In L.A. City Council races, incumbents and political veterans pulling ahead

Kevin de León
L.A. City Council candidate Kevin de León gets a hug from labor leader Maria Elena Durazo at an election night party in Los Angeles.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Four well-funded Los Angeles politicians — two of them incumbents, two of them looking to win new offices — were leading Wednesday in their respective races for City Council, according to partial returns.

In a Hollywood Hills district, Councilman David Ryu was leading nonprofit leader Nithya Raman, in a contest that appeared to be heading to a runoff election in November. In the northwest San Fernando Valley, Councilman John Lee was leading college educator Loraine Lundquist in their second head-to-head contest in eight months.

Former state Senate leader Kevin de León appeared to be avoiding a runoff in the race to replace Councilman Jose Huizar on the Eastside. In the contest to replace Councilman Herb Wesson in South Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was leading attorney Grace Yoo, but not by a large enough margin to avoid a runoff.

L.A. City Council candidate Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks to attendees during a candidate forum in Los Angeles.
L.A. City Council candidate Mark Ridley-Thomas speaks to attendees during a candidate forum in Los Angeles.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)


“I think this is an affirmation of the leadership I have displayed over several decades now — that I am committed to results, committed to reform, which has been my mantra ever since I took office,” Ridley-Thomas said shortly after the results posted.

Yoo said she expects to force Ridley-Thomas into a runoff. While she was happy to be placing second, Yoo said the county’s handling of the election — and the fact that voters had to wait in line for hours — was “completely outrageous.”

“The voter suppression going on in the county of Los Angeles is awful,” she said.

Council President Nury Martinez and Councilman Paul Krekorian, both representatives of the San Fernando Valley, were coasting to victory. And Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson prevailed in his race for reelection in South Los Angeles. He was the only candidate on the ballot.

In contests where no one receives a majority, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff election in November. De León, who held slightly more than a majority of the vote at about 11 p.m., said he was “cautiously optimistic” about his prospects.

“I’ve never taken anything for granted, and I will not take anything for granted tonight,” he said.

Tuesday’s election was in many ways historic for L.A. For the first time in at least a century, the municipal election was conducted on the same day as the state’s presidential primary, a change made by voters in hopes of boosting voter turnout. The presidential primary and other high-profile races were expected to lure more Democrats to the polls.

Democrats had been hoping a bigger turnout would boost Lundquist, a Democrat running in the northwest Valley to unseat Lee, who was until recently registered as a Republican. Lee said the early results, which had him ahead by a significant margin, showed that the election “wasn’t about party politics.”


“This is about potholes. This is about funding police,” he said.

In other parts of the city, insurgent candidates were hoping to capitalize on the excitement around the presidential bid of Bernie Sanders.

In other ways, Tuesday’s election was much like those that have been held in previous years. Incumbents and established politicians were far more successful in collecting campaign donations and big-ticket endorsements.

The homelessness crisis was a major issue in the district represented by Councilman David Ryu.
The homelessness crisis was a major issue in the district represented by Councilman David Ryu.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)


Ryu, who is running for his second term, raised more than $1 million for his reelection campaign. De León, who lost his race for U.S. Senate in 2018, raised more than $830,000. Ridley-Thomas, who is looking to return to the council after an 18-year absence, took in more than $700,000.

All three secured the endorsements of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, the Federation of Labor and an array of politicians, including Mayor Eric Garcetti. All three were viewed by their rivals as part of the city’s political establishment.

Former marketing executive Cyndi Otteson, running a distant second behind De León in the race to replace Huizar, said she decided not to accept contributions from real estate developers, charter school operators and others with business at City Hall. That decision, she said, made the campaign more challenging but also sent an important message to the public.

“We don’t have a shot at solving these problems if we don’t elect leaders who aren’t bought by special interests,” she said.


Ridley-Thomas, who has been in office for 29 years, had been viewed as the front-runner in his race against Yoo, former city commissioner Aura Vasquez, community organizer Channing Martinez and activist Melvin Snell. His rivals attempted to run to his left, calling for such measures as free bus and train fares, a rent freeze and new restrictions on oil drilling in L.A.

De León, seeking to return to elected office after a two-year absence, was running ahead of Otteson, school board member Mónica García, high school counselor Raquel Zamora and nonprofit founder John Jimenez.

Both De León and Ridley-Thomas faced criticism from their rivals for refusing to rule out a run for mayor in 2022. Fundraising begins Sunday in that race, which is expected to draw interest from a wide array of L.A. political leaders.

Ryu, for his part, faced criticism from his rivals over the city’s handling of an ongoing homelessness crisis. Screenwriter Sarah Kate Levy called for the city to set up safe sites for people to pitch tents or sleep in their vehicles. Raman outlined plans for a network of service centers that would assist unhoused Angelenos.


Ryu, in turn, pointed to his efforts to open homeless shelters and housing developments in his district.