Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson were heading Wednesday for a November runoff in their race to replace termed-out Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in the county's 2nd District.
Unofficial totals from Tuesday's election showed Wesson leading the field with roughly 32% of the vote to Mitchell's 26%. Former City Councilwoman Jan Perry lagged far behind with about 13%.
In other county races, incumbent Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn retained their posts in the 5th and 4th Districts. Barger bested two opponents, while Hahn handily defeated one.
No incumbent county supervisor has been voted out of office since 1980.
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Ridley-Thomas, who is vying to replace Wesson representing Los Angeles City Council District 10, has spent three terms representing the 2nd District, which covers an area ranging from downtown south through Inglewood and much of South Los Angeles to Carson, and as far west as Mar Vista.
Wesson, meanwhile, stepped down from his post as president of the Los Angeles City Council in December to focus on his bid to take over for Ridley-Thomas on the county board.
Wesson and Mitchell are vying to take Ridley-Thomas' spot on the five-member board that controls a $36 billion budget and more than 113,000 county employees responsible for services to combat homelessness, manage the county jail and hospital systems, oversee child welfare and public safety and myriad other programs for more than 10 million county residents in 88 cities and unincorporated areas.
The race is nonpartisan and all of the front-runners were registered Democrats, but the contest was still contentious. Perry and Mitchell raised questions about the integrity of the voting process behind the Los Angeles County Democratic Party's endorsement of Wesson. Perry, who battled with Wesson when the two served together on the Los Angeles City Council -- including over redrawing the lines of her district -- places the blame for increasing homelessness squarely on Wesson in her campaign mailers.
Much of the campaign focused on homelessness, given the pervasiveness
and seeming intractability of the problem. While Mitchell took a less negative approach, laying out her "moral plan to take on homelessness,'' rather than explicitly pointing fingers, her promise to do more than "just talk'' also seemed to implicate the councilman.
For his part, Wesson said he is working urgently to get support and housing to those who need it and notes that the fight is personal for him.
Wesson revealed that his eldest son is homeless and aired television ads
showing the longtime councilman searching through homeless encampments.
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Though Wesson and Mitchell are both progressives who tend to lean in
the same direction on policy, they can differ significantly on issues of
implementation. In a recent debate, for example, Wesson promoted the idea of 100% affordable units on publicly owned land, while Mitchell argued that such an approach would isolate poorer residents.
Though Wesson raised more than $1.5 million in contributions, far outpacing the other contenders, and has long been seen as the front-runner, the Los Angeles Times endorsed Mitchell. The newspaper's editorial board highlighted her role as "the Legislature's conscience'' in restoring funding to child care and education and fighting for criminal justice reforms.
"Her background and experience have put her in the best position to carry on the county's work in improving justice and human services,'' The Times' editorial board wrote. The endorsement also called out Wesson for "a backroom style better suited to a previous decade.''
Despite that vote of confidence, Mitchell is fighting against Wesson's valuable Democratic Party endorsement. The councilman also has support from Mayor Eric Garcetti, Supervisor Janice Hahn and other well-respected politicians who might sway voters.
In his endorsement, Garcetti said, "Herb Wesson has been an outstanding partner and a champion in our fight to improve the quality of life for all of our city's diverse communities. Herb understands how to bring people together to solve problems and deliver results like reducing homelessness, creating jobs, raising the minimum wage and expanding workforce training.''
Mitchell has key endorsements of her own, including from Gov. Gavin Newsom, former Gov. Jerry Brown and leaders of the state Assembly and Senate. She also has support from labor, including from the United Farm Workers and its co-founder, Dolores Huerta.
However, Wesson is backed by the powerful unions that represent county firefighters and sheriff's deputies, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and others.