By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
As Zev Yaroslavsky approached a termed-out retirement from his seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, politicians’ eyes widened.
A seat on that board, overseeing the vast and populous Los Angeles County, carries with it an inordinate amount of power to change peoples’ live.
With nearly 2 million residents in each district and a whopping $26 million budget, the Board oversees public health, infrastructure, public works, fire and sheriff services, consumer affairs, children and family services, the District Attorney, probation services and the Metro transit system.
Eventually, a total of eight candidates tossed hats into the ring. Three candidates, however, are seen as having a real chance at gaining the top two qualifying positions that sends them on to November’s General Election.
Former-lawmaker and current academician Sheila Kuehl jumped into the race immediately; soon after WeHo council member John Duran did the same. Biding his time, as money would be no object, Bobby Shriver, announced his candidacy late, and along with the announcement came piles of cash from around the country and his pocket.
Thus far, Mr. Shriver reports nearly $2 million raised; he is spending it on cable television and mailers. Independent expenditure groups have added $200,000 to that sum.
Ms. Kuehl has raised somewhere around $1.2 million dollars. Her strategy is to lock up Democratic Club endorsements to take advantage of their slate card mailings.
The dark horse, from a financial perspective, is West Hollywood’s John Duran. He has raised about $400,000.
Which is how Mr. Shriver looks in endorsements. Most of his endorsers come from outside the district of from people outside government.
Ms. Kuehl has a deep list of city, county and state elected leaders endorsing her run, and she was given the secondary nod by the LA Times editorial board.
But where Mr. Shriver shines in fundraising, John Duran glows in endorsements. The LA Times’ endorsement of him gave new juice to an already surging candidacy based on his biography as a Hispanic man growing up on roughest LA’s Eastside streets.
The media horse race is always fascinating, but can only tell us who raised the most money and got whose endorsements. The coverage is seldom indicative of a primary winner, as candidates for countywide seats do not budget for polling.
What is predictive is a set of seeming intangibles that add up to a tangible lead for Mr. Duran, including his positioning in the race.
“Shriver’s up on television,” John Duran said, “but that’s not going to do him much good. Sheila’s lining up all the Dem club endorsements and will blanket the Valley with mailers. My hope is to do what Richard Bloom did last year at the assembly level – let the top two beat each other up, leaving me the only one agreeable to most everyone.”
He is Hispanic, a district voting group that has increased in size over the past decade.
He is in recovery and speaks of it often, as he does his HIV status and his advocacy for LGBT rights.
He comes from a city famed for its conservative fiscal policies (one of just a handful of California cities with a budget surplus tear in and year out), and advocates switching some services over to private agencies and rebuilding the county jail to prevent overcrowding and violence.
He is of an age to have experienced the West Hollywood crucible first hand – AIDS from 1981 through 1997 when HAART became available for treatment.
He lost over 100 friends to the disease in the early days. Despite winning victories to provide medicines to county inmates, got the courts to allow medicinal marijuana users to use the drug for palliative care and pushed to convince the federal government to released AIDS medications, he became deeply depressed upon getting his own HIV diagnosis.
He gave into despair and tried to drink himself out of the misery.
Which makes his story a common one, until he determined to get sober and get healthy. He obtained some HIV meds that worked for him; he went into the 12 step program and began working out.
“I’m healthier now than I have ever been,” he told WeHo News.
His social liberal bona fides should do him well in the LA Basin, but he is positioning himself as a fiscal conservative in comparison with his rivals, especially by supporting transit lines that run along the densest corridors and taking on labor with his proposal to privatize services.
Another issue that could cut either way for him is development. Never afraid to consider developing West Hollywood’s scant land for the community’s benefit, be it in use or tax revenues, he has often been on the receiving end of some residents’ ire. His is a common sense position; a city or county is a living thing and you need development to keep the lights on.
Adding up his passionately effective leadership on issues affecting the least among us and the county’s position as caregiver of last resort to his fiscal conservativeness, the LA Times decided that they would endorse in Supervisorial District 3: John Duran.
They say, “West Hollywood City Councilman Duran offers the best combination of fiscal responsibility and passion for the needs of county residents living on the margins.”
Furthermore, the paper said, “He combines a progressive bent on social issues with a pragmatic outlook… But he does demonstrate a willingness to try innovative methods to deliver services by working with the private sector…”
Then the big endorsement dropped – los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti endorsed John Duran for Supervisor.
The Times suggested that Ms. Kuehl, while demonstrating “knowledge of and experience in state government [that] would be of great benefit to the county… Duran gets the nod because he is also the one most likely to lead the county toward new and better ways of thinking about and doing its business.”
The Times barely mentioned Mr. Shriver, other to say that “he has too often gotten in his own way, needlessly antagonizing colleagues, city workers and others. His prescriptions for county government too often come in the form of blurts that show too little evidence that he understands the complexity of the county’s challenges and possible solutions.”
The word most closely associated with that phrase? Dilettante.
So who will make the run-off for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors?
Vote on June 3 and tune in for more that night.