City Council member Herb Wesson has received the backing of the L.A. County Democratic Party in his campaign to win a hotly contested seat on the Board of Supervisors.
On Sunday, party officials tossed out a challenge to its original endorsement last month, saying Wesson’s opponent, former L.A. City Council member Jan Perry “did not meet the burden of proof” required to rescind the decision.
“Our job is to keep the party transparent, accountable and operating,” party Chair Mark Gonzalez said in a statement. “I’m proud of our team for working with integrity and providing the committee and campaigns with all the necessary information to conclude this process.”
Wesson won the endorsement the first time on Dec. 10 with 114 votes. Perry got 26 votes, and state Sen. Holly Mitchell, who also is vying for the 2nd District seat, got 44 votes, narrowly giving Wesson the 60% required for a victory.
That led the Perry and Mitchell campaigns to raise questions about the party’s voting process. Perry’s campaign filed an official challenge, claiming that some signatures on the endorsement ballots didn’t match the sign-in logs, and that some ballots were cast by members who hadn’t signed in at all.
Party officials, however, contended the process was fair and argued that the rules allowed regular members to designate an alternate to vote in their place.
On Sunday, an appeals committee heard Perry’s challenge and determined, after reviewing ballots and taking testimony, that the endorsement should stand.
Wesson’s campaign celebrated the decision, decrying his opponents’ attempts to sow “divisiveness” within the party.
“The only thing better than winning the endorsement of the Democratic Party once is to win it again,” the campaign said in a statement. “We are surprised by our opponent’s Trump-style attempt to undermine the democratic process.”
The controversy over the endorsement vote is the first major public spat in a campaign that’s expected to get more heated as the March primary election approaches.
The race to replace term-limited Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has drawn 10 candidates. The district, when drawn after the 2010 census, had roughly half the black adults in Los Angeles County. But Latinos have a plurality — if not a majority — in the district, which spans Culver City to Koreatown to Carson.
Wesson, a former president of the L.A. City Council, has received numerous local endorsements, including from Mayor Eric Garcetti, and has been the perceived front-runner based on fundraising.
Perry, who once represented downtown Los Angeles on the City Council and finished fourth in the 2013 mayoral race, and Mitchell, who leads the state Senate’s budget committee, are seen as his strongest challengers. Carson Mayor Albert Robles also recently joined the race.
The Perry campaign, however, refused to back down and maintained that Wesson had received the endorsement improperly.
“There is only one person we hold responsible for manipulating the Los Angeles County Democratic Party’s endorsement process and that is Herb Wesson,” the campaign said on Sunday. “What Herb touches he corrupts.”
Some private polls have suggested that the contest remains wide open, with a significant slice of the electorate still undecided on a candidate. But the Democratic Party’s endorsement could signal to voters that Wesson’s campaign is leading.
“The Democratic endorsement is the major indicator of where the race is,” said Dermot Givens, a local political consultant who has been following the race closely. “These are the insiders, they know the candidates. … They are making a choice as to who they think the best candidate is.”