L.A. on the Record: Candidates head to the ATM

L.A. mayoral candidate Ramit Varma talks into a microphone
L.A. mayoral candidate Ramit Varma has lent $1.5 million to his campaign.
(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our local elections newsletter. It’s David Zahniser and Julia Wick here with your Saturday morning rundown.

Attorney Faisal Gill took his first shot at public office in 2007, running as a Republican for a seat in Virginia’s House of Delegates. He ran again in 2016, that time as a Democrat, seeking a state Senate seat in Vermont. He lost both times.

Now, the Porter Ranch resident is running for city attorney in Los Angeles, and he’s putting a significant amount of money into that effort. He’s lent his campaign more than $600,000 so far — and is thinking of putting in even more.

The Times reported this week on the waves being made by mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, who has lent $10 million of his own money to his campaign and is saturating the airwaves with ads. But Caruso’s funding strategy is far from unique this year.

Ramit Varma, an Encino businessman running for mayor in the June 7 election, has put $1.5 million into his campaign, purchasing billboard space and radio spots. Candidates for City Council in Hollywood, on the Westside and in other parts of town have also dipped into their bank accounts to help pay for their campaigns. So have candidates in the other citywide contests.


In the race to replace City Atty. Mike Feuer, five of the seven candidates have tapped at some portion of their own funds, though none has reached the financial heights reported by Gill.

Sherri Onica Valle Cole, who worked for Feuer at one point, lent herself $88,453 last year, according to her report on last year’s fundraising. Lawyer Teddy Kapur lent his campaign $75,000 last year, while attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto kicked in $25,000 during that period.

Former prosecutor Marina Torres dropped $15,000 of her own money into her city attorney bid. Nevertheless, she had sharp words about Gill, saying his decision to tap so much of his own funds shows he has “no real support.”

“He’s a serial, failed politician who thinks he can move to L.A. without a base and buy this election by self-funding and refusing matching funds,” she said.

Gill strongly disagreed with those statements, saying he’s lived in L.A. for much of the past 14 years. He said he’s collected about $300,000 in contributions and has a significant base — unions, reform advocates and other political leaders, including Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), now a candidate for mayor.

Gill said tapping his own money will help him amplify his message, which includes scaling back enforcement of misdemeanors and holding the Los Angeles Police Department accountable for wrongdoing.

“I believe in my message,” he said.

Attorney Kevin James, one of the two candidates not relying on any of his own money, said he doesn’t think $600,000 is actually enough to “buy an election” for a citywide office. He said L.A. voters can decide for themselves whether they are troubled by that type of fundraising.

Like James, deputy city attorney Richard Kim has not tapped any of his own funds.

Cole, for her part, said she’s also raising money from donors, and intends to pay herself back. But she also argued that tapping her own money will allow her to remain independent.


“I don’t want to be beholden to a George Soros or a Color of Change PAC or a Los Angles Police Protective League PAC,” she said.

Meanwhile, about a dozen candidates for City Council have put at least some money into their campaigns. Three of them — UCLA lecturer Jimmy Biblarz, neighborhood council president Jim Murez and community leader Danielle Sandoval — lent themselves $37,000.

Biblarz is running to replace Councilman Paul Koretz, now running for city controller. Murez is looking to replace Councilman Mike Bonin. And Sandoval is running to replace Councilman Joe Buscaino, now a candidate for mayor.

So why $37,000? That’s the maximum they can provide themselves without losing out on public matching funds — that’s taxpayer money by the way! — to help pay for their campaigns.

State of play

POLICY ROLLOUT: Mayoral candidate Karen Bass unveiled her jobs plan Thursday, focusing heavily on efforts to boost trade, tourism and the entertainment industry. The plan also calls for increased job training, expanded access to child care for working parents and the resurrection of a city business tax holiday for new businesses.

— MIKE FEUER NEVER HAD A PET: Candidates at a recent animal welfare mayoral forum were asked about their personal history with dogs, cats and other animals. Feuer, one of only two mayoral candidates who attended the event, revealed he never had an animal at his home. He did, however, cite his “long history of being extremely supportive” to animal-related causes. Councilman Kevin De León, the other candidate present, was joined on screen by his 5-year-old Chihuahua-terrier Whiskey, who enthusiastically licked the councilman’s face while he spoke.

HOUSING PUSH: The advocacy group Abundant Housing LA has a new political action committee and is posting ads on social media promoting Bass and City Council candidate Dulce Vasquez, who is looking to unseat Councilman Curren Price in South Los Angeles. The group was a major supporter of Senate Bill 9, the state housing measure that allows any property zoned for single-family homes to allow up to four housing units.

While Vasquez is an SB9 supporter, Bass has offered some criticism of it. In January, she told the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. that she would have been “very concerned” about the bill had she been in the state Legislature when it was being debated. “It opens the door for speculators to come in and to change the basic character of our neighborhoods,” she told the group.

