The War On Councilman Mike Bonin Is Far From Over

An effort to yank the veteran councilmember from office fails. Now he faces a brutal June election

If you heard a giant whooshing sound sweep across Los Angeles late on Tuesday afternoon, it was probably City Councilmember Mike Bonin letting out a sigh of relief after learning that an attempt to recall him from office had crashed and burned. This likely was followed by the District 11 rep dancing a jig, which is amusing to picture.

At the same time there may have been another sound: a string of expletives from other parts of the district. Constituents, who were furious with the leadership and homelessness response tactics from Bonin, took a big step in the effort to get him yanked from office. There were petitions submitted with 39,271 signatures, far more than the 27,317 required to spark a vote.

Petition gatherers always exceed the minimum number of names—in this case signees had to be registered voters in the district that encompasses Venice, Mar Vista, Pacific Palisades and other Westside enclaves—knowing some will be invalid. While the anti-Bonin crew likely assumed that the 12,000 extra John Hancocks provided a sufficient buffer, they were wrong. According to the office of City Clerk Holly Wolcott, only 25,965 were verified; the rest were duplicates, had a wrong address or otherwise didn’t qualify.

This was a strategic flop for the recall team, forcing them to consider an appeal, go back to square one, or drop the effort altogether. Bonin, for his part, seemed ebullient and empowered. In a statement to supporters he crowed, “Today is the end of a wasteful, distracting abuse of the electoral process—but it’s nowhere near the end of attacks on progressive values and the real solutions to homelessness.”

He deserves to chest thump. But while Bonin won the battle, the war still rages. The most important fight is less than five months away, and his political future is by no means assured.

The recall attempt was kind of odd, simply due to the timing. Bonin won his second term in 2017, garnering 71% of the vote, and he’ll shoot for a third and final term in the June 7 primary, with a runoff in November if needed (like other city politicians, his current term was super-sized by 18 months due to a change in voting dates). Had the recall qualified, then it might have been consolidated with the primary, forcing district residents to vote on the recall while also casting ballots in the regular election. That would have been hella confusing.

The tactics in the past few months were intriguing and sometimes caustic. Bonin foes pilloried the councilman for the tent encampments that for months sprawled across the Venice Beach Boardwalk. A campaign was erected on public safety fears, the recall effort’s website blaring, “Crime is rampant and rising. Neighborhoods and schools are unsafe.  We feel afraid to visit public beaches and community parks.”

When opponents attacked, Bonin backers countered. They asserted that the effort to tear down the councilman was propelled by right wingers and Republicans, which verges on the worst thing you can call someone in Los Angeles.

Bonin has never been the typical politician. His website acknowledges that, “Mike is a recovering drug addict and alcoholic.” He doesn’t appear to be using the council post as a launch pad to higher office. He seems to only wear blue shirts. An old bio noted that he “loathes wearing a necktie” and “shows up for many neighborhood functions in shorts.”

Sartorial proclivities aside, Bonin has long been one of the council’s most progressive members. In recent years he seems to have moved even further to the left, particularly when it comes to addressing homelessness. He has sometimes aligned himself in a losing minority with District 4 rep Nithya Raman, including in voting against ordinances that would restrict where people experiencing homelessness can sit or sleep. That position endears him to an activist base, while adding more logs to the pro-recall fire.

It’s this angle that makes the coming election both exciting and unpredictable. In 2020, progressive voters and groups rallied around Raman, propelling her to victory against David Ryu, and marking the first time in nearly two decades that a Los Angeles council incumbent had lost their seat. Now Bonin may need the support of left-leaning voters and organizations if he is to avoid becoming the next sitting council rep to get bounced.

Opposition candidates are coming for him. Attorney Traci Park has generated buzz, as has Allison Holdorff Polhill, who until recently worked for school board member Nick Melvoin. The L.A. Times on Wednesday reported that Greg Good, an ally of Mayor Eric Garcetti and the president of the Board of Public Works, may enter the race. All of these candidates should be able to fundraise and orchestrate solid campaigns. Bonin will be in every foe’s bull’s-eye.

Everything is tricked up by the coming election being completely different than the last time the District 11 seat was up for grabs. In 2017, 44,879 people cast ballots, and Bonin coasted with 31,865 votes. But the shifting of election dates stands to vastly boost turnout.

As with any election, victory will depend on a combination of sheer numbers and turnout. Even if one-third of the petition signatures were rejected, nearly 26,000 district voters have indicated an anti-Bonin sentiment. That’s a high negative base to overcome.   

Team Bonin knows that this is war. Even before the recall flatlined, his campaign had shifted into a higher gear. Since the start of the year, a flurry of endorsements have been rolled out, including a couple powerful unions, and County Supervisors Janice Hahn and Holly Mitchell. Expect more prominent backers, and a bevy of fundraisers, to come.

Right now it’s Bonin 1, Opponents 0. But the fight is only starting.

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