unionists and yes, Nika Soon-Shiong—have endorsed Mejia’s campaign.
So did the heiress have a hand in the board’s endorsement of her friend? She says no. In a statement to Los Angeles on Wednesday Soon-Shiong wrote “I was not involved in their meetings with him, and found out about their endorsement at the same time that everyone else did.” This was echoed by Times Vice President of Communications Hillary Manning, who characterized the young philanthropist’s role at the outlet as “an informal adviser to her family.”
However, Soon-Shiong, who does not appear on the paper’s masthead, has been involved in high-level management issues at the Times since 2020. On June 1 of that year, at the height of citywide unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, the heiress called out Times editors in a tweet objecting to the use of the word “looting” in a pair of headlines.
“Absolutely the wrong messaging @latimes,” she tweeted, publicly addressing her chagrin to the legacy media property’s main account. Then on July 2, 2020, the L.A. Times Standards and Practices Committee made a language update to its style guide around using the words “looting” and “looters.” And on Nov. 16, 2021, a newsroom committee announced it was putting limits on the use of the word “looting” over concerns regarding the racial connotation of the word.
In July 2020, fear of layoffs loomed at the paper as protests continued to roil the city and the Times newsroom furloughs previously implemented in response to the Covid-19 pandemic had run out. Publisher Patrick Soon-Shiong met with a caucus of Black and Latino employees—a move urged by his daughter to allay fears of layoffs from newly hired Black and Latino staffers who, holding little seniority in the newsroom, could have been the first to be let go. Soon afterward, the prospect of layoffs was shelved.
Then in February 2021, after the Wall Street Journal published an article saying Patrick Soon-Shiong was exploring a sale of the Times, the publisher reaffirmed his commitment to the news organization. His daughter then quickly echoed his statement.
“WSJ is 100% wrong,” she wrote on Twitter. “Thank you,” replied the Times Houston bureau chief, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, “exactly how I like my statements: short; sweet.” Following this exchange, the L.A. paper’s writer-turned-editor Joel Rubin responded succinctly, “Any questions?”
Soon-Shiong appears on the list of endorsers on Mejia’s campaign website, where she is listed as the “public safety commissioner for the City of West Hollywood.” In addition to serving as one of five members of that WeHo commission, Soon-Shiong is the founder of a nonprofit that provides universal basic income; she is also a Ph.D. candidate at Oxford University, and is interested in what she diplomatically described as “alternatives to incarceration.”
Dubbed “WeHo Ivanka” by one West Hollywood activist, Soon-Shiong, a Stanford grad, was appointed to the City of West Hollywood’s Public Safety Commission by council member and candidate for L.A. County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath. It’s Horvath who has also been the driving force behind a controversial proposal to cut 10 sheriff’s deputies from the WeHo station.
Recently on Twitter, Soon-Shiong has praised Mejia’s background as a certified public accountant, attacked the campaign manager of another candidate and promoted a baseless conspiracy theory popular among Mejia’s supporters that claims another candidate in the race was involved in the sex and drug-related crimes of Ed Buck. In her statement to Los Angeles, she pushed back against the media furor over Mejia’s unearthed tweets, calling it an attempt to distract from “holding bloated law enforcement budgets to account” and to “scandalize Kenneth’s campaign.”
Responding to our request, the Times declined to say whether or not its board knew about these old inflammatory tweets ahead of the board’s endorsement. Manning, the Times’ rep, did mention that the screenshots of the old tweets didn’t surface until one day after the board’s endorsement. They were posted by Parke Skelton, the campaign manager for a competing candidate in the seven-way race. Manning added, “The editorial board operates independently of the newsroom and is following the reporting on Kenneth Mejia and the controller’s race.”
Meanwhile, some readers of L.A.’s Gray Lady got whiplash when, just a day after the paper’s surprising endorsement of the insurgent community activist for city controller, the paper picked GOP candidate Lanhee Chen for California controller. In that endorsement, the outlet’s board urged potential voters that “the controller should be as independent from the party in power as possible.”
Mejia’s potentially damaging tweets only seem to have strengthened the affinity the heiress appears to have for the candidate. Far from being cowed at the revelations, Soon-Shiong seems to have doubled down on his bid since his deleted claims about Biden went wider. On April 24, she retweeted Tara Reade, the woman whose 30-year-old rape accusation against the president was revived amid his campaign. Reed had chimed in to criticize the Times article for downplaying her accusation, and the heiress subsequently shared Reade’s message to her small but devoted following of 1,700 users.
Soon-Shiong declined to enter into specifics about her support for Mejia to Los Angeles Magazine.
Recently, the Times board’s endorsement has featured prominently in promotional material from the Mejia campaign as Rob Wilcox, the controller candidate who highlighted Mejia’s old tweets to the public, called them “shameful and incendiary” and said he should withdraw from the race.
“We need to restore the public’s trust in their elected officials and we can’t do that by being a Twitter bully making shameful and incendiary comments including saying Joe Biden is a rapist and a racist,” Wilcox wrote. “Kenneth Mejia must do the right thing and leave this race immediately.”
City records show Mejia is currently in third place in terms of his fundraising totals, at $151,943.
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