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Candidates scramble for the runoff in race for Antonovich's seat

Candidates scramble for the runoff in race for Antonovich's seat
County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who will depart the board after 36 years, outside a mental health services building in Glendale that bears his name. (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

The main thoroughfare running through Porter Ranch is peppered with campaign signs for county supervisor hopeful Mitch Englander. Thirty miles away in South Pasadena, 61-year-old Carmen Trevino has put up 20 signs for Englander's rival, Kathryn Barger, and is waiting for more to arrive.

In Lake Los Angeles, an unincorporated community in the desert on the northeastern edge of Los Angeles County, there are no campaign signs.

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Roxanne Arias and Lynda Maldonado, who stopped off at the hardware store to pick up a kiddie pool for Arias' grandson, said that although both of them sit on the Town Council, they haven't been following the race.

They haven't seen any candidates coming out to campaign in the rural outskirts of the Antelope Valley, and don't remember the last time the current supervisor came to a Town Council meeting instead of sending a field deputy.

"We'd like to see them come out here and see how we live," Arias said.

With the primary election just days away, no clear front-runner has emerged in the crowded race for the seat being vacated by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. He is being pushed out by term limits after 36 years on the powerful county Board of Supervisors and is now running for the state Senate seat being vacated by Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge).

Antonovich's exit marks the end of an era in a district where a courthouse and a regional park bear his name and many voters can't remember a time before he was their county representative.

If you look at the platforms of each one of these candidates, they’re ... consistently all very moderate, if not just center-left.


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His departure -- along with that of Supervisor Don Knabe, the only other Republican on the officially nonpartisan five-member board -- also marks a turning point for the political landscape of county government.

Antonovich's seat appears likely to stay in Republican hands. The five Republican candidates have raised the most money and are deemed by political observers the most likely to advance.

They are: Barger, Antonovich's longtime chief of staff, who has his endorsement; Englander, a Los Angeles city councilman; prosecutor Elan Carr; State Sen. Bob Huff; and former Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian. The three Democrats running -- Darrell Park, Raj Pal Kahlon and Billy Malone -- have raised little money, although Park has the endorsement of the county Democratic Party.

In Knabe's south-county district, where registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans by 21 percentage points, there is a strong possibility that the seat will shift to a Democrat.

U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), a former Los Angeles City Council member and daughter of former county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, and Knabe aide Steve Napolitano, a Republican who is supported by Knabe and Antonovich, are vying for that spot, along with Whittier school board member Ralph Pacheco, a Democrat.

Antonovich has been the most conservative member of the board. He fought to have a cross placed on the county seal, periodically sends out news releases decrying county money spent on services to "illegal aliens," and sometimes refers to the American Civil Liberties Union as the "American Criminal Liberties Union."

Although his district remains the most conservative in the county, it has moved to the left and become more diverse since he took office in 1980.

The Latino and Asian populations of the district have grown substantially and the African American population more modestly, while the number of white residents has shrunk. Registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans, 41% to 30%. An additional 24% declined to state a party preference.

The Republicans running to replace Antonovich have mostly taken a centrist tack in an attempt to appeal to voters across party lines.

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Luis Alvarado, a political consultant who works with Republican candidates, said the candidates would be "almost unrecognizable as Republicans" anywhere outside of Los Angeles County.

"If you look at the platforms of each one of these candidates, they're, I would say, consistently all very moderate, if not just center-left," he said.

Barger has lined up endorsements and substantial spending from the powerful L.A. County Federation of Labor and other unions that typically support Democrats. Englander has courted environmental groups, playing up his involvement in the response to the major leak at the Aliso Canyon gas facility that prompted thousands of families to flee Porter Ranch. He won the endorsement of the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters.

Carr has played up his tough-on-crime credentials as a gang prosecutor and Iraq war veteran, but has also touted his role in setting up community courts for people with mental health and substance abuse issues.

And Najarian was the only one of the five Republicans to voice opposition to presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in response to a question at a recent forum hosted by public radio station KPCC. "I am strongly opposed to many, many and much of the platform of Donald Trump and unless he changes that I will not be voting for him," he said.

Huff, the former state Senate Republican leader, has carved out a stance to the right of the others.

At a recent forum in Pasadena hosted by a coalition of progressive groups, the candidates were asked about their stance on cooperation between county jails and federal immigration authorities.

Carr and Barger decried the lack of federal immigration reform, with Carr calling it a "disgrace" and Barger saying, "It kills me that [the federal government] will reimburse us for people held in jails but not for basic healthcare for people who are here."

Englander, a reserve Los Angeles police officer, added that the policies have created mistrust between communities and law enforcement and said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement “has made a terrible mistake in what they’ve done.” Najarian called past policies under which the jails would hold people past the end of their sentences in order to turn them over to immigration authorities unconstitutional.

"The ironic thing is many of them left their oppressive governments to come to the United States to seek freedom," he said.

Only Huff took a hard-line stance.

"I'm not the guy up here on this dais that's going to throw ICE out of L.A. so if that's what you're looking for, vote for one of the others," he said.

Apart from the political dynamics of the district, the candidates must court voters in vastly different geographical and cultural areas in the sprawling district that includes the Antelope Valley and parts of the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys.

"The 5th District is a very complicated district," said Zev Yaroslavsky, a retired longtime Los Angeles County supervisor who is now director of the Los Angeles Initiative at UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs. "It's really three different districts."

Englander and Barger have both sought to shore up support in the San Fernando Valley by claiming credit for the response to the Porter Ranch gas leak. Najarian has a base in the Armenian ethnic community of Glendale. Huff has built up support in the Asian communities of the San Gabriel Valley with the help of his Taiwanese wife, Mei Mei -- as did Antonovich, whose wife is a former actress from China.

Englander and Barger have led the pack in fundraising. Both candidates have raised more than $1 million in their own campaign accounts and have also gotten a substantial boost from outside groups. An independent expenditure committee supporting Englander has raised more than $300,000 from construction trade unions, developers and others; while the unions representing county sheriff's deputies and firefighters have pumped $1.2 million into a committee supporting Barger's bid.

Alan Clayton, a political consultant who has tangled with the Board of Supervisors over redistricting and efforts to create another Latino seat on the board, predicted that Barger's political and financial support from the labor federation will help boost her to victory, as it did for sitting Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl.

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"The unions are going to go with somebody and they've decided that she's acceptable to them," said Clayton, who added that despite past disagreements with her boss, he is supporting Barger. "The [Federation of Labor's] not going to want to lose a race."

He predicted the second spot in the runoff will go to Englander or Najarian.

Yaroslavsky, who is backing Najarian because of their past work together on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said the race is "really wide open," adding, "A lot of it will depend on who turns out."

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Twitter: @sewella

UPDATES:

8:59 p.m.: This article was updated with more recent information on the amount of money that unions representing county sheriff's deputies and firefighters have pumped into a committee supporting Kathryn Barger's bid.

This article was first posted at 4 a.m.

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