By Sue Favor
LOS ANGELES — The fact that more than 40% of voters remain undecided on their choice for Los Angeles’ next mayor less than three months before the June primary is not unusual, a longtime political science professor says.
A recent survey of registered voters by the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University found that just two candidates — U.S. Rep. Karen Bass and City Councilman Kevin de León — received double-digit support. More than 16% of voters surveyed said they would vote for Bass and more than 12% picked de León, with City Councilman Joe Buscaino and City Attorney Mike Feuer receiving 7.7% and 7.3%, respectively.
Forty-one percent of those surveyed said they didn’t yet know who they would, or they chose a candidate that wasn’t included in the survey.
Leavey Center Director Fernando Guerra, who also teaches at LMU, said the vast number of responses is typical of a mayoral election in its early stages.
“In a presidential race, we start talking about it two years before the election,” he said. “With mayoral elections, it’s within the year, so it’s a sprint to the finish.”
Guerra said the diversity found in early polls reflects the large candidate pool that the race usually begins with. A few who were included in the survey have since dropped out of the race. Others have added their names to the list as the filing deadline approaches. So far 27 candidates have announced their intention to run to replace outgoing mayor Eric Garcetti.
Guerra, who has 38 years in the field, said more candidates run for a seat when there is no incumbent in the race. The candidates soon begin to separate themselves, as they are now, into distinct categories.
“Right now there are five very serious candidates, and another three or four have the potential to emerge out of the pack,” he said. “The other 8-10 are a mixture of individuals using the candidacy as a platform not necessarily to win, but to push an idea, an agenda or a personality.”
The top candidates are Bass, de León, Busciano, Feuer and business leader Rick Caruso. All have the experience to handle the job, and each is polling high, Guerra said. Business leaders Ramit Varma and Mel Wilson “might carve out a path where they can make themselves relevant,” he added.
“The real ones are starting to emerge right now,” Guerra said. “Some will say there is institutional and civic bias with people like me, saying there’s a top five. But [the top five candidates] have more visibility and have greater fundraising, which leads to more resources. Then people say the system is biased against their candidate.”
Each of Guerra’s top five candidates support increasing the number of police officers on the streets, which contrasts sharply with nationwide social injustice protests two years ago, which resulted in LAPD officers being laid off. It was this contentious issue that was at the heart of a disruption at LMU’s mayoral debate a few weeks ago, where a few audience members began yelling, and one stormed the stage in protest.
“Those that disrupted, to some extent, had a legitimate point, though as I was the organizer and moderator, I didn’t appreciate it,” Guerra said. “There were five candidates, and none were on the side of reducing the police. The protestors said their candidate wasn’t up there, and it was a sham debate and a sham process.”
Guerra had much to discuss with his political science classes.
“It was an awesome teaching moment,” he said. “I thought the disruption did much to show where we are at in L.A.”
Mayoral candidates were required to submit nominating petitions with a valid number of voter signatures to the city clerk by last week to qualify for the June 7 primary ballot. As of press time, nine candidates had been certified by the city clerk’s office: Bass, de León, Caruso, Buscaino, Feuer, Wilson, Varma, self-described business owner John “Jsamuel” Jackson and community activist Gina Viola.
SilentRight CEO Barry “Boenvilla” Boen, businessman Craig Greiwe, lawyer Andrew Kim, self-described businesswoman Juanita Lopez, chiropractor Jemiss Nazar, self-described entrepreneur Douglas Paul Nichols, Echo Park Neighborhood Council member Alex Gruenenfelder Smith and Chuck Cho have also submitted petitions to run for mayor, but those had not been verified by the City Clerk’s Office, as of March 10.
If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote June 7, the top two vote getters will face off in the Nov. 8 general election.