Alex Villanueva Was Tuesday’s Biggest Loser—And Other Election-Day Takeaways

Cityside Column: Looking at who stands tall, and who needs a reset before the November runoff

The polls closed Tuesday at 8 p.m., and within a few hours 822,545 ballots had been processed. Although another approximately 400,000 mail-in and additional ballots still need to be tabulated, key winners and losers from across Los Angeles County are already apparent. Here is a rundown of some of the biggest victors and failures (beyond the mayor’s race; that’s in another column), as well as a few key takeaways.


The Sheriff Tanked

Alex Villanueva will try to spin the fact that he came in first place on Tuesday evening, and bested his closest competitor by nearly 10 percentage points. As with nearly everything involving the wackadoodle sheriff, take it with a grain of salt the size of a deputy’s tattoo. For incumbents, the first re-election bid is essentially a voter referendum on how you’re faring. Villanueva claimed 34.4 percent. When just over one in three constituents approves of your performance, you’re in dead-man-walking territory.

Can the former supposed reformer rebound? Theoretically yes, but it won’t be easy. Expect huge money and political support to coalesce around Robert Luna, the Long Beach Police Department chief who earned 24.5 percent Tuesday night and is moving on to the runoff. And Villanueva, who has a penchant for attacking reporters when he should be trying to generate positive stories, will likely continue to be his own biggest hurdle.


Katy Krushed It

One of the most intriguing City Council races was for the District 5 seat, where Paul Koretz is termed out. Attorney Sam Yebri, seeking to be the first Iranian-American elected to the council, raised as astounding $845,000. Yet when the votes were counted, Katy Young Yaroslavsky easily finished in first. She claimed 47.4 percent, nearly eclipsing the 50 percent need to win outright, despite having a smaller (but still healthy) war chest of $609,000.

It’s an epic achievement for the deputy to Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who withstood some harsh attacks from the Yebri camp. While winning the primary does not guarantee victory in November, Yaroslavky (the daughter-in-law of local political legend Zev Yaroslavky) is now the frontrunner, and special interest groups that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars attacking her will think long and hard before doing so again.


The Night’s Second Biggest Loser Wasn’t Even on the Ballot

Somehow, almost no one Tuesday was roughed up more than District Attorney George Gascón. This is incredible, because the progressive dude doesn’t face re-election for two years.

That said, the tea leaves for his political future now look more like ominous tree trunks. A recall effort is underway, with opponents charging he is too soft on crime and pays too little heed to victims. The second it became clear that San Franciscans had voted to recall their progressive D.A., Chesa Boudin, people began speculating that Gascón is next. That wasn’t the only election night shadow cast over his future: In Orange County, incumbent District Attorney Todd Spitzer cruised to re-election after painting opponent Pete Hardin as a Gascón clone. “Crime is out of control in Los Angeles under radical D.A. George Gascón,” blared one Spitzer ad. When campaigns you are not involved in use you as a piñata, things are not good.


Angelenos Stink at Democracy

Votes are still being tabulated, so the final turnout rate is unclear, but the total will be an epic disappointment. This is particularly true in the city of L.A., where elections were shifted from odd- to even-numbered years in hopes of getting more people to participate in the democratic process. This worked really well in 2020—turnout in the vote coinciding with the presidential primary skyrocketed. For example, more than 75,000 people voted in the Council District 4 primary. Even the District 8 race, where incumbent Marqueece Harris-Dawson ran unopposed, saw more than 32,000 ballots cast.

This time? Ugh. So far the most active districts have been 5 and 11, which each saw about 30,000 votes counted. Fewer than 20,000 ballots have been tabulated in several districts. The most consequential mayor’s race in decades failed to drive city residents to the polls.


Debacle in District 9

Overall participation was awful, but nothing is worse than District 9. So far, just 6,488 votes have been tabulated. It will be a minor miracle if the count reaches 10,000.

What makes this even more distressing is that voters in the largely South L.A. district had a real choice, with incumbent Curren Price facing challenger Dulce Vasquez. The two combined to spend more than $1 million.

Price will get another term, with more than 66 percent of the vote so far. But clearly, something is broken.


A Lot More War

There were 15 city and county races on the ballot (not counting school board or ballot measures). A whopping 10 are moving on to a second round. The only person facing more than one challenger who eclipsed 50 percent on Tuesday is County Supervisor Hilda Solis.

For voters, this means a cascade of epic one-on-one battles are on the horizon, and several will be of the left-and-lefter variety, with moderate to liberal Democrats squaring off against fiercely progressive foes with agenda items including cutting back police funding. The races include the District 13 contest, where incumbent Mitch O’Farrell on Tuesday got 36.7 percent, barely finishing ahead of hotel organizer Hugo Soto-Martinez. The battle will be similar in District 11. There, the contest to replace Mike Bonin pits Erin Darling, who has been endorsed by the current office-holder, against Traci Park. Both got just over 31 percent Tuesday.

As the November election approaches, the mud will fly, and it will be everywhere.

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