The Battle to Fill the City Council Seat Being Vacated by José Huizar

Our district-by-district look at the 2020 L.A. City Council campaign starts with a face-off featuring a familiar name in California politics

When it comes to the 2020 elections, Angelenos are babbling about Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Mayor Pete, et al., and whether any of them can topple Donald Trump. While that’s important, the presidential race threatens to overshadow some elections with serious local significance: seven Los Angeles City Council seats are up for grabs.

This matters far more than many people realize. Los Angeles has 15 council districts, and each representative is mega-powerful–sort of like a mini-mayor of a mid-sized city. Most L.A. council districts contain about 250,000 residents, more than the population of cities such as Baton Rouge and Salt Lake City.

In the coming months, this series will delve into the local races, detailing the districts, the candidates, and where things are going. This week: City Council district 14.

About City Council District 14

The 14th holds booming downtown L.A., historically Latino Boyle Heights, and then rolls north to encompass the neighborhoods of Glassell Park, Eagle Rock, El Sereno, and more.

The area has been represented since 2005 by José Huizar, who clobbered opponents in four council elections, but saw his reputation tarnished last year when FBI agents raided his City Hall office and his home as part of an apparent corruption investigation (no charges have been filed and no arrests have been made). The councilman’s wife, Richelle Huizar, had launched her own campaign for the seat, then pulled the plug shortly after the raids. Her departure cleared the path for a wave of candidates.

Voter turnout in the 14th tends to be low—in 2015, Huizar gathered about 13,700 votes, which accounted for about 65% of the nearly 21,000 ballots cast. In 2011, only about 17,250 people voted for a council rep.

Meet the Candidates

The big name in the race is Kevin de León, the former state Senate President Pro Tem and a darling of California progressive Democrats. During his three-and-a-half years atop the state Senate, de León was one of the most powerful people in California, and did a lot of dealmaking and horse-trading. He’s already got a battalion of endorsements from labor groups, which will pay off in terms of donations, and boots on the ground as election day approaches. His political résumé includes one large blot: he got pummeled last year when he tried to snatch Dianne Feinstein’s U.S. Senate seat.

His best-known competitor is Mónica Garcia, who spent 13 years on the LAUSD board (for an ample amount of that time she was president of the panel). That body oversees a school district with a $7 billion budget. She also wields a lot of power, and has worked closely with a lot of prominent people.

The race also has a cluster of other individuals who will be running grassroots campaigns. They include Cyndi Otteson, board president of refugee-focused nonprofit Miry’s List and a former vice president of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council; her website boasts, “I’m a boss mama with a plan to shake up the City Council.” There’s also Jamie Tijerina, a Caltech scientific researcher raised in the area whose community roles include clocking a couple years on the Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council, and Marcus Lovingood, a downtown resident who has been active in LGBT efforts. Lovingood is also on the board of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council.

The wild card could be Hal Bastian, a downtown business consultant who was one of the earliest and most vocal boosters of the community, and who maintains deep ties in the rapidly growing neighborhood. The question is, how many downtowners will actually vote.

Money Matters

The candidate with the most money doesn’t always win L.A. City Council elections, but having a lot of cash sure makes it easier to connect with voters. Not surprisingly, de León is blowing everyone else out of the water—he had pulled in $488,000 by September 30 (the most recent date for which figures are available), according to documents filed with the City Ethics Commission. His coffers are nearly overflowing with money from those who work in the real estate development and construction fields. He also has ample $800 contributions (the maximum allowed) from others who wade into development waters — architects, attorneys, and consultants–and a plethora of labor unions and their political action committees, with donations from groups representing nurses, carpenters, food workers, and firefighters. There’s even $800 from the Sprinkler Fitters United Association, and who knew that was a thing?

Garcia sits in a distant second with $133,000, with a war chest dominated by smaller donations. Although she is on pace to secure city matching funds, her fundraising is trending the wrong way—whereas de León pulled in $168,000 between July and September, Garcia raised just $28,000 in that period.

According to the Ethics Commission, on Sept. 30 de León had $283,000 in cash on hand, while Garcia had about $39,000. No one else had more than $13,000 (no figures were available for Bastian, a late entry in the race).

Other individuals have filed papers to raise money for the race, but they are longshots. They include Raquel Zamora, who had $2,500 in cash on hand as of September 30, and Kendrick Rustad, whose account holds $2,000. Other individuals listed on the Ethics Department website as having registered for the race are Monica Alcaraz, Stanley Alexander, David Bloom, Barry Boen, Dentis Fowlkes, Jana Grochoske, Freddie Huguez, John Jimenez, Brian Andres Mico-Quinn and William Morrison. Morrison has raised $100. The others have raised a combined sum of $0.00.

Key Issues in City Council District 14

Homelessness is a dominant topic in the district, as the 14th contains Skid Row, the epicenter of the crisis. Eagle Rock and other neighborhoods also struggle with proliferating tent encampments.

As in other council districts, residents are concerned about development, though growth means different things depending on the community—big projects have largely been supported in downtown, while new projects in Boyle Heights have prompted concerns about gentrification.

One factor on election day could be longevity. Many political observers expect that what de León really wants is to be mayor. If he wins in 2020, he could soon jettison constituents to mount a campaign to succeed termed-out Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2022.

The former state senator hasn’t exactly denied his ambitions. When de León was asked at a September candidates’ forum about committing to serve a full term, he wouldn’t promise to be there for four years. “I don’t plan and calculate my future,” he said at the event organized by the Central City Association.

What Happens Next?

The election is on March 3. If no candidate secures a majority, the top two finishers will move on to a runoff that takes place, egads, eight months later, on November 3.


RELATED: It’s Been Precisely a Year Since the José Huizar FBI Raid—So What’s Unfolded Since?

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