THE COVID FACTOR: With L.A. County coronavirus cases on the rise, the virus has also upended some campaign plans. Feuer canceled an event in Van Nuys last weekend after his wife tested positive. On Wednesday, Feuer tested positive himself — and now is working from home.


Meanwhile, a COVID-19 issue also prompted the cancellation of a hot-ticket fundraiser for Bass. That event, originally scheduled for Thursday, was to have been co-hosted by Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel, Showtime chief David Nevins, former Disney Chairman and CEO Michael Eisner, former police commissioner Matt Johnson and others. A campaign aide said the event would likely be rescheduled.

TINY HOMES: Times columnist Steve Lopez recently visited a 93-bed “tiny home” village opened by De León in Eagle Rock and concluded that they “offer hope.” Washington Post columnist Helaine Olen also argued in favor of such villages, writing that L.A. cannot “afford to wait for an ideal solution.”

DEBATE PROTEST: Four mayoral candidates — business executive Craig Greiwe, neighborhood council member Alex Gruenenfelder Smith, business owner Gina Viola and real estate broker Mel Wilson — have banded together to protest their exclusion from a May 1 candidate forum at Cal State L.A. The four candidates have not always seen eye to eye on the issues. But in a statement, they accused debate organizers of engaging in censorship and promised to hold a rally on Cal State L.A.’s doorstep Tuesday.

A RESPONSE: Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State L.A., which is co-hosting the forum, responded by releasing the list of criteria for participating in the forum. They included where a candidate stands in the polls, how they have performed in fundraising, what types of endorsements they have received and whether they have a campaign headquarters or campaign staff. That list was formulated by PBI and the event’s other co-host, the League of Women Voters of Greater Los Angeles.

Around the horseshoe

BACK TO THE BUILDING: Los Angeles City Hall will reopen May 4 after being closed to the public for more than two years, city officials said Thursday.

RV RULES: L.A. is lifting its moratorium on the towing of RVs and other oversized vehicles that have served as home to some of the city’s neediest, Rachel Uranga and Ruben Vives report. Councilman Joe Buscaino said the move is needed because neighborhoods are being “inundated with RVs, campers and trucks.” Officials say they will prioritize the towing of RVs and campers that are unregistered, inoperable or heavily damaged, as well as those that pose a safety hazard or major sanitation issues.

Special election-palooza

In the wake of a historic exodus from the Legislature, special elections to fill three vacant Assembly seats around the state were held Tuesday, including one in Los Angeles County.


In the 62nd Assembly District, Robert Pullen-Miles and Tina Simone McKinnor — two of the four Democrats running to replace former Assemblymember Autumn Burke in Los Angeles County — will advance to a June runoff to fill the last few months of Burke’s term.

A regular primary election to represent the seat for the next full two-year term will be on that same June ballot. All four Democrats and Republican James Spencer are running in that race. To further complicate things, changes made during the state’s once-a-decade redistricting process have essentially turned the 62nd district into the 61st. So Pullen-Miles and McKinnor will be running in a special election for the 62nd district and a regular primary for the 61st ... all on the same ballot.

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  • Who’s running the city? Still Eric Garcetti. His confirmation as ambassador of India awaits a Senate vote.
  • The latest in mayoral endorsements: The California Restaurant Assn. endorsed Caruso and the Sierra Club endorsed Bass. The Laborers’ International Union of North America Local 300 and state Sen. María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles) endorsed De León and the SEIU local that represents resident physicians endorsed Bass.
  • And in council endorsements ... California Restaurant Assn.’s political action committee and the Santa Monica Peace Officers Assn. endorsed Traci Park in CD 11. The L.A. League of Conservation Voters and the L.A. County Young Democrats endorsed Greg Good in CD 11. State Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica) endorsed Erin Darling in the CD 11 race. The L.A. County Business Federation PAC has endorsed Gil Cedillo in CD 1, Bob Blumenfield in CD 3, Sam Yebri in CD 5, Monica Rodriguez in CD 7, Mike Newhouse and Traci Park in CD 11 (dual endorsement), Mitch O’Farrell in CD 13 and Tim McOsker in CD 15.

(If you have an endorsement you’d like to flag for next week, please send it to us.)

  • Dig of the week: “Reading my 1,000th article about the mayoral race where homelessness is the top issue, and wondering why supervisorial candidates — who will manage the broken county mental health system that helped get us into this crisis — aren’t being asked every day how they plan to fix it?” — Councilmember Nithya Raman, in a tweet last weekend. The county is largely responsible for social services, including public health and mental health, as discussed in a newsletter a few weeks ago. Voters will cast ballots June 7 for two of the five seats on the county Board of Supervisors.
  • On the docket: Los Angeles Neighborhood Council Budget Advocates will host a forum for city controller candidates on Sunday. Also Sunday: a forum for CD 5 and CD 11 candidates hosted by the Neighborhood Council Sustainability Alliance. Student chapters of the National Lawyers Guild will host progressive candidates from a handful of districts for a forum Tuesday.

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