The LA Podcast

LA’s Election Results: What Happened

by Hayes Davenport
March 10, 2020

A week ago, when it seemed less stupid for tens of thousands of people to pack together in line to touch the same iPad, LA had an Election Day.

That Election Day, depressingly, is not even close to over. There are still about 32% of votes left to count. The guy who runs our elections, County Registrar Dean Logan, is taking his precious time “making sure the results are accurate” or some stupid thing. More like Slow-County Registrar Dean Logan!!!!

But we have a decent idea of what went down at this point. The newest update should come later this afternoon (Tuesday), at which point this post will be updated.

Here’s what happened in some of LA’s most important local races:


LA has 15 Councilmembers. They’re the most powerful city legislators in the country: each of them has more than 250,000 constituents, they control a $10 billion budget, and they have veto power over the Mayor. 

Still, the majority of people in LA don’t know who they are, largely because most of the Councilmembers are not exactly bringing it personality-wise, and their politics are indistinguishable to an outsider — they vote unanimously 99.37% of the time.

Seven Council seats (all the even-numbered ones) were up for election this cycle. Five of the seats had incumbents running for re-election. Two were open.

In all races, to avoid a runoff and win outright, candidates had to get 50% or more of the vote.

Let’s start with the incumbents. Three of them won outright:

COUNCIL DISTRICT 2 (North Hollywood, Studio City)

COUNCIL DISTRICT 6 (Central San Fernando Valley, including Van Nuys)

COUNCIL DISTRICT 8 (South LA from Exposition Park down to the 105, West of the 110)

Harris-Dawson ran unopposed. (He had a few challengers initially, but none of them got the required 500 signatures from district residents to make the ballot). Krekorian and Martinez each had a couple of opponents who ultimately failed to penetrate the overwhelming apathy that defines almost every City Council race. Neither was forced to campaign at all, and neither really did.

One more incumbent is likely to win outright:

COUNCIL DISTRICT 12 (The Northwest Valley, including Northridge and Porter Ranch)

John Lee was the City Council’s only Republican until he changed his affiliation to No Party Preference literally a few weeks before Election Day. Before getting elected the first time, he was Chief of Staff for the last CD12 Councilmember, Mitchell Englander. Lee ran for the seat in a special election last year when Englander quit the Council — at the time he said he was moving on to a career in sports lobbying, but in retrospect it was probably because he was being investigated for flagrant corruption by the FBI.

John Lee won the special election back in August against Dr. Loraine Lundquist, a progressive astrophysicist. Lundquist ran on, among other thing, closing Aliso Canyon — a huge natural gas well in Porter Ranch that leaked in 2015 and caused the largest manmade emissions event in US history. 

The fact that a Republican won a special election in this part of LA comes as no surprise: CD12 covers the city’s reddest suburbs, including multiple precincts where Trump won in 2016. But Lundquist got pretty close, and ran again this time on the assumption that turnout in a presidential election cycle would be more left-leaning.

This time, Lundquist got… very close again! But right now she’s four points behind Lee, just short of winning. 

This race is up in the air for a couple reasons. One is that Lundquist could still win: the remaining 32% of the vote could be better for her, because progressive voters tend to vote later.

The other is that Mitch Englander was indicted yesterday, and John Lee is deeply, deeply implicated in the corruption investigation: the FBI clearly believes he engaged in a coverup. So even if he does win, he should obviously resign. Listen to our emergency indictment podcast for more on that.

Will Lee resign, though? Will the other Councilmembers, all Democrats, call for him to step down — even though many of them endorsed him against a real progressive? These questions remain unanswered, and the Council does not appear eager to answer them.

