Voters in City Council District 13 are choosing from a crowded field of 12 candidates vying to represent one of the most diverse and vibrant areas in the city, stretching from Hollywood across to Silver Lake and Echo Park and down through historic Filipinotown to Koreatown.
The district improved during the nearly 12 years it was represented by Eric Garcetti, but much remains to be done. Nearly 35% of its children live in poverty, and the median household income is just under $38,000. The next council member must promote economic growth in struggling areas while shielding neighborhoods that have found their economic footing from poorly planned development and gridlock. He must also address citywide issues — most important, helping to steer Los Angeles out of its perilous fiscal straits.
Of several strong candidates in the race, Mitch O'Farrell is best suited to meet these challenges. A former field deputy and senior advisor to Garcetti, he is articulate, tenacious and well versed on the district. He is highly regarded for his responsiveness and his ability to deliver service to residents and business. He has a firm understanding of the need for more affordable housing, and has called for a citywide blueprint to deal with the problem. He wants to revamp outdated zoning laws. He has specific proposals for cutting spending, including eliminating the Board of Public Works.
O'Farrell isn't perfect. Like other candidates, he has promised to restore city services, including adding staffing at some fire stations, without explaining where he will find the money to do so. At the district level, he has not — nor have his opponents — focused much on the needs of residents other than those with clout, money and the right to vote. Nevertheless, he seems more ready than his rivals to perform effectively on the City Council.
Matt Szabo is experienced and politically shrewd. He touts his experience in helping pull the city back from the brink of insolvency as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff, and City Hall no doubt could benefit from a savvy negotiator who is knowledgeable about the budget process. But his vision for the 13th District is largely limited to bringing development to transit hubs in Hollywood and preserving Silver Lake, Echo Park and Atwater Village. Those communities need responsible stewardship to ensure that they continue to thrive, but Szabo may not prove as powerful or persuasive an advocate for neighborhoods that have yet to achieve economic stability.
John Choi has raised the most money in the race, but he's not ready for the job. He has served as a commissioner on the Board of Public Works, but he still has a lot to learn about the district's needs and how City Hall works. At one community forum, the candidates were called on to discuss the long-running battle over Barlow Respiratory Hospital, a century-old facility tucked into the hills of Elysian Park near Dodger Stadium. The hospital wants to sell part of its 25-acre site to a developer, which plans to build an 800-unit condominium complex. O'Farrell says he opposes the project. Choi professed to be unfamiliar with the details, demonstrating either ignorance of one of the hot-button issues in his district or an unwillingness to level with his would-be constituents.
Also troubling was Choi's statement at a Service Employees International Union endorsement meeting, where, as reported in the LA Weekly, he vowed that if elected, he wouldn't "abandon" labor. "If you endorse me," he said, "you're going to be on the inside. We're going to decide who to open the door for." Aligning oneself with labor is one thing, but virtually promising to take unions into City Hall with him suggests a lack of independent thinking, or perhaps more more concern for labor than for his constituents.
O'Farrell is steeped in the needs of district residents and better positioned to advocate for the city on crucial budget issues. He is the best choice for the 13th District.