Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell is running for a third and final term representing a district that stretches from Echo Park on the east to Hollywood on the west and Glassell Park on the north.
O'Farrell, who lives in Glassell Park, is endorsed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and a number of his colleagues, including City Council President Paul Krekorian. But he faces a vigorous challenge from labor organizer Hugo Soto-Martinez, a resident of Hollywood who — backed by Councilmember Nithya Raman and the L.A. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America — pulled out a strong first-place finish in the June 7 primary election.
Now, O'Farrell and Soto-Martinez are headed to a runoff on Tuesday.
Who are the candidates?
O'Farrell grew up in a working-class family in Oklahoma. His father was a truck driver and Teamster, his mother an administrative assistant. Native American and openly gay, he made his way to Southern California in the early 1980s for that most L.A. of reasons: He had an audition. The production didn't work out, but O'Farrell stayed, studying acting and dance.
After becoming a neighborhood volunteer, O'Farrell got a job on the staff of Councilmember Eric Garcetti in 2002, overseeing constituent services. Nearly a dozen years later, he emerged from an eight-way race to win Garcetti's former seat on the City Council, defeating an opponent who had more money and the financial backing of one of the biggest players at City Hall — the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
In recent years, O'Farrell has carved out a role on the council's energy committee, where he has called for the Department of Water and Power to reach 100% renewable energy by 2035. He also has been an outspoken advocate for more housing, boasting that nearly a third of the units built or being produced in his district — nearly 4,400 out of about 15,000 — are or will be affordable, with limits on the amount of rent that can be charged.
Soto-Martinez grew up in poverty, the son of Mexican immigrants who moved to South Los Angeles and worked as street vendors. He graduated from UC Irvine, studying political science and criminology, and went on to become an organizer with Unite Here Local 11, the hotel and restaurant workers union. He also got involved with the L.A. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA, whose canvassers helped power him to a nine-point lead in the June primary.
On the campaign trail, Soto-Martinez has portrayed O'Farrell as a tool of real estate developers, saying every residential project should have 20% of its units designated as affordable. He has also called for the city to convert hotel facilities — the Standard in downtown Los Angeles, the Sportsmen's Lodge in the San Fernando Valley — into temporary housing for L.A.'s homeless population.
Soto-Martinez has been a sharp critic of O'Farrell's decision to clear a homeless encampment from Echo Park Lake, which concluded with the arrest of scores of protesters last year. Although more than 100 people were moved from the park into Project Roomkey hotels and other facilities, few received permanent housing. O'Farrell has defended the initiative, saying the park had become a dangerous place and needed to be restored for public use.
Where is District 13?
The 13th District takes in all or part of Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Glassell Park, Atwater Village, Elysian Valley, Historic Filipinotown, Windsor Square, Larchmont Village and Westlake. The district includes such landmarks as the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Echo Park Lake, the Silver Lake reservoirs and a small stretch of the Los Angeles River.
Where O'Farrell and Soto-Martinez stand on LAPD spending
Soto-Martinez has called for the city to have fewer police, saying the savings should be poured into mental health workers and other unarmed responders. In his DSA candidate questionnaire, he identified himself as an abolitionist on the issue of policing and prisons. But he also has told voters that being an abolitionist does not necessarily mean seeking to eliminate the LAPD.
Soto-Martinez said recently that the LAPD should keep its staffing levels where they are until the city holds a community process for finding alternatives to police. He also promised to be tough with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents police officers.
O'Farrell said the LAPD needs more officers, warning that the city risks a return to the much higher crime rates of the 1990s. (He declined to say how many more.) Like Soto-Martinez, he has endorsed the idea of moving key duties out of the LAPD. He says mental health teams in his district are already diverting hundreds of calls away from police — and should be expanded.
The Police Protective League has endorsed O'Farrell, spending more than $94,000 in the primary election on mail and other advertising critical of Soto-Martinez. The winner of the council race will have the power to weigh in on the size of the LAPD budget and contract talks with the police union.
Where O'Farrell and Soto-Martinez stand on homelessness
O'Farrell and Soto-Martinez both favor the construction of more affordable housing, though they disagree on the amount of progress the city has made in building it.
Where O'Farrell and Soto-Martinez sharply differ is Municipal Code Section 41.18, the city law that bars encampments from forming within 500 feet of public schools and day-care centers. O'Farrell is a major proponent of that law, saying children and their parents should have clear access to school campuses. He also supports giving the council the power to designate other facilities — libraries, senior centers, freeway overpasses — as off-limits to tents.
Soto-Martinez, on the other hand, said he would work with neighborhoods to repeal the 18 no-encampment zones created by O'Farrell in the district. He said he would vote to repeal the law if there was enough support on the council to do so.
Appearing at a candidate forum last week, Soto-Martinez said enforcement of the law traumatizes homeless people and can cause them to lose their belongings. He also said the law simply pushes people to other parts of a neighborhood. O'Farrell disputed that idea, saying outreach workers have been going to encampments to offer spaces in tiny homes and other types of temporary housing.
Soto-Martinez is backed by a number of left-of-center organizations, including Ground Game Los Angeles and La Defensa. He also has support from Councilmember Mike Bonin and Councilmember-elect Eunisses Hernandez, who will take office in December.
Among Soto-Martinez's most powerful backers is Unite Here, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an independent campaign to elect him. He also has the backing of United Teachers Los Angeles and The Times' editorial board, which operates separately from the newsroom.
O'Farrell has secured endorsements from a number of labor unions, including Service Employees International Union United Healthcare Workers West, which has put big money into an independent expenditure campaign supporting him. Hospital workers have appeared in campaign videos promoting O'Farrell, who voted earlier this year in favor of a $25 minimum wage for thousands of healthcare workers.
The council member is also endorsed by the city's police and firefighter unions and by Equality California, which supports LGBTQ+ candidates and causes. The California Apartment Assn. is also backing him, and ran an especially expensive campaign for him last spring.
L.A. Times Editorial Board Endorsements
The Times’ editorial page publishes endorsements based on candidate interviews and independent reporting. The editorial board operates independently of the newsroom — reporters covering these races have no say in the endorsements.
How and where to vote
Ballots will be in the mail to all 22 million registered voters in the state no later than Oct. 10. Californians can return ballots by mail, drop them at collection boxes or turn them in at voting centers. They can also cast ballots early at voting centers or wait until Tuesday to vote at their neighborhood polling places.
Californians can register to vote or check their status at https://registertovote.ca.gov/.
Follow more election coverage
California voters head to the polls Tuesday to vote for U.S. Senate, governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, controller, treasurer, attorney general, and in races for U.S. representatives in Congress and state senators and Assembly members. Local races include who will be the Los Angeles mayor and L.A. County sheriff. There are seven state ballot propositions for voters to decide.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.