UPDATE at 4:25 p.m., Thursday, March 12, 2015: We've added, at the bottom, the final outcome of the March 3, 2015 primary vote in CD 4, which sets up a historic race in which David Ryu, the first Asian-American to have a serious chance at a council seat in years, has advanced to the May 19 runoff.
Call it the muddle in the middle. One sprawling, splayed-out L.A. City Council district straddling a mountain range, 14 candidates, no frontrunner and a whole lot of undecided voters. The top two vote-getters on March 3 move on to the May 19 Los Angeles general election. With the primary turnout expected to be low, low, low, a candidate might need only 4,000 to 5,000 votes to be in the runoff for one of the best-paying low-skilled jobs in America.
Here's a guide to the candidates most likely to make the runoff to replace the irreplaceable L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge:
Teddy Davis has been running for this CD 4 seat for years, since back when he was a flack (that means PR guy) for Antonio Villaraigosa. Then he moved to Maryland to work for Governor Martin O'Malley, and that was weird, but then he moved back here about a year ago, and he's basically been campaigning full-time ever since, walking precincts, knocking on doors, meeting voters.
He raised an OK amount of money — $125,000, at last count — not enough to afford a mail consultant.
This is one of those old-fashioned campaigns where the candidate just walks his ass off. The Daily News endorsed Davis (along with Tomas O'Grady), which should help with voters in the San Fernando Valley; he also was endorsed by the Los Feliz Ledger and got an honorable mention from the Los Angeles Times in its endorsement of Sheila Irani. In short, Davis has straddled the insider/outsider fence quite nicely.
Until recently, Davis was something of a joke. One of his opponents is said to have boasted at one point, "It’s taken Teddy a year, I’m gonna take it from him in 30 days." Davis, who looks like he's about 12 (it doesn't help that he's very short and his first name is Teddy), at times appears like a goody-two-shoes.
But Davis may be underestimated. Rumor has it that he is in first place in some of the informal polls being taken (key words: some and informal) and that he has a good chance of making the runoff.
If there was a presumptive frontrunner at the beginning of this campaign, it was Carolyn Ramsay. As Tom LaBonge's chief of staff, she is fairly well-known among the people who praise LaBonge for his constituent-services acumen. She's raised more money than any other candidate besides David Ryu, and because much of it was from people living in the district, she qualified for the maximum $100,000 in city matching funds.
Ramsay ran a smart, safe campaign, playing nice with neighborhood councils, avoiding mistakes and staying positive. She's exactly the kind of person who wins these races year after year. But is this year like all the others?
Irishman Tomas O'Grady finished second when he ran for this seat four years ago against incumbent Tom LaBonge and bicycle activist Stephen Box. O'Grady got the Times endorsement but not enough votes to force a runoff against LaBonge.
He's been busy with his nonprofit, planting gardens in schools, and he didn't file papers to run until a bit late in the game. By some accounts, he's considered himself somehow deserving of the seat, or at least a place in the runoff.
He's been especially snippy with certain candidates, such as Teddy Davis, with whom he split the Daily News endorsement, and Sheila Irani, whom the Times endorsed this time around.
"I think he’s shocked at the erosion of his base, and he blames me and Teddy for it," Irani says. "I don’t think he had a game plan."
Irani also has suggested that the timing of a crazy lawsuit against her, filed by her neighbor and served in the middle of a candidate debate, was somehow masterminded by O'Grady. He denies this.
Anyway. All sorts of weird negative stuff have surrounded the O'Grady campaign, including a story in the Times about interns from his nonprofit working on his campaign, an ethical gray area at best. However, he's popular in Los Feliz and Silver Lake, and of all the candidates who are genuine City Hall critics (including Irani), he is probably the most viable.
On paper, Veres is a pretty strong candidate: A staffer for Senate leader Kevin de Leon, he lives in Sherman Oaks and has been endorsed by a number of unions and entertainment industry folks. He's raised a healthy $345,000, with another $69,000 in matching funds, as of now. He also has a somewhat shady independent expenditure campaign sending out mail on his behalf. Perhaps most importantly, he's been endorsed by the L.A. County Democratic Party.
A couple problems, though. Firstly, Veres has a surname that, to some, sounds Hispanic* (it's actually Hungarian) in one of the whitest districts in the city. He's also been tagged as a Sacramento insider. But more than anything, Veres just hasn't been campaigning as long as Davis and O'Grady. Voters don't know him.
Veres' hopes rest on the fact that his name is on a lot of glossy mailers, and some Valley voters may go for a Valley resident.
An ex-State assemblyman, Knox has the advantage of having already been on ballots seen by some voters in the district, albeit some of the older ones. He's raised a decent amount of money, and the L.A. Police Protective League union has, so far, spent $72,000 on him. He speaks crisply, and at debates comes across as a "no BS" kind of guy.
But like Veres, he hasn't met as many voters as some of the other candidates, and to some people he comes off as a bit of an insider.
Sheila Irani, David Ryu, Jay Beeber and Joan Peilco
Irani, an economist, might well be the smartest candidate running, which is probably why the Times endorsed her. Even though she once worked in LaBonge's office, she's been an articulate City Hall critic.
The problem she faces is that she has raised less than $20,000, meaning she cannot send out mailers to voters, a key element of nearly every City Council victory in Los Angeles. That fact would make an Irani victory an enormous shock.
David Ryu has the opposite problem. This Korean-American health care entrepreneur has raised more money than any other candidate — over $400,00, much of it from outside the district. His campaign staff says it has worked hard to register voters, which could, perhaps, tip the election in his balance. But probably not, since he is not the type to fire up a crowd.
Both red-light camera hero Jay Beeber and City Hall aide Joan Pelico have pockets of support but are probably long-shot candidates. He raised very little money and thus could not sell his reform message; she raised decent money but was overshadowed by other candidates.
UPDATE at 4:25 p.m., Thursday, March 12, 2015: The tight race for a runoff spot in Council District 4 has been decided, and political newcomer David Ryu will advance to the May 19 runoff, up against City Hall insider Carolyn Ramsay.
In a city of 4 million people, few of whom vote in municipal elections, Ryu bested third-placer Tomas O'Grady by just 149 votes.
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Here is the final vote tally for CD 4 released at City Hall today:
MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL, DISTRICT NO. 4
DAVID RYU 3,392 14.62%
CAROLYN RAMSAY 3,551 15.30%
JOAN PELICO 1,349 5.81%
TEDDY DAVIS 2,532 10.91%
STEP JONES 99 0.42%
ROSTOM "ROSS" SARKISSIAN 494 2.12%
MIKE SCHAEFER 255 1.09%
WALLY KNOX 2,589 11.16%
TOMAS O'GRADY 3,243 13.98%
JAY BEEBER 1,093 4.71%
TARA BANNISTER 291 1.25%
SHEILA IRANI 1,905 8.21%
FRED MARISCAL 171 0.73%
STEVE VERES 2,231 9.61%
*A previous version of this post said that Veres' last name is Hispanic. It is actually Hungarian.