Election Midyear Report: Angelenos Will Vote for Mayor In Six Months

A look at local races with precisely half a year until Election Day

For most people in Los Angeles, today is just another Tuesday. But for a cadre of politically oriented personnel, Dec. 7 is a landmark date: It is exactly six months until election day.

Millions of Californians will vote in the June 7, 2022, primary, and the returns will ripple up and down the state. But the results 182 days from now will play an outsized role in shaping the future of Los Angeles, as this is when the large crowd seeking to succeed Mayor Eric Garcetti will be whittled down. That is just one of numerous key races.

With the election half a year out, Los Angeles is taking a glance at how some consequential races are shaping up.

Mayoral Madness: The electoral world was completely different when Garcetti captured his first mayoral crown. In 2013, Angelenos voted in March and May of odd-numbered years, and turnout in the primary was an embarrassing 20.8%. Now, local elections have been shifted to align with state and federal ballots, and the 378,000 city residents who voted in March 2013 could easily triple.

A whopping 36 people have filed papers with the City Ethics Commission to raise money for the mayor’s race. Many won’t make the ballot, but Angelenos will still have a lot of choice.

Local politics often delivers the unexpected, but right now most observers cast U.S. Rep. Karen Bass as the clear frontrunner. She’s adored by Democrats, has a collection of valuable endorsements, and will raise tubs of money.

She faces ample competition, starting with City Attorney Mike Feuer, and Council members Joe Buscaino and Kevin de León. Challenges also come from outside City Hall, including Central City Association President Jessica Lall and entrepreneur Ramit Varma. Wild cards are mall master Rick Caruso, and businessman and former LAUSD Supt. Austin Beutner; both are considering running, and either could dump a ton of money into the race.

Don’t pick a winner just yet. If no one gets more than 50% of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a November runoff, and that’s a completely different race. Remember, George Gascón came in a distant second in the District Attorney primary last year, and then bounced incumbent Jackie Lacey in the general election. In other words, June is only the start when it comes to determining who will lead L.A.

Sheriff’s Smackdown: The second most striking local race is the one for Los Angeles County Sheriff. Consider it a referendum on the carnival ride that is Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

The guy delights in thumbing his nose at convention and authority. He has repeatedly clashed with the County Board of Supervisors and seems uninterested in using his clout to persuade resistant LASD deputies to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. He lashes out at reporters who criticize him. During the gubernatorial recall fiasco he shared a photo on social media of him posing with Republican lightning rod Larry Elder.

While all this might seem like a reason to label him One-Term Alex, Villanueva has defied expectation before. In 2018, he upset incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell. So don’t count him out.

A clutch of candidates are seeking to topple him, including Cecil Rhambo, who rose through the department ranks and now is chief of the Los Angeles Airport Police. Then there’s Eli Vera, a three-decade LASD vet who, after launching a campaign to unseat his boss, was demoted by Villanueva. Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna is running, as are LASD Capt. Britta Steinbrenner and Lt. Eric Strong.

It’s a crowded field, and with millions of county voters, it will be expensive and difficult for anyone to break through. So pay attention to who earns a pair of key endorsements: backing from the L.A. County Democratic Party, and the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (or ALADS), which represents thousands of LASD personnel, could shape the race.

The Other Citywide Races: The mayoral contest and various state and national races may suck up all the attention, not to mention most of the campaign donations, but don’t overlook the City Attorney and City Controller contests.

The City Attorney’s office plays a role in everything from addressing homelessness to offering legal advice to the city council. It also prosecutes misdemeanors in Los Angeles (the District Attorney handles more serious felonies). After nine years, Feuer will be termed out.

The field is crowded, and by the end of June, five people had each raised into the six figures (the next fundraising deadline is Dec. 31), though no one has established real separation. A lot of attention is on former Board of Public Works President Kevin James, while Vermont transplant Faisal Gill is courting the progressive crowd, and Marina Torres will tout her experience as a federal prosecutor. Others with a formidable war chest include attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto, and attorney and nonprofit chair Teddy Kapur.

It’s tough to tell how the race will go. The same could be said for the City Controller election, and the successor to a termed-out Ron Galperin will be L.A’s fiscal watchdog.

Again, it’s a cluttered field, and while the most prominent name is Councilman Paul Koretz, nothing is definite; in 2013, another councilman, Dennis Zine, lost to then City-Hall outsider Galperin.

David Vahedi has the cash to make things interesting, and Kenneth Mejia is aiming for progressive voters and taking to social media to point out public safety personnel making massive overtime sums. The next fundraising reports will be particularly interesting for a pair of figures: Rob Wilcox, who now works for Feuer, and previously was deputy city controller under L.A.’s best-ever Controller, Laura Chick; and Reid Lidow, an ex-Garcetti aide and first-time candidate who has brought on campaign mastermind Bill Carrick.

Council Clashes: For many years, council incumbents in Los Angeles never lost. Then last year, Nithya Raman ran a grassroots, volunteer-powered campaign that defeated District 4 representative David Ryu. Now a parade of progressive outsiders are seeking to replicate Raman’s run.

There are also two open seats, in the Westside’s District 5, and District 15, which contains communities including San Pedro and Watts; Buscaino is giving up the latter post to run for mayor.

The most intriguing race is in District 11, where two-term rep Mike Bonin is under fire, in large part over strategies to respond to tent encampments in Venice and elsewhere. Five challengers have filed papers to raise money for the race, and attorney Traci Park and Allison Holdorff Polhill, who works for school board member Nick Melvoin, are both generating attention.

The big question is precisely what people will vote on. An effort to recall Bonin is underway, and the City Clerk is now verifying signatures that could prompt a recall election. This raises the possibility that Bonin has a recall and a regular election on the same ballot.

That is all to be determined. Whatever the case, that race, like the rest of the election in exactly six months, will be fiery and fantastic.