Is The CD13 Race Poised For An Upset?

DEEGAN ON LA — “Defund the LAPD”, “Abolish Jails”, “Elect Hugo Soto-Martinez” is a formula voters in CD13 are being offered as an alternative to re-electing two-term incumbent Mitch O’Farrell. 

It's a marquee race—an upset win would be a bellwether political event with deep ramifications. 

Soto-Martinez, a radical progressive who uses the iron fist of harsh rhetoric, has a chance to wear the velvet glove of persuasion by becoming the “AOC of LA politics”. He can mimic Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ recalibrating her more radical positions into a more moderate version of progressivism. That shift helped Biden win the landmark Climate Control legislation (officially known as the Inflation Reduction Act), and that kind of shift by him could help Soto-Martinez win a council district seat, and maybe govern more effectively if he wins. 

Assisting him in what could be a makeover, or at least a tonal modification, is Kate Pynoos, whom he ran against in the Primary. Pynoos, who ran on a “practical progressive” platform may be able to bring a softer, more inclusive tone to Hugo in the campaign and beyond. Pynoos has recently endorsed him, and joined his campaign as a senior policy advisor.

She, and the seven-thousand CD13 residents who voted for her, could help make a difference in November. Soto-Martinez (40.63%), O’Farrell (31.65%), and Pynoos (15.60%) won places on the primary podium. The top two are in the runoff. 

Mediating Hugo may help increase the size of the cohort aligned with Nithya Raman, a winner in CD4 last time around. It’s starting to work: Eunisses Hernandez outright won her primary challenge in CD1 against incumbent Gil Cedillo. The next shots are Soto-Martinez and Erin Darling (CD11). Their victories would give the far left four council seats out of fifteen. That wedge could slowly impact city hall politics.

The CD13 district includes East Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Atwater Village, Little Armenia, and parts of Hollywood. 

Mitch O’Farrell has been in the CD13 office for 21 years, first as a staffer for Eric Garcetti, and then as Councilmember. Garcetti held the CD13 seat from 2001-2013, including a few years as council president before becoming mayor. 

The Garcetti political legacy began with Gil Garcetti, the mayor’s father, being elected District Attorney for two terms from 1992 to 2000. On the heels of that, the CD13 seat has had a 21-year Garcetti hold that includes his proxy O’Farrell. 

Combining the tenures of father and son, the Garcettis have been insider political power players for the last thirty years. 

That linkage would be crushed with a Soto-Martinez win. Garcetti and O’Farrell, are considered by many as architects of the building boom in Hollywood that has been derided as “Manhattan-ization”. Some see a too-cozy relationship between them and developers. 

Ridding the district of those influences is a Soto-Martinez possibility. Relying on those influences, and the cash and votes they bring, is a bedrock element of the Garcetti machine. It’s what makes the CD13 race so reflective of what can happen with swapping out politicos for newcomers, even if they are trying to radically disrupt. 

Soto-Martinez' extreme rhetoric has gone from headlines to hashtags to echo chamber. The impact of that extremity has been rhetorical tool that worked for Hugo creating his political profile, and winning the endorsement of the far left radical Democratic Socialists of America helped him make his mark for the primary. 

Erin Darling may be in a competitive race in CD11. He has the support of Councilmember-elect Eunisses Hernandez and a strong cross-section of politicos, community activists, and unions. Both Abundant Housing and Ground Game LA support him and their constituencies are representative of a hoped-for future of LA. 

Once elected, even the most promising candidates can often be flattened by the system and wind up another cog in the wheel. For all her promise and the excitement by some around her selection, Nithya Raman (CD4) almost immediately faced the harshness of a recall petition (that failed to get enough signatures), and a redistricting that successfully transferred a big chunk of her district to an electorate that never knew or voted for her. It was the political equivalent of solitary confinement. 

Hugo Soto-Martinez will be under the same sort of microscope as Raman was; the more you claim savior status the higher the expectations are that you can walk on water. But, unlike Raman who had only one council ally (the retiring Mike Bonin), Soto-Martinez would come into office with more friendly faces in the council chamber and a better chance of making progress on his promises. 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose Deegan on LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at [email protected].)