Residents of Echo Park, Silver Lake, Chinatown, Lincoln Heights and City Terrace will have a new Assemblymember after Tuesday’s special election: Wendy Carrillo or Luis López.
The two Democrats emerged from 13 candidates who sought to replace Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez in the October special election. Carrillo claimed 22.16% of the vote, and Lopez came in with 18.59% in an low-turnout affair in which just 10% of the roughly 223,000 registered voters cast ballots.
Tuesday’s decision will close out the chain of special elections that was triggered when U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer announced her retirement from politics more than two years ago.
Last fall, Kamala Harris won Boxer’s seat in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles Rep. Xavier Becerra was appointed fill out Harris’ term as state attorney general. Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez in turn won the special election for Becerra’s seat in Congress. They’re all Democrats.
Carrillo and López are now in the final stages of getting out the vote in Assembly District 51, hoping to boost what is expected to be another election with meager voter turnout.
Since the special election, Carrillo’s campaign has gathered a string of new endorsements and benefited from over $500,000 in outside spending from independent expenditure committees largely funded by labor unions. She also has gotten support to the tune of $38,000 from a committee funded by charter school proponents.
Carrillo, a former local radio host and communications manager for a Service Employees International Union affiliate, also is now armed with endorsements from the state Democratic Party, Emily’s List, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Democratic Legislative Women’s Caucus. Gomez endorsed Carrillo when she took the top spot in the special election.
Carrillo has been in campaign mode for about a year: She was one of a dozen women who ran to succeed Becerra but finished in fifth place. The two districts overlap.
Carrillo is counting on her personal history — she was brought to the U.S. from El Salvador when she was a child, became a citizen in her early 20s then went on to graduate from Cal State L.A. and earn a master’s degree at USC — to resonate in the heavily Latino district.
“I think my story speaks to the story of this district,” she said in an interview. “It is a time in which women and immigrants and the undocumented community are being attacked on a federal level. It is a perfect opportunity for this district to be a voice of progress.”
López, the director of government affairs for City of Hope Medical Center who has a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard, is stressing his résumé working in government and in neighborhood groups around the district.
He is a board member at Planned Parenthood — which has endorsed his candidacy — and previously served as president of the East Los Angeles Area Planning Commission. He also co-founded the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council.
L.A. City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell and former Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg have endorsed Lopez, along with the Sierra Club, the California Legislative Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Caucus and various local Democratic clubs.
“I have served meaningfully in my district,” he said in an interview. “My opponent has not.”
López previously ran for this Assembly seat in 2012 but lost to Gomez by about 19 percentage points. The dynamics of the two races have been somewhat similar: Gomez ran with the support of the Democratic party and labor unions.
López and Carrillo are not worlds apart on most issues: Both say they want to protect Planned Parenthood, work toward providing universal healthcare and protect undocumented Angelenos.
One rift appeared late in the campaign: Members of the Los Angeles Tenants Union are putting pressure on the two candidates to sign a pledge to repeal a pair of laws that impact housing. They oppose the Ellis Act and the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act.
Under the Ellis Act, landlords can eject tenants from rent-controlled apartments if they are tearing down a building or if they intend to take the housing off the rental market. The Costa-Hawkins Act bars rent caps on single-family homes and apartments built after 1995.
Carrillo told The Times she favors repealing the laws but said she had not signed the pledge because she had not seen it. Lopez said he would not legislate “by signing petitions” and wanted to work with stakeholders and other lawmakers before making a decision.
Over the weekend, Lopez won a late endorsement from United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents teachers, counselors and nurses in L.A. Unified.
In a low-turnout election between two Democrats, the largest factor can be which candidate has the official blessing of the state party.
“It is one of the pieces of information that actually affects voter decisions,” said Darry Sragow, a veteran campaign consultant who helped Democrats regain control of the state Assembly in 1996.