L.A. council candidates Ryu, Ramsay spar over developer donations

L.A. council candidates Ryu, Ramsay spar over developer donations
Los Angeles City Council candidates David Ryu, left, and Carolyn Ramsay. (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Council candidate David Ryu fired back Monday at accusations from rival Carolyn Ramsay that he had not held to his pledge to forgo contributions from developers, saying he had returned more money while the Ramsay campaign continued to reel in tens of thousands of dollars in developer cash.

In reaction, the Ramsay campaign said it was hard to believe Ryu's numbers and waved off his words, calling the pledge "a publicity stunt."


The two are sparring for a seat representing District 4, a Sherman Oaks-to-Silver Lake district where alarm over out-of-scale development and the perceived pull of developers has been a persistent concern at community forums. Their runoff election is May 19.

Ryu, a community health center development director, recently pledged not to accept campaign money from developers with current or upcoming projects in L.A.

He has emphasized that promise at debates in Sherman Oaks and the Hollywood Hills, describing himself as a City Hall outsider who will bring an independent voice to local government. A recent Ryu mailer declared, "As your City Council Member, I won't accept money from developers. Not now. Not ever."

Ramsay, who served as chief of staff to termed-out Councilman Tom LaBonge and has emphasized her experience in the district, has tried to poke holes in that pledge. At a debate held by the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. earlier this month, she waved around documents that she said listed $28,000 in developer-related donations Ryu hadn’t returned.

The Ryu campaign said it has combed through that list and found that most of those donations were not from developers, but from other kinds of businesses including real estate brokers, commercial property managers and architects.

The Ryu campaign also said that some other donations singled out by Ramsay were from developers who do not work in L.A., such as employees of Domus Development and its affiliate. Domus has done many projects in Northern California, according to its website.

Ryu did, however, return three donations totaling less than $1,000 this week, his campaign said. It previously returned another contribution from an employee of M + D Properties, known for Plaza Mexico in Lynwood, after The Times asked the campaign why the donation had not been returned under the pledge.

Meanwhile, the Ryu campaign said it had tallied up nearly $28,000 in campaign contributions that the Ramsay campaign had received from local developers during both the primary and general campaigns. The campaign said its analysis found that Ramsay had received more campaign money from developers than the rest of the candidates combined.

"David believes the only way to restore public trust is to avoid any hint of conflict of interest," Ryu spokeswoman Rachel Estrada said in a statement. "He continues to urge Ms. Ramsay to join him in taking this stand. Unfortunately, she seems to prefer seeking contributions from profits made on McMansions and out-of-scale development projects."

"Developers have made it crystal clear that Carolyn Ramsay is their favorite candidate," Estrada added.

The Ramsay campaign has argued that the Ryu pledge is a mere "stunt," partly because Ryu is still accepting money from developers working outside of L.A. who could come to the city in the future. In reaction to the Monday statement, Ramsay campaign strategist Doug Herman argued that Ryu's public pledge was "completely misleading."

"It's hard to believe David Ryu or his numbers after the latest example of him saying one thing and doing another," Herman said in a statement Monday.

Herman said the Ryu campaign "is still fueled by thousands of dollars from developers and by the profits he made from selling his home to a developer, which shows his very own pledge is nothing more than a publicity stunt."

Ryu sold his home to a development company last year and has loaned money to his own campaign. Herman concluded, "A pledge is no substitute for actually holding developers accountable, which is what Carolyn Ramsay has done and why she doesn't need a publicity stunt to prove she can hold developers accountable for their projects."


Estrada, the Ryu campaign spokeswoman, fired back by saying that if Ramsay had done such a good job holding developers accountable as LaBonge's chief of staff, "then why is there so much anger and mistrust amongst the residents ... when it comes to development projects?"

Ryu and Ramsay were the biggest fundraisers ahead of the March primary, a crowded contest that pitted 14 different candidates against one another.

Since the primary, Ramsay has outpaced Ryu in fundraising, pulling in more than $180,000 for the runoff as of earlier this month. Ryu had raised around $163,000, including a $20,000 loan to himself. Ramsay has also gotten more in city matching funds than Ryu, but Ryu is also benefiting from independent committees spending money to support his candidacy.

Times staff writer Soumya Karlamangla contributed to this report.

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