Villanueva’s campaign for supervisor is low on funds in final weeks
Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record. It’s Rebecca Ellis, bringing you the latest election news, with help from my colleague David Zahniser.
It wasn’t all that long ago that former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva was campaigning with cash to burn.
The year was 2022, and Villanueva was seeking a second term as the county’s top cop. He lost in the end to former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, but not because of money problems.
Unions representing Hawthorne police, El Monte police and Los Angeles school police each threw in $1,500. So did Bay Cities Italian Deli. A month before the election, Villanueva had raised about $2.9 million, compared with Luna’s $1.3 million.
Now, as Villanueva tries once more for elected office — this time, a seat on the county Board of Supervisors — many of the donors who previously backed him are nowhere to be found.
According to his most recent fundraising report, Villanueva owes $17,000 to the firm running his campaign, TAB Communications. He’s loaned himself $7,500. As of Jan. 20, he had a little less than $7,800 cash on hand, the report said.
That precarious financial situation could leave Villanueva’s campaign running on fumes as he tries to unseat Supervisor Janice Hahn in the March 5 election in the 4th District, which covers a swath of southeastern L.A. County, including Long Beach and Torrance.
So far, Villanueva has raised roughly $71,000 in cash, not including his loan. Hahn has raised $617,000 in cash, with a little more than $300,000 on hand, according to her most recent campaign finance statement.
“It’s a joke,” said Eric Hacopian, a political consultant with EDH & Associates, who is not involved in the race. “You go pull contributions from somewhat marginal city council candidates, and they would have all done better than that.”
Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles for Loyola Marymount University, says Villanueva’s haul is what one might expect of a little-known candidate running in a sleepy city — not a recent sheriff vying to represent a 400-square-mile district.
“That is minuscule, and in no way competitive,” Guerra said. “Those numbers are not even competitive for mid-sized cities, let alone a jurisdiction of 2 million.”
Villanueva, in a phone call, disagreed with that assessment.
“My message is going out,” he said.
Some speculate the anemic fundraising numbers are a sign that voters have grown tired of Villanueva, a controversial figure who regularly clashed with his county colleagues and oversight groups during his single term in office.
But his supporters point to a different reason: He’s not asking.
Charles Lyons, a real estate developer and frequent donor, said he ran into Villanueva recently at a birthday party at Gaucho Beach restaurant in Long Beach. He said he would have donated to Villanueva, as he had in 2022, believing Hahn had aligned herself too closely with “the machine.”
But Villanueva never made the pitch.
“That’s my policy. … We’ll give money to whoever asks for it,” he said. “He didn’t ask me for the money.”
To have a real chance against a powerful incumbent such as Hahn, Villanueva would need to have raised around $5 million, Guerra said.
“There is no way that he can communicate his message,” he added.
So what is that message? The county is buckling under the weight of an overworked Sheriff’s Department and an ever-worsening homelessness crisis. After two terms in office, Hahn should take the blame, Villanueva said.
Hahn has shot back, reminding voters that they resoundingly rejected the “failed and disgraced” former sheriff less than two years ago. She also capitalized on this week’s news that, in 2023, a county oversight panel had recommended Villanueva never be rehired after finding he violated the county’s policy on discrimination and harassment.
“Voters shouldn’t rehire him either,” Hahn’s campaign said in a statement Wednesday.
Villanueva said he believed the release of records that revealed the panel’s decision was “timed for impact.”
“It’s called electioneering,” he said. “Look it up”
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State of play
— SCRAMBLING FOR CASH: Villanueva is not the only local candidate struggling to stay competitive on the fundraising circuit. In South Los Angeles, Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) recently reported he had just $18,358 on hand for his City Council campaign, during the fundraising period that ended Jan. 20. Former city commissioner Aura Vasquez — who, like Jones-Sawyer, is looking to unseat Councilmember Heather Hutt — had $17,747 on hand. Pastor Eddie Anderson, yet another candidate in the race, found himself with about $4,200, according to the latest ethics filings.
— VIEW FROM THE VALLEY: Meanwhile, in the San Fernando Valley, former city ethics commissioner Serena Oberstein recently reported she had just $17,566 on hand for her campaign to unseat Councilmember John Lee, who reported having more than $238,000. Political consultant Lindsay Bubar, who represents Oberstein, said her client’s fundraising efforts have been impressive, bringing more than $100,000 in donations over 11 weeks. Those efforts, she said, show “just how many people are ready for change.”
— WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE: The L.A. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America announced this week that it has reaffirmed its endorsement of Councilmember Nithya Raman, following months of debate within the group about her stances on Israel and its war in Gaza. The leftist organization also disclosed that it had censured Raman for seeking and then obtaining support from Democrats for Israel-Los Angeles, which bills itself as the “voice of Los Angeles County’s Jewish and Pro-Israel community to the Democratic Party.”
— DOUBLE DUTY: Democrats for Israel actually delivered a dual endorsement in Raman’s race, providing support not just for her but also one of her opponents, Deputy City Atty. Ethan Weaver. DSA-LA has criticized DFI-LA for its “unconditional support for Israel,” saying “the violence Israel commits directly opposes DSA-LA’s commitment to Palestinian liberation.”
— RESCUING RENTERS: The City Council voted Friday to approve an ordinance prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants who fell behind on rent during the pandemic — but have been cleared to receive financial assistance from the city. Tenants were required to pay back COVID-19 rental debt by Thursday, under the city’s tenant protection laws.
— DIALING 911: Between January and September, the city’s 911 emergency hotline received more than 5,000 calls from individuals who speak a language other than English or Spanish. Now, L.A. city leaders are looking to speed up hiring of 911 operators who can field such calls.
— PHOTO FRACAS: In a new legal filing, City Atty. Hydee Feldstein Soto pointed the finger at a reporter with Knock LA for the publication of Los Angeles Police Department officers’ photographs on a police watching website last year, saying he and an activist group share financial liability for any problems caused by making the images public. The move astonished free speech advocates, including one who said the city’s actions have “absolutely no place in a 1st Amendment context.”
— GENDER GAP: As L.A.’s political leaders begin the search for a new police chief, they are growing concerned about the low number of female leaders in the upper echelons of the LAPD.
— SELLING ON THE STREET: L.A. County is pushing forward an ordinance that would set clear rules for street vendors in unincorporated parts of the county. The rules, which would require these vendors to register with the county, come five years after California decriminalized street vending statewide.
— UNCONTROLLED REACTION: Environmental regulators are raising alarms over toxic air posed by a fire within Chiquita Canyon Landfill, one of the largest landfills in L.A. County. Officials monitoring the Castaic facility say they have found elevated levels of benzene, a chemical that can cause cancer.
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- Where is Inside Safe? The mayor’s signature program to combat homelessness went to the edge of Chinatown this week, targeting encampments near the Hilda L. Solis Care First Village, a transitional housing facility for L.A.’s homeless population. About 15 people went indoors, per the mayor’s team.
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