Why Third District’s Supervisor Race May Be One of the Best on the Ballot

Entry of Democratic veteran Bob Hertzberg amps up the contest for the powerful post

When Ron Galperin announced in January that he was running for State Controller it sent local political text chains and email inboxes a flurry, not because of what Galperin was aiming for, but rather because of what the two-term Los Angeles City Controller was giving up.

Last May, Galperin had launched a bid for County Supervisor, aiming to replace outgoing Third District rep Sheila Kuehl. Most observers thought he would easily finish in the top two in the June primary and advance to the November runoff. Victory seemed entirely possible.

The announcement that Galperin was gunning for the state post didn’t mention that he was quitting the supervisor’s contest. But everyone who follows this stuff immediately began asking why he had abandoned his aim for a really appealing job and instead set his sights on a gig that, while important, many Californians have no clue even exists. After all, Galperin had been running hard for supervisor; as recently as early December he was holding fundraisers.

Observers speculated that, in the wake of the county redistricting process, Galperin saw polls that made him somewhere between uneasy and downright queasy. The guesstimate was that he reasoned he had a better shot at chasing the statewide position.

Galperin never gave any indication as to what electoral shadow passed over him, but a few weeks later, there was clarity. On Jan. 18 Bob Hertzberg, a longtime political force rooted in the San Fernando Valley, announced he was running for the seat. His first pitch was a fastball down the pike for those who feel the Valley often gets short shrift in the political process.

“We in the Valley know what it means to have an 818 area code,” Hertzberg stated. “And the fact is, the San Fernando Valley is simply too big to not have a voice on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.”

Consider it a bit of Valley love on par with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza.

The entrance of the state Senate majority leader emeritus instantly makes this one of the most exciting elections on the ballot. It is also a fascinating turn of events apparently brought on by political scalpel work.

The once-a-decade redistricting process, which was finalized last month, tricked up the boundaries of the five supervisorial territories. Among the most important changes was moving relatively conservative Valley enclaves such as Chatsworth and Porter Ranch from the Fifth District into what had been a pretty progressive Third. Meanwhile, Los Feliz and other liberal territories were taken out, as were landmarks such as the Hollywood Bowl and LACMA. Kuehl has slammed the new lines.

An L.A. County supervisor’s seat is one of the best gigs not just in the region, but in the entire state of California. The five supes each represent about 2 million people and ride herd on a budget of nearly $40 million, and they exert influence on everything from public health to the Sheriff’s Department. Anyone who wins a post is almost guaranteed to have the seat for three four-year terms. Perhaps best of all, there is relatively little scrutiny; far more attention is paid to the mayor of the city of Los Angeles than the supervisors.

Hertzberg, a former speaker of the state Assembly and big-time Democratic player—albeit one who failed to make the runoff when he ran for mayor of L.A. in 2005—became the key figure to watch the second he entered. That said, his path won’t be easy, and the field holds contenders who have been mining votes for months.

They include West Hollywood City Councilmember and former mayor Lindsay Horvath, who boasts endorsements ranging from prominent union UNITE HERE Local 11 to Mayor Eric Garcetti to Jane Fonda to the departing Kuehl. Horvath is building her candidacy around issues including addressing homelessness and leading the post-COVID recovery.

Also likely to raise cash and draw votes is Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who has nine years in office and represents areas including Malibu, Santa Monica and West Hollywood. Bloom, a former attorney known for environmental advocacy, has the backing of figures including Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and state Sen. Sydney Kamlager.

Another person in the mix is another state senator, Henry Stern (he was actually the first to jump in after district lines were redrawn, beating Hertzberg by a few weeks). He is a former environmental attorney whose territory also includes some deep Valley neighborhoods, as well as portions of east Ventura County. Stern, a onetime staffer to U.S. Rep Henry Waxman, is also seeking to build his candidacy on issues such as climate change and homelessness.

None of these contenders are pushovers. Still, Hertzberg is the biggest name. He also touts endorsements from a bevy of Democratic leaders including U.S. Rep Tony Cardenas and California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis.

That recognition is a double-edged sword, and if opponents view Hertzberg as the pacesetter, then he is also the person they will attack the hardest. One can already envision the mailers reminding voters that he long carried the nickname “Huggy Bear” for his propensity to wrap his arms around friends and acquaintances. It was a penchant that drew heat in 2018, and an investigation found that the close contact was not always asked for or welcomed. Hertzberg apologized, but was reprimanded and told to cease the hugging.

The upcoming debates and forums should be fascinating. Just don’t underestimate how difficult this race will be for every candidate. The district holds more residents than 14 states, according to Kuehl’s office, and during the 2018 election some 262,000 people voted. Yes, the lines are different now, but the point is, that is a lot of people, and getting a message across and defining priorities will be difficult and expensive.

The election is on June 7.

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.