One last incumbent — and this is exciting — is very likely going to a runoff:

COUNCIL DISTRICT 4 (the Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz, Sherman Oaks, Toluca Lake, part of Koreatown, Mid-Wilshire, other parts, it is a district drawn in defiance of God’s law)

David Ryu got elected back in 2015 by selling himself as a political outsider (which he wasn’t) and a reformer (which he turned out not to be). The fact that he’s now very likely headed to a runoff — and a competitive runoff — is very huge news for a few reasons:

  1. Incumbents in LA almost always win outright in primaries. They have to fall below 50% of the vote to go to the general election: only one other Councilmember in LA has been taken to a runoff in the last 18 years. Here’s an article from early in the race about how all of the incumbents, including Ryu, were likely to “coast to victory.” Almost nobody in LA politics or media takes challengers seriously, which makes it harder for them to generate support, which means those people take them even less seriously, and so on. LA’s political machine is a washer that you accidentally started without any clothes inside so now it’s filled with water and the door is locked: it accomplishes nothing and it’s impossible to get in.
  2. Ryu raised and spent more money in a primary than any other City Council candidate in LA history — more than a million dollars, hundreds of thousands more than any other candidate in the city. He also had about $200,000 in outside PAC spending on top of that.
  3. Every single one of the city’s institutions lined up to support Ryu. He wrangled the endorsement of basically every local city, state, and federal elected official representing Los Angeles. Every local Dem club supported him. Every newspaper endorsed him. This level of mobilization for an incumbent is pretty normal — LA is a machine town, and the powerful protect each other. What’s a little weird is that none of these people or institutions appeared to have any questions about Ryu’s arrest for attempted rape of an unconscious person in 2002, a charge that was dismissed for reasons we still don’t know. But really, can you blame them? Because of (1) and (2), all of these powerful people had very good reason to believe Ryu was going to win outright.

Instead, Ryu is currently bringing home only 45.74% percent of the vote — worse than any City Council incumbent in a primary since 2002.

Why is this happening to him? Because of Nithya Raman.

Nithya is a local homeless services advocate who ran Time’s Up Entertainment in 2019 and wrote a report on homelessness for the City Administrative Office in 2014. She also ran the most exciting grassroots campaign in Los Angeles in *decades*.

Nithya’s success can be attributed to a few factors:

  1. Homelessness and housing affordability are the top issues for basically everyone in Los Angeles. Nithya ran hard on both. She used experience and expertise to attack the City Council’s failures relentlessly — and rolled out a mezze platter of policies to fix the crisis, more comprehensive than any other city candidate’s platform.
  2. Nithya formed an unprecedented coalition in city politics: progressive activists and Hollywood people. Movie stars, as a historic rule, don’t get too involved in politics in the city where almost all of them live — despite the fact that the atrocities playing out on the streets of LA are comparable to the atrocities on other continents to which they’re more inclined to lend their platforms. The fact that Natalie Portman, Jane Fonda, and other famouses got behind Nithya’s campaign was something new. So was the wartime mobilization of the entire LA comedy community — standups and podcasters weaponized their flexible schedules and follower counts for Nithya a huge way. Makes sense, then, that so far Nithya appears to have crushed in Los Feliz. 
  3. She ran on her values. City candidates tend to design their campaigns in reaction to public opinion — they do lots of polling and hire very expensive consultants to fine-tune their message. Nithya did no polling and hired zero consultants. She said what she felt. This gave her an “authenticity” and “humanlike quality” that most LA politicians do not share.
  4. There was another very strong candidate in the race — Sarah Kate Levy, a writer and former president of LA’s National Women’s Political Caucus. Sarah Kate raised about as much money as Nithya, and also ran a values-driven campaign that was strongly critical of Ryu. She and Nithya were, for sure, the two strongest challengers in any city race — it’s unfortunate that they were running against each other. But without Sarah Kate’s help making voters aware of the election, Ryu probably wouldn’t have fallen below 50% in the primary.

All of these factors converged to make Nithya’s campaign something unprecedented. By Election Day, more than 700 unique volunteers had canvassed for her. Her campaign knocked on 83,000 doors. Her campaign got national media coverage. None of this has ever happened before.

