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A host of hopefuls vie for Karen Bass' 47th Assembly District seat

As the termed-out former speaker runs for Congress, five Democrats are competing for her old job in the June primary.

May 29, 2010|By Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times

As termed-out former Assembly Speaker Karen Bass (D- Los Angeles) focuses on her campaign for a seat in the House of Representatives, a competitive Democratic primary race is on to succeed her.

In her economically and ethnically diverse Westside-Southwest Los Angeles district, Holly Mitchell and Reginald Jones-Sawyer are generally considered the front-runners. Also among the five Democrats on the June 8 primary ballot is Ed Nicoletti, a businessman and home builder from Westwood, who is campaigning hard.

The 47th Assembly District includes Westwood, Cheviot Hills, West Los Angeles, Leimert Park, Hyde Park, Mid-City, part of Koreatown and the unincorporated county areas of View Park, Ladera Heights and Baldwin Hills, plus Culver City. About a third of the voters are African American. Democrats outnumber Republicans 65% to 11%, therefore the winner of the Democratic primary is all but assured of winning the seat in November.

Mitchell, 45, a single parent and head of the childcare advocacy nonprofit Crystal Stairs, promises to "stand up to the corporate interests in Sacramento that put their needs ahead of our schools and healthcare" and to "slam shut the corporate tax loopholes" to help the state out of its budget deficit and "clean up the mess in Sacramento."

"I feel compelled to try to do something about it," Mitchell said, adding that she has experience meeting a payroll in tough economic times and has strong working relationships with leaders and families across the district. She has served on the state Commission on the Status of Women and the Los Angeles Commission for Children, Youth and Their Families.

She worked for Rep. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) when Watson was in the state Senate and has the retiring congresswoman's endorsement as well as that of Bass, the California Democratic Party, several labor groups, including United Teachers Los Angeles, and about three dozen current and former local elected officials.

"I think Holly would have to be regarded as the favorite," said Fred MacFarlane, a political consultant who is not working for any of the candidates in this race. He and other observers cited a broad list of influential endorsers, strong fundraising and appeal to female voters.

Jones-Sawyer, 53, director of asset management for the city of Los Angeles and a state party officer, also is running a strong race. The single father of three has support from some labor groups, including the California Service Employees International Union and the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, as well as the Sierra Club.

As an assistant deputy mayor in the Richard Riordan administration, Jones-Sawyer said he helped streamline the city's business permit system that helped bring such enterprises as the Magic Johnson Theater to Los Angeles. He said he has "saved the city millions" in lease negotiations in his current position. He lists his priorities as job creation, education, environment and "healthcare for all."

Although Mitchell has raised significantly more money than Jones-Sawyer — about $450,000 to his $250,000 — two SEIU-affiliated groups have spent at least $138,000 independently to support him. Other groups have spent about $40,000 to elect Mitchell.

In addition to Watson and Bass, Mitchell's endorsers include county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, City Councilwoman Jan Perry, Democratic state Sens. Roderick Wright and Curren Price Jr., both of Inglewood, and L.A. school board President Monica Garcia.

Jones-Sawyer's support from about three dozen current and former elected officials includes that of Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), council members Bernard C. Parks and Janice Hahn, Democratic state Sens. Alex Padilla and Gil Cedillo, both of Los Angeles, former Assemblyman Mervin Dymally and Riordan.

Nicoletti, 46, who said he has spent about $100,000, much of it his own, has lawn signs throughout the district and has sent mailers and distributed hundreds of door hangers while stumping for votes. He promises not to accept a salary if elected and says he would use the money on pothole repairs and graffiti removal. He calls for a freeze on new state spending, a crackdown on state benefits for illegal immigrants and an overhaul of the state pension system to contain costs.

Other Democrats on the ballot are Robert L. "Bobby" Jones, 62, chief arbitrator with a mediation firm, and Rafael Garcia-Rangel, 34, a counselor at a nonprofit agency. Republican Lady Cage and Libertarian Sean P. McGary are unopposed in their respective primaries and will be on the November ballot.

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