Is L.A. City Council District 13 candidate John Choi a pawn of downtown City Hall interests? Does rival Mitch O'Farrell really have the support of CD 13's community activists? Will residents be screwed no matter who gets elected?
All important questions as the contentious CD 13 race heads into the final stretch, and endorsements from Choi's and O'Farrell's rivals may provide some revealing answers…
For months now, many CD 13 community activists have been saying that O'Farrell and Choi are totally different candidates.
In their eyes, O'Farrell, a longtime field deputy for Councilman Eric Garcetti, knows CD 13 inside and out and will better look after the interests of regular folks.
They say Choi, who's supported by the Democratic party machine in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Los Angeles County Federation of Labor honcho and kingmaker Maria Elena Durazo, will be more concerned about pleasing downtown power players.
Both men look to represent such neighborhoods as Atwater Village and East Hollywood and the tri-hipster Area of Hollywood, Silver Lake and Echo Park.
One litmus test may be checking out who's endorsing Choi and O'Farrell. More specifically, the endorsements from Choi's and O'Farrell's one-time rivals, who campaigned against the two men for months leading up to the March 5 primary.
Former CD 13 candidates who backed O'Farrell are Sam Kbushyan, Josh Post, Alex De Ocampo and Mike Schaefer.
De Ocampo is a neighborhood success story who grew up poor and was raised in CD 13, but applied himself in school and ended up working for billionaire Haim Saban's charitable foundation. He's not closely aligned to power brokers Villaraigosa or Durazo.
Post is a former law professor who also worked for L.A. Mayor Jim Hahn, the L.A. County District Attorney's Office, and a federal judge. He was also elected to a neighborhood council in Mid-City and worked in after-school programs for L.A. students. He's not in the loop with the Villaraigosa/Durazo crowd.
Kbushyan is a Hollywood community activist with strong ties in Little Armenia, and Michael Schaefer is a small business owner. Neither of them are tight with the dominating forces in L.A.'s Democratic political world.
Choi, on the other hand, has the support of Matt Szabo, Robert Negrete, Jose Sigala and Emile Mack.
Szabo is a deputy mayor to Antonio Villaraigosa, Negrete is an aide to California State Senator Alex Padilla (a definite player in L.A. Democratic politics), and Mack is a City Hall insider as an assistant chief in the Los Angeles Fire Department.
Sigala has some street cred as a neighborhood council member in Echo Park.
Choi, a former public works commissioner, once worked for both Villaraigosa and Durazo.
What does it all mean? Well, L.A.'s rich and powerful crowd are clearly lining up behind Choi.
De Ocampo says about O'Farrell, “When on the campaign trail, you heard from residents and small business owners about the good work Mitch did to help the community. When you run for office, you come to know the people you run against. Mitch has been a class act since day one — and I know he will be a fine representative of our community. As someone who is born and raised in the community of CD 13, I will be proud to call Mitch O'Farrell my cCouncilmember.”
Szabo says, “Mitch O'Farrell is a dedicated public servant who is well-connected with the best-organized neighborhoods in the district, but I believe John Choi has a greater capacity to reach out and serve communities that need the most but often demand the least.”
He adds, “John is a coalition builder who will make sure no one is left out or ignored, regardless of economic or immigration status. And that's a critical quality for the leader of the most diverse district in the most diverse city in America.”
O'Farrell says about his endorsements, “We've been very honored to receive not only the endorsements but the active support of Sam Kbushyan, Alex De Ocampo and Josh Post; the third, fourth and fifth highest vote-getters in the March primary, as well as Mike Schaefer. It's been a pleasure to have them as an addition to our diverse and growing grassroots coalition.”
O'Farrell stays away from slamming Choi, but Choi doesn't return the favor.
Choi says he's “proud to have the support” of Negrete, Sigala, Mack and Szabo. “But this election will be won by voters making a choice between my opponent and me,” Choi says, “and I'm confident that the voters will prefer my experience and vision for the district over my opponent's promises to developers and other contributors to weaken environmental laws and be their advocate at City Hall.”
Choi campaign consultant Mike Shimpock throws in for good measure, “Endorsements don't mean a runoff candidate gets the votes of their endorsers — far from it. The candidates need to work those communities and reach out to voters, and that's what John Choi's campaign is doing.”
Shimpock adds, “As far as we can tell, he's in his campaign office counting his chickens. We're in the field getting votes.”
Election Day comes on May 21.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.