Clash over developer donations heats up L.A. council race debate

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At a debate Wednesday night, two candidates vying to succeed Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge traded sharp jabs over who would best represent the interests of residents, particularly in dealings with development interests.

Carolyn Ramsay, who served as chief of staff to termed-out LaBonge, and David Ryu, a community health director, are competing in a May 19 runoff election to represent the district that extends from Sherman Oaks to the Miracle Mile.

Ramsay has campaigned as an experienced candidate who knows City Hall and the district. Ryu has presented himself as an outsider and independent voice.


During Wednesday’s debate, hosted by the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn., Ryu repeatedly promised to bring change to City Hall, asking the audience at one point, “Are you guys getting what you want?”

When many in the crowd responded no, Ryu said he’d do a better job listening to residents than recent city officials, including Ramsay.

Ryu said that he’d given back more than $4,000 of campaign contributions from developers and, if elected, would not accept donations from developers while serving in office.

Ramsay responded by saying “I wish it were true” and waving documents she said listed $28,000 in developer-related donations Ryu hadn’t returned to donors.

Ryu spokeswoman Rachel Estrada said after the debate that, in terms of returning developer contributions, Ryu’s campaign was referring to donors who have business, or could have business, before the city of L.A.

“It is obvious that Ms. Ramsay has purposefully included a broad swath of professionals from across the real estate industry -- property managers, real estate agents, and architects,” Estrada said. “The neighborhoods of CD4 are not concerned about a conflict of interest from their local real estate agent.”


At one point, moderator Phil Shuman acknowledged the tension between the candidates. “I get the feeling you guys haven’t really come to like each other very much,” he said.

During the debate, Ramsay asked Ryu, an elected member of the Wilshire Center Koreatown Neighborhood Council, why he’d only attended three meetings in the last year.

Ryu said he hadn’t had as much time to attend since he started campaigning and attending other community meetings. He said he did show up when a development item was being considered. “I made sure to go and vote no,” he said.

The candidates also argued over what Ryu has called LaBonge’s “slush funds,” discretionary money that members of the council use for various projects and services. On Tuesday, Ryu said that if elected he would seek reforms in how such money can be spent.

At the debate, Ramsay defended LaBonge, saying that money went to help clean up streets in the district and keep the neighborhood safe.

“David has made a big deal about this quote-unquote slush fund,” she said. “It’s hardly a slush fund.”


Ramsay said she would work with makers of the real-time traffic app Waze to address what some say are traffic issues related to the service, which directs motorists around congestion, often through side roads.

Ramsay said she wanted to seek ways to steer drivers “off the residential streets and keep them on the main streets.”

In the March primary election, Ramsay finished in first place out of the 14 candidates running. She and Ryu advanced to the runoff when each received about 15% of the ballots cast.

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