It's been a feisty campaign between Janice Hahn and Steve Napolitano, who are running to replace Don Knabe in the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors' Fourth District. The Hahn campaign has called Napolitano a "slumlord millionaire," while Napolitano has decried Hahn's violation of campaign spending limits.
Now, new revelations of shady campaign contributions from a developer are spicing up the already fiery race.
On Sunday, the L.A. Times published an astonishing investigative piece about a Torrance-based developer named Samuel Leung. The Times discovered that more than $600,000 in campaign contributions to local politicians were made by people linked to Leung — relatives, employees, relatives of employees, business associates, relatives of business associates, and so on. Some contributors were low-income construction workers and repairmen working for Leung. Many could not remember giving to any candidate. The District Attorney's Office has opened an investigation following the Times story.
The politician who got the largest share of this money was former City Council member, now Congresswoman Janice Hahn, who wrote a letter of "conditional support" for one of Leung's projects, the Sea Breeze (also implicated in the piece is Hahn's successor, City Councilman Joe Buscaino).
Hahn campaign spokesman John Shallman says the Times got it wrong — at least with respect to his client.
"The insinuation in the story that campaign dollars impacted her decision is ridiculous," Shallman says. "When this project was voted on, she wasn’t even on the council." He calls the Sea Breeze letter "a classic conditional letter that members of the City Council write daily."
Napolitano begs to differ.
"There’s a pattern there," Napolitano says. "There’s been a pattern for many years, of getting influenced and taking money from large donors and making votes on their projects."
Shallman's response: "There is no pattern. There’s nothing here. She didn’t vote on the project. I don’t know what he’s talking about."
Anyway. It's a heady time for the Board of Supervisors. Just three years ago, the five-member body, which controls a $28 billion budget, was a fiscally conservative, pragmatic entity, made up of two Republicans and three Democrats — two of whom, Zev Yaroslavsky and Gloria Molina, were famously spendthrift.
Now, with the full force of term limits setting in and the longest-serving supervisors being flushed out, the Board could turn 100 percent Democrat. It also could become 80 percent female.
Hahn is a Democrat, the daughter of longtime supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who served on the board for so long (40 years!) that they named their main building after him. Janice Hahn's brother Jim served one term as mayor of L.A. and is now a judge.
Janice Hahn finished first in the primary with about 47 percent of the vote — just three points short of winning the seat outright and avoiding a runoff.
Napolitano, a Republican and a former Knabe staffer, finished second, well behind Hahn, though he's put up much more of a fight then anyone thought he would, having spent at least $1.7 million of his own money on the campaign.
He says he would continue the board's legacy of fiscal prudence.
"The county has been run fiscally conservative for a number of years," Napolitano says. "We’ve been fair. I’m not against labor unions. But if you give too much [to them] in pensions and benefits, then the money goes toward the few, and not services we provide. We want to compensate people reasonably and fairly, but also sustainably."
The District 5 Supervisors seat, meanwhile, is being vacated by Michael Antonovich, a cat-loving conservative Christian who's served on the board since 1980. His chief of staff, Kathryn Barger, a Republican, is running against a Democrat, Darrell Park.
Park's second-place finish in the primary was something of a shock. The former White House budget staffer finished ahead of some far better-known candidates, including City Councilman Mitchell Englander and prosecutor Elan Carr. Since making the runoff, Park has been endorsed by the Democratic Party — and that's about it. Barger has been endorsed by nearly every single labor union and elected official in the city, including four of the five sitting board members.
"It’s a weird situation," says Eric Bauman, chair of the L.A. County Democratic Party. "She is a Republican. She’s Antonovich's chief of staff. Despite how conservative Antonovich is, she apparently built tremendous relationships with people during the years working for Antonovich."
Park, her opponent, is running on a shoestring budget.
"There’s a lot of the establishment that’s behind my opponent," Park says. "People and organizations that are benefiting from the way the system is now. That system does not allow the average taxpayer to have a voice."
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Of the four candidates for the two board seats, Park is the one outsider, the guy running to change the way the Board of Supervisors does things.
"There’s nothing in county government that we can point to where we can say, yes, that’s working great," Park says. "People are paying too many taxes and not getting enough services."
Unfortunately, with little money or staff, it's been difficult for Park to get his message out.
"These supervisor districts are so population-rich, so geographically humongous, it makes it hard to run a campaign if you’re not well-funded," Bauman says. "I wish I could do more to help the guy."