The Top 9 Most Compelling Races in the 2022 L.A. Elections

Cityside Column: Running down the Los Angeles matchups, based on which delivered the best drama and most entertainment value
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On Tuesday, the 2022 election cycle will, at last, come to an end. As voters head to the polls, Angelenos will happily say goodbye to incessant mailers, copious political text messages, and an ad onslaught unlike anything ever seen before in L.A.

While the mayor’s race between mall man Rick Caruso and U.S. Rep. Karen Bass has dominated attention, it is not the only exciting contest on the ballot. In fact, Angelenos have enjoyed, or at least experienced, a bevy of fierce throwdowns. Here’s a rundown of the most important city and county head-to-head races, ranked in reverse order based on drama, entertainment value and electoral uncertainty.

  1. City Council District 15

The contest to succeed Joe Buscaino got intriguing after the June primary when heavy favorite Tim McOsker was forced into a runoff by little-known Danielle Sandoval. In round two McOsker, a politically connected attorney based in San Pedro, wanted to leave nothing to chance and put his fundraising machine into overdrive; through Nov. 2, he pulled in $458,600, more than eight times the $52,300 Sandoval raised. But perhaps more impactful was the season’s biggest oops, outside of the whole leaked audio recording scandal that blew up the City Council. The day after Sandoval earned the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times, the paper reported that employees of a restaurant she owned years ago have accused her of wage theft—and it turned out that she never paid up the thousands owed to her former staff. Sandoval protested at first, then apologized; the Times endorsement was soon rescinded. Sure, the strange can occur, but this one is over.

Jane Fonda, right, takes a selfie with Faisal Gill, who is running for Los Angeles City Attorney, after a press conference to announce the Jane Fonda Climate PACs endorsement of a slate of Los Angeles area candidates at Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, September 1, 2022. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
  1. City Attorney

It’s amazing how little attention the race for the second-highest job in the city of Los Angeles has received. Left-leaning Faisal Gill finished first in a seven-person primary and now faces Hydee Feldstein Soto in the runoff. The lack of heat or media coverage here is odd—not just because the seat is so important, but because Gill is something of a moneybag; according to financial disclosures filed with the City Ethics Commission, in the primary and runoff, he has dumped $2.35 million of his own cash into the race. The most news-dominant moment in the contest occurred over the summer when Bass pulled her endorsement of Gill in the wake of reports about his plans not to prosecute certain crimes for 100 days if he is elected.

Los Angeles County sheriffs escort Los Angeles Supervisor Shelia Kuehl’s from her house after serving her an early morning search warrant in Santa Monica on September 10. This was part of a criminal investigation into a county contract awarded to a nonprofit organization.  (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
  1. City Council District 5

In this primary, attorney Sam Yebri raised more money than any candidate running for any City Council seat, incumbents included. Yet on the day of the primary, Katy Young Yaroslavsky, a deputy to County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, beat him by almost 20 percent and just missed the majority needed to win outright. Their cash hauls are fairly close and hot topics, such as how each would respond to tent encampments, have drawn attention. Still, the wide margin of victory in the primary has dimmed the drama in the contest for the Westside seat being vacated by a termed-out Paul Koretz. 

  1. County Supervisor District 3

State Sen. Bob Hertzberg is something of a Valleysaurus, given how long he has been advocating for the San Fernando Valley in government and civic circles. West Hollywood council member Lindsay Horvath has tried to use that longevity and insider status against him, and while she seeks to appeal to progressive voters, a lot of people know Hertzberg’s name and record. This is a hugely important job, as the successor to Sheila Kuehl will represent 2 million people while playing a key role in crafting a county budget of nearly $40 billion. There is uncertainty, considering that the two were just 3 percentage points apart in the June primary. Still, the attention given to other races has put this one on the back burner.