The stakes are high here. If Nithya wins — and she definitely can — she’d enter office with momentum to set the tone of the city’s response to homelessness and climate change. She’d also be one of only three female Councilmembers (assuming Loraine Lundquist and Grace Yoo don’t make it) and the first woman to ever represent Council District 4.

(NOTE: I (Hayes) spent a lot of time volunteering with Nithya’s campaign. LA Podcast co-host Scott also volunteered, and his partner was a Field Director. We are all unapologetically proud to have been a part of it!)

There were also two open seats on the City Council.

COUNCIL DISTRICT 10 (Mid-Wilshire, parts of South LA and Koreatown)

Within the last year or so, Council President Herb Wesson and County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas made a deal to try and switch seats. We don’t know when or where this conversation took place, but it for sure happened. And now we’re starting to see the results of that deal play out.

MRT is a hugely powerful figure in LA politics, but it’s hard to win outright in an open seat with four opponents, and it looks like he’s going to just miss the 50% bar. In line to face him in November is Grace Yoo, a Koreatown activist who has fought multiple developments in her neighborhood (including a homeless shelter).

This race is not exactly competitive. Ridley-Thomas, barring total disaster, is going to cream Yoo in the general. He has huge institutional advantages and is already 20+ points ahead.

That doesn’t mean a runoff isn’t extremely annoying for him! He’s has made it very obvious that he’s planning to use a City Council seat as a springboard to run for mayor in 2022. But other mayoral candidates are going to start announcing soon — City Attorney Mike Feuer already has — giving them a huge head start while Mark Ridley-Thomas has to pretend he gives a fuck about City Council for another eight months!!

Luckily, MRT deserves to be inconvenienced — his recent record as Supervisor is not great, and he ran a truly gross and misleading smear campaign against former DWP Commissioner Aura Vasquez with about a week to go in the election. It’s too bad Vasquez wasn’t the one to make the runoff. She gave Ridley-Thomas the most trouble in debates, and deserves to have a brighter political future than Grace Yoo.

COUNCIL DISTRICT 14 (Downtown up to Eagle Rock)

Former State Senate President and U.S. Senate candidate Kevin de Leon performed about as well as everyone thought he would — well enough that he’s probably going to escape the runoff. Like Mark Ridley-Thomas, KDL has made it flagrantly clear that he’s going to run for Mayor in 2022. The only thing really in question here is how quickly he’ll announce.

Cyndi Otteson deserves praise for the race she ran — she entered the competition as an unknown, but managed to build progressive support and leapfrogged better-known candidates. It’s a cliche to say “we’re looking forward to what she does next” about losing candidates, but we actually are looking forward to what she does next.

Monica Garcia, presumably accustomed to underperformance as a longtime LAUSD board member, should feel at home with her results here: she finished fourth behind two candidates who spent much less than she did and have far fewer political connections. Did she do so poorly because of backlash from her support for the charter industry while on the school board? Or was it just a bad campaign? We will never know — no journalist will ever write an article about it.

The other winner in this race is Councilmember Jose Huizar, who currently occupies the seat and looks like he’s going to make it to the end of his term without going to jail and resigning in disgrace despite the open FBI investigation against him.


LA’s District Attorney is, again, the most powerful in the Country — the position holds legal force over ten million constituents. The current officeholder has, to be kind, not used that power well. So in this election, she had a couple of challengers.

Two-term incumbent Jackie Lacey has been hit with a lot of (deserved) criticism for being one of the most aggressive, pro-criminalization prosecutors in the US. Despite the fact that she oversees the deadliest police force in the country, she has never prosecuted a police officer — including one who *the Chief of Police recommended for prosecution*. She’s sentenced more people to death herself than almost any other DA in the country. She’s opposed bail reform. And her husband pulled a gun on protestors the day before the election.

All these and more are reasons why progressives have mounted a vigorous campaign to vote her out of office. The front-running challenger, former SF District Attorney George Gascon, looks like he’s going to make the runoff — but Lacey isn’t going down easy. She’s only a few dozen votes below 50% right now.

