Erin Darling and Traci Park are polar opposites in style and substance in the race to succeed Mike Bonin
By Nick Antonicello
And now we have just two.
After almost a year of recalls and council campaigning, civil rights attorney and life-long Venetian Erin Darling shocked most with an impressive first-place finish to date with employment lawyer Traci Park right on his tail.
As of this writing, about 100 votes separated the first place and second place finishers in a field of eight now reduced to just two.
Like the mayoral contest, CD-11 voters will have a sharp contrast in style, content and character as Darling represents the progressive agenda and constituency while Park has framed a more populist, law and order campaign with public safety at the heart of her message.
With both receiving roughly 30% of the vote in an anemic turnout, here are “ten takeaways” to consider as we enter the fall runoff:
MONEY MATTERS, AT LEAST MOST OF THE TIME.
Erin Darling proved that micro-targeting voters interested in actually voting is a far more useful strategy then the traditional shotgun approach. With 1/10 the resources of Traci Park, Darling framed a very persuasive message that spoke to the entire district, rather than Park’s mixed-messaging that talked around homelessness and failed to link Darling to Mike Bonin and his failed encampment strategies. As the last candidate in the race, kudos to a campaign that stayed focused, disciplined and on-message.
THE BONIN BRAND, FOR BETTER OR WORSE.
Once Bonin left the race in January, he became a campaign afterthought. But when Darling jumped in as clearly the Bonin substitute, no real effort was made to define him as that, instead he defined himself and positioned himself very correctly with the pro-Bonin forces who were voting and were dismayed when the incumbent was forced to dropout when even the incumbent realized he could not win.
THE ANEMIC TURNOUT HELPED DARLING.
LA is notorious for low turnouts and the whole reason for extending Bonin’s term an additional 18-months was so that municipal elections would appear on the same, even year ballot such as US Senator and Governor. But this assumption did nothing to effect the turnout which was historically low.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE RECALL BONIN SIGNERS?
Nearly 26,000 CD-11 voters signed the 2021 Recall Bonin petitions that came within 5% of igniting a special recall contest. But where were they on Primary Day and just how many of the Bonin recallers supported Traci Park? If one assumes they all voted, that means Park collected about a third of that vote. But based on the current tallies, it is safe to say that many of the recall signers never bothered to vote at all and saw their job complete when Bonin left the race last January, clearly a blow to any candidate trying to seize and capture that portion of the primary electorate that one would assume to be still motivated to cast a ballot for change.
THE LA TIMES ENDORSEMENT. DID IT RESONATE WITH UNDECIDED VOTERS?
Darling, a political unknown was able to convince the scribes at The Los Angeles Times he was the best candidate to deal with homelessness in a compassionate manner. Did that endorsement turn heads, or was it political leverage with undecided progressives and liberals torn between Darling and Greg Good, the Garcetti mayoral aide and ally who pretty much ran away from that affiliation and record? It’s an endorsement Darling will retain against Park, who tilts right-of-center and would never be the choice of LA’s paper of record.
GETTING IN FIRST, OR LAST. DID IT MATTER?
Traci Park prided herself on telling the electorate that she was first in the race to take on Mike Bonin and that she was entitled to the ant-Bonin vote. And because she got in first she earned a good portion of that constituency that set her up nicely with the plethora of public safety collective bargaining groups that made a quick endorsement of her candidacy that truly stifled challengers like Greg Good and Mike Newhouse who were also working the middle, moderate lane.
But the Darling campaign did not emerge until Bonin left the race and almost all of that vote consolidated behind him along with the LA Times endorsement and the support of the popular Ben Allen, a California Senator who ran unopposed yesterday. For Darling, getting in after Bonin’s exit worked perfectly in retaining that progressive lane despite Good’s deep reach into organized labor and the support of the LA Democratic Party.
DID ANYONE WATCH THE DEBATES?
There were at least a dozen or so debates on ZOOM and they were for the most part friendly and polite. But moving forward with just two candidates, how will these discussions and forums play out through the fall? Will there be a moment where these forums will be live with voters in attendance? Will one-on-one debates bring out the contrast in candidacies as well as the issues people really want to talk about?
WHO WON THE SIGN WAR?
By election day it became apparent Traci Park probably had the most sign locations with a large following in Venice and her immediate neighborhood. But as the campaign progressed we saw a large number of signs for Mat Smith in Westchester and Erin Darling signs started to populate Venice and around the district. While signs don’t vote, they play a psychological effect on the competition and a potential sign war will erupt come the fall as we might get a break during the summer months.
INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURES. WILL DARLING CATCH PARK?
With Greg Good out of the race, where will big labor and the LA Democratic Party move their support? Traci Park’s biggest negative is that she had little, if any natural Democratic Party support. She is not a creature of the Democratic clubs and organizations that traditionally play a role in these non-partisan elections. While Darling is the darling of the left, he isn’t a product of the Democratic Party establishment either, but Mike Bonin is and it will be interesting to see if Park can make any inroads into that important constituency now seemingly up for grabs.
WILL PARK CONSOLIDATE WOMEN BEHIND HER CANDIDACY?
Allison Holdorff-Polhill did an excellent job of cultivating school-age parents and specifically mothers to her campaign. The same can be said for Park, who will certainly court the assistance and endorsement of AHP. Park no doubt has a core backing of many women who are motivated by her candidacy. With abortion and reproductive rights a potential theme, Park will probably work as hard as possible in consolidating women voters in this very competitive race for this prized open seat.
Nick Antonicello is a longtime Venetian covering the 2022 CD-11 race for City Council, He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org