On August 26, 2021, Mejia exhorts the troops during a nighttime protest outside the San Fernando Valley home of L.A. city councilman Paul Krekorian.
  1. City Controller

In years past, the race to determine Los Angeles’ fiscal watchdog was an overlooked snoozer. Kenneth Mejia has certainly changed that in 2022. The left-leaning candidate learned from his previous, failed runs for Congress and he’s excited young voters with a campaign powered by social media, billboards and pictures of Corgis. He also generated unwanted attention when some of his nasty past tweets resurfaced, including one when he labeled Joe Biden “a rapist & racist.” Additionally, LAMag reported that despite his chest-thumping about his CPA status, he’d touted these credentials while his license had lapsed. Yet the hiccups mattered little to voters, and in the primary, he crushed Councilman Paul Koretz by 20 points. Although the June and November voter pools are different, many see this race as a fait accompli. 

  1. City Council District 11

The race to succeed Mike Bonin has gotten saucy! Attorneys Erin Darling, who finished first in the June primary, and Traci Park, who came in second, have ripped at each other, tangling over the homelessness crisis—particularly tent encampments in Venice—issues around crime and the clients whom each has represented. Darling, a progressive, is seen by many as Bonin 2.0—though even Darling has sought to distance himself from the outgoing officeholder. Through Nov. 2, Park raised $657,000 to Darling’s $254,000, but the really big money comes from outside groups. Unions that represent carpenters and hotel and restaurant workers have spent more than $500,000 pushing Darling and attacking Park. That is sizable, but it is just a fraction of the $1.8 million that unions for police, firefighters, and apartment building owners have dropped to promote Park and kneecap Darling. This will be caustic until, and probably after, vote counting begins. 

Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s enemies had their homes and offices raided, and one judge is telling his department to slow its role. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
  1. Sheriff of Los Angeles County

In June, I ranked this as the most interesting race on the ballot, and if it were not for a couple of battles that reached historic levels, it would still be number one. While the candidacy of Robert Luna, the former Long Beach police chief, is compelling, the race stands out solely because of the incendiary actions of incumbent Alex Villanueva. In June, the little-known Luna was within spitting distance of Villanueva, who managed the amazing feat of having a huge name ID but getting just 30.7% of the vote in the primary. He has gone nuclear since then; In September, his deputies raided the home of octogenarian County Supervisor Kuehl, and just last week, Villanueva raised every political eyebrow in Los Angeles with a video soliciting campaign donations from the deputies who work for him. Four years ago, Villanueva became the first person in more than a century to topple an incumbent sheriff in Los Angeles county. This could be the second consecutive time that happens. 

  1. City Council District 13

Los Angeles gets another case of left and lefter, as liberal Democrat Mitch O’Farrell tries to rebuff a challenge from Hugo Soto-Martinez. This race has so much, including a polarizing clearing of an Echo Park Lake tent encampment, a move in which two-term incumbent O’Farrell played a role. Spending in the race has been huge, including more than $1 million in independent expenditures to back O’Farrell from the LGBTQ civil rights organization Equality California. Adding to the mix is O’Farrell’s elevated role during the audio recording scandal. While foes tried to cast the councilman as tightly tied to the suddenly odious and now former Council president Nury Martinez, her departure led to him becoming the acting Council president, so he was the guy leading their meetings and appearing on TV calling for the resignations of Reps Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León. Soto-Martinez had a 9-point lead in June and progressive activists have been hitting the pavement for him since then. The question becomes whether a charged political environment will reverse the June outcome.

Los Angeles Mayoral candidates Congresswoman Karen Bass speaks as developer Rick Caruso listens as they participate in the second one-on-one mayoral debate at the KNX Newsradio SoundSpace Stage in Los Angeles, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
  1. Mayor of Los Angeles

The battle between U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and mall man Rick Caruso is one Los Angeles will discuss for decades. As Election Day arrives, polls have Bass in front—but within the margin of error. In other words, the race is a toss-up. So much about this political mosh pit has been incredible, from the differences between the two to the fact that Caruso, in the primary and runoff, has spent $104 million while Team Bass has shelled out $9 million. Bass won the June primary by 7 points, but after a series of testy debates, a yacht-load of nasty TV commercials, and a campaign upended by the City Council audio scandal, it’s unclear which way this will go. It’s a cliché, but it likely comes down to who can turn out their base in large numbers—and Latino voters are key. About the only certainty is that the likely slow vote count means the drama will continue for days, if not weeks. It may be Thanksgiving before we know who will serve as the 43rd mayor of Los Angeles.

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