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In L.A. council race, rivals still battling over failed sales tax hike

In multiple mailers sent to voters in the 13th council district, candidate John Choi contends that rival Mitch O'Farrell backed laying off '500 cops.' Farrell counters: 'That's a lie.'

May 16, 2013|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • L.A. City Council candidates John Choi, left, and Mitch O'Farrell are locked in a race to replace Eric Garcetti in the 13th Council District.
L.A. City Council candidates John Choi, left, and Mitch O'Farrell… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)

Los Angeles voters rejected a plan to hike the city's sales tax two months ago, but the battle over that measure lives on in a hotly contested City Council race.

In multiple mailers sent to voters in the 13th council district, candidate John Choi and his backers in organized labor contend that Choi's rival, Mitch O'Farrell, supported the layoffs of 500 police officers. In one mailer, a downcast O'Farrell is pictured next to a crime scene and the words: "Votes to cut 500 cops."

Choi and his backers base the claim on O'Farrell's opposition to Proposition A, the March 5 ballot measure that was promoted by city leaders and others as a way to avoid reductions in police staffing.

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After the measure failed, no cuts were made. City revenue projections have been higher than expected and the budget proposed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for the coming year would maintain the police force at its current size while adding to the ranks of firefighters and expanding tree trimming and sidewalk repairs.

O'Farrell said he voted against Proposition A because it was regressive and would hurt small businesses. He called on the Choi campaign to correct the statements made in the mailers. "When someone accuses me of cutting 500 cops, that's a lie," said O'Farrell, a former deputy to mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti, who currently represents the Echo Park to Hollywood 13th district.

Several City Council members who have endorsed O'Farrell have called on Choi and his supporters to pull the mailers. Councilman Paul Koretz, who supported the tax increase and who has not endorsed in the race, said the mailers are "patently and demonstrably false."

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"Choi certainly has looked at the city budget for next year that the mayor has proposed and that the City Council is debating," Koretz said. "Therefore, he knows full well that we're not even remotely considering doing any of the things the Choi campaign is saying we're forced to do.'"

Koretz's spokesman, Paul Michael Neuman, is married to O'Farrell's campaign manager, Renee Nahum.

Choi, a former labor leader and Board of Public Works commissioner, supported Proposition A and says he stands by the mailers. He says Proposition A's defeat means cuts to police may be necessary in the future without the additional tax revenue.

"Even though the mayor's budget puts out that we have a surplus this year," Choi said, "next year and the year following are tremendously difficult times. I don't want to be in the position where we're going to have to cut cops and firefighters."

The city's top budget official has projected a structural deficit of $267 million in 2014-15 and future years of deficits unless city leaders act to reduce police overtime costs and extract new concessions from city workers in other departments.

With those changes, the deficit would be reduced to $159 million in 2014-15 and eliminated by 2017, according to a recent report from City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana.

The claim that O'Farrell supported cutting cops is included in at least three mailers sent out by the Choi campaign and in at least one mailer sent by the Coalition for Better Schools and Communities, a "super PAC" funded by the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, for which Choi once worked.

Choi has raised nearly twice as much money as O'Farrell and has benefited from nearly $600,000 in independent spending, nearly all of it from labor.

O'Farrell beat Choi in the primary, earning 19% of the vote to Choi's 17%.

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