While public defender Rachel Rossi looks like she’s barely going to miss the runoff, she performed extremely well. Gascon had huge fundraising and endorsement advantages over her — the fact that she’s within five points of him is unbelievable.


The County Board of Supervisors is made up of five elected officials who run the largest county in the United States — each of them has a constituency of two million. They oversee the Sheriff’s Department, the health system, the Department of Children and Family Services, plus more — and they have extra authority over the many unincorporated communities in the County that don’t have their own local governments.

Three seats on the board were up. Two were incumbents running for reelection. They both won easily:

SUPERVISOR DISTRICT 4 (the Southern Horseshoe of the County, from El Segundo to Long Beach around to Diamond Bar)

SUPERVISOR DISTRICT 5 (the entire Northern Two-Thirds of the County)

Hahn barely campaigned and won by 50 points. Barger, the Board’s only Republican, ran against two Democrats — Mayor of Sierra Madre John Harabedian and former US Office of Management and Budget employee Darrell Park — who started the race as underdogs and also ended it that way.

There was one open seat:

SUPERVISOR DISTRICT 2 (The County Core, from Mid-City down to Gardena)

This is Mark Ridley-Thomas’s former seat — the one he’s leaving to run for City Council and then, immediately, Mayor. His plan to swap seats with Herb Wesson is still in play: Wesson’s leading the field. Holly Mitchell, though, is close enough to make this a race.

It’s not really clear which of them will get the Perry, Robles, Nuno, Jeong votes — although Jake Jeong is best known for organizing a protest against a homeless shelter that Herb Wesson initially tried to put in Koreatown, so a lot of Jeong’s voters probably aren’t Wesson fans.


There were three seats up for grabs on LA’s seven-member School Board. The Board is typically portrayed as having two factions: the Union Wing, which favors the teacher’s union in its policies, and the Charter Wing, which is more inclined to shift resources to charter schools.

All three seats up for election were occupied by Union Wing board members. Two were running for reelection:

LAUSD BOARD DISTRICT 3 (The Northwest and South Valley)

LAUSD BOARD DISTRICT 5 (Northeast LA and the Gateway Cities)

Goldberg did well despite facing a lot of outside spending: Jackie Goldberg withstood a mountain of very insane mailers from a guy named Bill Bloomfield who supports charter school expansion.

Scott Schmerelson wasn’t so lucky. He’s headed for a runoff with Marilyn Koziatek, a parent and staffer at Granada Hills Charter who’s been endorsed by the California Charter Association.

The last seat up for election was an open seat, vacated by Union Wing member Richard Vladovic:

LAUSD BOARD DISTRICT 7 (The Southern Shoestring: Gardena, Carson, San Pedro)

This one is shaping up to be a competitive runoff. The first-place finisher so far is Patricia Castellanos — former Deputy Director of Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and the endorsed candidate of the Teacher’s Union/their money. Running only a few points behind is Tanya Ortiz Franklin, who works for the Partnership of Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit that LAUSD contracts with to run a number of underperforming campuses. She’s also the chosen candidate of the charter industry/their money. (Franklin doesn’t like to be pigeonholed as a charter candidate, but a quick look at her campaign donations tells the story).

We appear to be facing yet another showdown between union and charter industries, which is great financial news if you’re a local political consultant!

(We also got a little information in this race about the impact of an LA Times endorsement: the candidate they chose, Silke Bradford, is running a distant fifth.)


This was a County ballot measure to provide the Board of Supervisors with more oversight over the Sheriff’s department and expand diversion programs, which send people to mental health and addiction treatment rather than jail. It’s hugely exciting that it passed by such a huge margin — the Sheriff’s Department is drastically in need of oversight and reform, with a recent Sheriff and Undersheriff now in prison and the current Sheriff attempting to use his power to live out a Wild West fantasy camp.

Measure R might have been the best news of the day — but there’s a lot left to be decided regarding its implementation. Local activists are already speaking at Supervisor meetings to make sure that the new programs are designed fairly and effectively.