L.A. County supervisor races yield surprises and uncertainty

A political newcomer running for a seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors staged an election-night surprise, inching past several better-known and better-funded opponents and possibly securing a spot in the Nov. 8 runoff, according to initial results.

Darrell Park, a Democrat running to replace retiring Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, placed second behind Antonovich’s chief of staff, Kathryn Barger. Park, waging his first race for elected office, outperformed more seasoned politicians, including Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander.

Park, who runs a start-up and advises green energy companies, raised about $200,000, much less than the Republicans in the race. 

“In this cynical time in our politics, everyone thinks it’s only big money that matters, and it’s not true,” he said.

Whether Park’s lead will hold is unclear. More than 570,000 provisional and late vote-by-mail ballots remained to be counted Wednesday countywide. Park finished just 417 votes ahead of the third-place finisher, Republican state Sen. Bob Huff. Barger, like Antonovich, is a Republican. 

In the race for the seat being vacated by Supervisor Don Knabe, U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), a former Los Angeles city councilwoman and the daughter of a popular former longtime supervisor, failed to secure the majority needed to win outright and is headed for a potentially bruising runoff with a Republican opponent, Steve Napolitano.

Bill Carrick, campaign manager for Barger, said the uncertainty leaves her campaign “a little bit in limbo” as they wait to see who she will be facing off against.

“I didn’t really have a clue about who would be contenders for the second place in the runoff, and here we are the next day and I still don’t have a clue,” he said.

Barger had been widely expected to land a runoff spot in the race for the 5th District, which stretches from the San Fernando Valley north to Palmdale and east to San Dimas. She had the support both of her boss and of powerful labor groups, including the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Many had expected Englander to secure the second spot in the runoff. Though he raised more than $1 million and is well-known locally, he came in fifth, behind Huff and Glendale City Councilman Ara Najarian.

“He punched below his weight, and I’m not sure why,” Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A., said of Englander’s weak showing.

Early in the race, several rival candidates had joined forces to file a successful lawsuit over Englander’s proposed ballot designation as “Councilmember/Police Officer.”

They argued that the title would mislead voters into thinking Englander was a full-time cop, when he is a volunteer reserve officer.

Carrick said that might have hurt Englander’s campaign, as might the fact that most of the district lies outside the city of Los Angeles, where he is better known. The district encompasses the Antelope Valley and parts of the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

Unofficial precinct-level results analyzed by The Times showed that Englander’s support was concentrated in portions of the district that are part of the city of L.A., particularly in the northern San Fernando Valley. Huff garnered strong support in the eastern San Gabriel Valley, and Park was strong in Pasadena, South Pasadena and surrounding communities. Najarian dominated his home turf in Glendale.

Barger had broad support across much of the district, but dominated the Antelope Valley and Santa Clarita, on the north side of the district, while the southern portion of the district was fragmented among candidates.

Park said he thought the fact that he was a Democrat and endorsed by the county Democratic Party gave him a boost in the district, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, 41% to 30%.

If Park does land in the runoff, the configuration could represent a quandary for groups such as the labor federation. They typically support Democratic candidates but have so far backed Barger, a moderate Republican whom many of them have dealt with during her years working for the county. 

Labor federation leader Rusty Hicks said Wednesday it was too early to tell whether a Park-Barger runoff would cause the federation to change course.

Hicks also signaled that the labor organization will continue pushing for Hahn in the race for Knabe’s seat, which encompasses Long Beach and other South Bay cities as well as parts of the southeastern county.

“Janice brings a fighting spirit for working people, which she certainly had at the City Council,” Hicks said. “And she’s going to bring that same tenacious fighting spirit to the Board of Supervisors.”

Hahn and Napolitano appeared to be gearing up for a bitter fight in the runoff.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Napolitano sent out mailers attacking Hahn for taking campaign contributions from oil companies and criticizing “self-serving career politicians.”

He also sought to appeal to voters concerned that Hahn’s election would endanger the county’s history of fiscal responsibility by creating a four-fifths supermajority of liberal, labor-backed supervisors on the board.

Napolitano said he was pleased that his campaign had forced Hahn into a runoff despite her greater name recognition and spending and conventional wisdom saying she would win outright. “I’d call that an upset,” he said.

Hahn said she had always assumed that the three-way race would end with a November runoff. She added that Napolitano had put about $800,000 of his own money into his campaign and had the backing of Knabe, who has represented the district for 20 years.

Hahn campaign consultant Dave Jacobson said his client stayed positive throughout the race, even as Napolitano carried out a “last-minute smear campaign” against her. 

Asked if Hahn is prepared to go negative herself, the political consultant said, “We’re not going to take anything off the table.”

“Congresswoman Janice Hahn is fully prepared to take off the gloves and engage in full-on combat against a Donald Trump-style negative smear campaign, should Steve Napolitano throw one our way,” Jacobson said.

Napolitano disputed the Hahn camp’s characterization of his campaign.

“We ran an aggressive but honest campaign,” he said. “It wasn’t a smear campaign. It wasn’t a negative campaign. If there was anything negative about it, it was her record that was negative.”

Regalado said he still expects Hahn to ultimately carry the election, especially with the expected high Democratic turnout in November.

“Hahn would have to have about five major scandals in a row to not win that seat,” he said.

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Times staff writer Ben Welsh contributed to this report.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

Twitter: @sewella

david.zahniser@latimes.com

Twitter: @davidzahniser

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