LA City Council District 11 race intensifies
By Sam Catanzaro
Traci Park is standing by her legal record following reports that the candidate for LA City Council District 11 defended the use of the “n-word” in a legal case while representing the City of Anaheim in a lawsuit against a public works supervisor. Park has responded by attacking her opponent in the race, Erin Darling, for defending child pornographers, gang members and rapists while a public defender.
Park, a former Republican, is running against Darling, a one-time Green Party member in the race to replace LA City Councilmember Mike Bonin who opted not to run for reelection due to mental health reasons.
Up until now, Park and Darling’s respective campaigns had focused primarily on issues relating to homelessness, housing and public safety. While both are attorneys who live in Venice, they offer contrasting approaches to address these issues. Darling has opposed the city’s anti-camping ordinance while Park has supported it. Park has called for expanding the Los Angeles Police Department while Darling has called for more funding for mental health services. While the two have taken jabs at each other over issues of policy, the contest for the most part has been civil. Last week, however, the campaign turned vitriolic.
As first reported on Thursday by Spectrum 1 News, Park defended the use of the “n-word” in the 2021 case, Harrell v. City of Anaheim. Andrew Harrell worked as a superintendent in Anaheim’s public works department. According to Darling’s campaign, he was the only African American in management within the department. During his sixteen months with the city, Harrell said he experienced persistent racist abuse and harassment from his supervisor Dan Debassio.
“Debassio used the ‘n-word’ in front of Harrell on numerous occasions and made comments like the need to hire more ‘black people’ at the City for the sake of diversity. He also made jokes about Mr. Harrell’s genitalia, once looking at Mr. Harrell’s private area and asking him if he ‘was wearing underwear’,” reads a press release from Darling’s campaign. “Mr. Harrell complained about the abuse and was fired shortly thereafter. The City claimed Harrell was terminated for using a tractor to push his broken-down car, but this was deemed a pretext for their discriminatory termination.”
Park represented the City of Anaheim in this case and filed a demurrer to have claims dismissed and avoid going to discovery. Park argued that the use of the “n-word” is not discrimination. A judge rejected the argument, found that Harrell’s amended complaint was valid and ordered the parties to engage in a mandatory settlement conference. The case was eventually settled and Debassio kept his job.
In the wake of the Spectrum report, Darling issued a statement attacking Park for representing the City of Anaheim in the case.
“It’s never okay to defend racism, even in court. The use of this racist slur has no place in our workplaces and Traci Park’s actions to defend racist employers is inexcusable. Traci Park may have thought she could get away with claiming the ‘n-word’ was not racist in court, but if the judge didn’t fall for that, neither will the voters of the Westside. Traci’s legal ‘argument’ is eerily reminiscent of right-wing Justice Amy Coney Barrett who once ruled that use of the ‘n-word’ did not create a hostile work environment,” Darling said. “Voters need to know about this case – which happened in 2020, after the death of George Floyd – because it calls into question my opponent’s character and judgment. Someone who defends racist behavior and keeps racist supervisors in power does not deserve to exert influence on the Los Angeles City Council. My candidacy is based on a belief that the Westside is for everyone. Once in office, my values as a civil rights lawyer will be an important counterbalance to the discrimination faced by so many in our city.”
Among others to speak out against Park following this news include Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.
“Such blatant and abhorrent acts of racism speak volumes and are simply unacceptable for anyone, especially someone seeking public office,” the group said in a statement Friday.
On Monday, Assemblymember Tina McKinnor, LA Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, National Lawyers Guild Los Angeles Executive Director Christopher Chavis, faith leaders and public defenders held a press conference denouncing Los Angeles Park as unfit for office.
Park has responded by accusing Darling of attempting to distract voters from the homeless crisis and attacking his record as a public defender.
“Mr. Darling has absolutely no plan to address the biggest challenges facing the residents of Council District 11. This is yet another desperate attack from a flailing candidate who is trying to distract voters from the homeless crisis, the daily assaults on innocent residents, the explosion of encampment fires throughout our district, and the biggest issues facing our communities today,” Park said in a statement. “My firm represented the City of Anaheim in an employment discrimination case that was ultimately settled. I have not and will not ever condone the use of racially charged language in any context.”
Park went on to bring up her opponent’s record as a public defender.
“Just as I would hope that Mr. Darling does not support the actual crimes committed by his current and former clients, including a convicted felon who sodomized a woman at gunpoint in a public restroom, at least two separate convicted child pornographers, a convicted child rapist, an MS-13 gang member who allegedly kidnapped and killed an innocent person with a machete, and a convicted felon who illegally transported 558.6 grams of methamphetamine into a local jail, and so many more, I do not support or condone harassing or discriminatory conduct,” Park said. “Again, racially charged language and discrimination of any form is never acceptable. I oppose this in the strongest manner possible. I suspect that Mr. Darling also opposes child rapists, child pornographers, and major drug traffickers. It is extremely unfortunate that Mr. Darling and his campaign have chosen to try to make this an issue because he is simply wrong on all of the major challenges facing CD11 and has no real plan to reverse the devastating impacts of the policies that his biggest supporter, Mike Bonin, has put forth and implemented over the past decade.”
“This election is about the real issues that families all over the Westside are facing every single day. It is not about and should not be about my or Mr. Darling’s former clients,” Park added.
Her campaign sent Mirror Media Group a list of cases where Darling, as a public defender, represented gang members, drug dealers and a pedophile. These cases include: USA v. Cruz in which Darling is still currently representing MS-13 member Paola Guevara who allegedly participated in the kidnapping and the killing of a man who falsely claimed he was a member of MS-13; and USA v Perez in which Darling represented a carnival ride operator who was convicted for molesting a four-year-old girl seated on the ride.