Los Angeles 2022 Election Results: Not All Progressives Are Created Equal

Cityside Column: The vote count as we start the week already says a lot about the city’s political present and future

The polls closed at 8 p.m. on Nov. 8 and nearly a week later, Los Angeles is starting to get a sense of the look and feel of its Class of 2022 Elected Leaders. 

Through Saturday, the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk processed and counted 1.6 million votes, with just over 600,000 of them cast in the city of Los Angeles. An estimated 740,000 remain to be tabulated countywide, putting the region on pace for a “meh” voter turnout of about 42 percent. Compare this to 58% in 2018, with the governor’s office open, Gavin Newsom running, and sheriff’s race on the ballot (but no L.A. mayoral contest)—or 2013’s dismal 23.3 percent in the city election (the prior election where there was a contested mayoral race).

Results will not be certified until early December and it could be weeks before we see a victor in the race for mayor. However, a trio of updates shows mail-in ballots breaking toward liberal candidates, which is precisely what happened with the June primary. Of course, nothing is certain until the final vote is counted, but here are some winners, losers, and a few things we have learned.

Being a Lifelong Democrat Matters

Mall magnate Rick Caruso carried a slight lead on Nov. 8 in the mayor’s race but like in the primary, as mail-in votes were tabulated the electoral script flipped—the Friday update put Bass in front and as of Saturday, she’s 9,463 votes up. Somewhere in the vicinity of 280,000 more city ballots are to be counted, as of Monday afternoon.

With this comes what I’d say is a political truth: If you weren’t a Democrat until three weeks before running for mayor, a hefty number of Angelenos will remain skeptical of you and your campaign.

This is an amazing electoral case study: Caruso spared no expense in the effort to persuade the populace that he abandoned the GOP because his values differ. This may in fact be true and few really consider him to be Trumpian. Still, Bass is a stalwart of the party as a lifelong Democrat who is pro-choice—a key factor that can’t be underestimated in this moment. She carries an authenticity that even a $107 million campaign may not topple.

Caruso did everything he possibly could—blanketing our airwaves with ads, launching an unprecedented ground game, grabbing valuable and celeb endorsements—like Parents of Watts founder “Sweet Alice” Harris, Kim Kardashian, and Snoop Dogg—and wisely targeting the Latino and Asian-American vote. But in an election in which turnout is still below 50 percent, a lot of this ultimately may not have mattered because Bass was a true lock. We shall see. 

mail-in ballot

Stiffany Tertipes/Unsplash

The Future Is Slow Counting

We all yearn for the days of victors and losers on the night of the election, but those have gone the way of the Edsel—or, for a more current reference, they’ve gone the way of FTX.

Crypto exchange nosedives aside, boosting participation by aligning the city voting schedule with federal and state elections in even-numbered years (the last mayoral election took place in 2017) and sending every California resident a ballot in the mail are clear wins for democracy. The downside is that it takes a minute to get them back. In June, 85% of votes in L.A. County were cast by mail; for each one, an envelope must be opened and the name, signature, and date must be examined. Only then will the ballot be dropped in the counting machine. There isn’t a way to hurry this process.

We must give Los Angeles County election honcho Dean Logan credit—there have been zero reports of voting hiccups. And the original plan to give updates each Tuesday and Friday was amped up, with new counts released on Thursday and on Saturday, too. A bonus update will now come on Monday afternoon, as well. As of this article’s publication, the vote tally update schedule following this upcoming Friday’s announcement of numbers is unclear. But we will likely learn more about that soon.

So the tedious fact is that this year, and for the foreseeable future, vote counting won’t be so quick. The encouraging news is that more Angelenos are being given better options to vote.

Hugo Soto Martinez

 No Councilmember Can Ever Coast Again

Two years ago, progressive candidate Nithya Raman helped launch L.A.’sleft and letter” era when she knocked out incumbent David Ryu—marking the first time in nearly two decades that a sitting Los Angeles City Council member tumbled.

This year, Eunisses Hernandez has already bounced two-term District 1 incumbent Gil Cedillo. Now, District 13 City Council member Mitch O’Farrell looks likely to be felled by DSA-backed challenger Hugo Soto-Martinez.

Raman, Hernandez and Soto-Martinez all positioned themselves to the left of liberal council members. And you better believe that every campaign strategist young and old knows that the past system for an easy ride to re-election is gone for good. Money won’t win the day, either—the $850,000 Cedillo spent was double that of his challenger, and independent groups dropped another $1.3 million pushing his campaign. Now, he’s behind in the District 1 race by a sizable 8 percent.

The three presumed victors are all benefiting from effective and aggressive grassroots organizing propelled by activist groups, like Ground Game L.A., and young volunteers with a socialist mindset. Expect similar candidates to run in 2024, when opportunities to take another seven City Council seats open.

Jane Fonda, right, takes a selfie with Faisal Gill in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, September 1, 2022. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Not All Progressives Are Created Equal

An odd wrinkle this cycle involves a pair of citywide races. In the City Controller contest, left-wing candidate Kenneth Mejia crushed three-term City Council member Paul Koretz. The unearthing of some unsavory tweets and a LAmag report revealing that Mejia’s certified public accountant license had lapsed and his campaign team members had disrupted mayoral race events didn’t deter his campaign, which was powered by savvy use of social media and billboards featuring Corgis. In a way-too-early prediction—which I admit is based on nothing aside from having watched political careers unfold for decades—expect Mejia to turbo-charge this strategy in a from-the-left run for mayor in four years.

Back on the current cycle: As Mejia was voted in, another progressive hopeful, City Attorney candidate Faisal Gill, face-planted. The latest count has him trailing Hydee Feldstein Soto by 80,000 votes—that’s more than 15 percent. This came despite Gill securing many of the same left-leaning endorsements as Mejia. He also pumped over $2.35 million of his own money into the race, which alone is more than what Feldstein Soto dropped on her campaign.

Both of these are unsexy offices in City Hall and in fact, they’re pretty wonky gigs that rarely see a groundswell of support for a candidate. So what happened this year? It may be that Gill lacks the charisma and ability to inspire that Mejia conveys to voters. Sure, liberal lion Jane Fonda backed Gill’s bid but there was no social media swell to be seen. Maybe, in the end, Corgis really do matter.

Former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, left, and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva debate for County Sheriff on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Alex Villanueva Kneecapped the Next Generation of L.A. Sheriffs

Long before polls closed, I was one of many who predicted that current L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s campaign was cooked. The guy has proven that four years of courting bad press, finger-pointing amid your troubles, and reveling like Mr. Burns in full “release the hounds” mode when your deputies raid the home of the octogenarian county supervisor makes for a lousy strategy. Villanueva currently has 41.2% of the vote—about 17 points behind former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna. With almost 868,000 votes, Luna claims a nearly 260,000-vote advantage over the whirlpooling incumbent.

But Villanueva didn’t only torch his own political career— he’s made the job difficult for every future LASD sheriff. That’s because, on the same ballot, an overwhelming 69.8% of voters are saying yes to L.A. County Measure A, which will allow a super-majority of four of the five supes to fire a sitting sheriff.

There are caveats, including that a sheriff’s dismissal needs to be for cause, with clear egregious behavior, and so on. Opponents of the sure-to-pass measure point out that one never knows what will happen in the future—perhaps a politically motivated passel of pols could seek to sack a sheriff whose views veer in a divergent direction.

Getting this kind of measure passed in any previous election would have been seriously difficult. But in 2022 Los Angeles, Villanueva gave voters just about every reason to rein in the power of law enforcement leadership.

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