In the race to replace retiring L.A. County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, a long-shot candidate is hoping to ride anti-Donald Trump sentiment to victory by playing up his Democratic Party affiliation, while his more established and better-funded opponent has tried to keep the party out of the officially nonpartisan race.
Antonovich's chief of staff, Kathryn Barger, is facing off against a political newcomer, Darrell Park, a former staffer with the White House Office of Management and Budget turned entrepreneur. Park surprised most observers by beating out several better-known and better-funded candidates to make it to the runoff.
Park edged out the third-place candidate, state Sen. Bob Huff, by 2,826 votes, less than 1 percentage point, whereas Barger, the top vote-getter, led Park by 14 percentage points.
Barger has raised more than $1.3 million, and an additional $1.2 million flowed into an independent expenditure committee set up by labor groups to support her bid; Park has raised about $230,000.
Antonovich held his county seat, representing the Antelope and Santa Clarita valleys and parts of the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, for 36 years before being forced out by newly instated term limits. He is the most conservative member of the nonpartisan board, but the district has shifted to the left since his tenure began. Barger is also a Republican but is a political moderate who is backed by labor and other groups that typically support Democrats.
Although Barger has aimed to run a nonpartisan campaign, Park has made party affiliation a centerpiece of his strategy, in both the primary — where the presumed front-runners were all Republicans — and in the runoff.
His campaign statement proclaims, "I am the only candidate endorsed by the Democratic Party."
Barger challenged the wording of the statement in a court petition, saying that the election code prohibits candidates from including party affiliation in their statements. She also took umbrage at another line in Park's statement: "Los Angeles County cannot afford to elect a supervisor who will support Donald Trump's extreme Republican agenda."
Barger's petition, which called the statement a "false statement in a direct personal attack," said, "Importantly, Barger neither supports Donald Trump nor his agenda."
Park responded in a statement that he is "proud of my opposition to Donald Trump" and noted that he used largely the same statement in the primary campaign and no one challenged it.
At the first candidates' forum of the runoff election, put on by the Santa Clarita Valley Signal newspaper Thursday, Barger and Park were largely cordial as they debated local infrastructure needs and development decisions. But the tug-of-war over party affiliation continued.
"What I'm saying is as a candidate for supervisor — as the Democratic candidate for supervisor — we will shut that facility down," Park said as he wrapped up a commentary about the controversial Chiquita Canyon Landfill.
Barger pointed to her support from local and national elected officials from both parties.
"It's important to be bipartisan and understand that you need to work with everybody to solve a problem and that you attack the problems, not the people," she said, during a response to a question about wastewater standards for the Santa Clarita Valley that some consider to be overly burdensome.
Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said the better-known candidates — including Huff, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander, former Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian and prosecutor Elan Carr — split the vote, and Park had been able to mobilize enough support among Democrats to squeak through.
In the runoff, Guerra said, "I think the only strategy he has is to try to make it Republican vs. Democrat. ...There's no major cleavage issue in the district or in L.A. politics that he could leverage, and therefore he would have to leverage the biggest difference in politics, which is party."
But, he said, with limited funds, Park will have a hard time getting that message through to voters.
"With all of the noise from the presidential [race] on down, it's a stretch to get voters to remember that he's a Democrat," he said.
In a second supervisorial race, U.S. Rep. and former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn is facing off against Steve Napolitano, a former mayor of Manhattan Beach and longtime aide to incumbent Don Knabe.
Knabe, who has held his seat since 1996, is also being forced out by term limits.
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