The close contest between two Venetians ends with Park garnering 53% of the vote to Darling’s 47%
By Nick Antonicello
In the most competitive and spirited race for Los Angeles City Council, newcomer Traci Park defied the odds and defeated fellow Venetian and attorney Erin Darling after finishing second in the June 8th Primary to reset her campaign and capture 52.94% of the vote in a race where as of Thursday evening some 85,000 residents casted votes.
As of 11/17, Park received 45,171 votes to Darling’s 40,101, a lead of 5,070 which seemed to be the trend for over week.
In a race with direct donations, city matching funds and independent expenditures totaling roughly $5 million dollars between the two, Park proved her ability as a first-time candidate to raise the lion’s share of the dollars in this open seat contest a clear advantage for her campaign.
Just a year ago both of these candidates were relative unknowns who defeated more experienced politico’s in a 8-person primary contest to reach the general election.
Park, a self-described moderate and former Republican was clearly the outsider with strong support from the law enforcement community as well as apartment owners, trade unions and several marquee endorsements from former LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California Treasurer Fiona Ma. Darling, the former Green Party member and progressive in the race leaned on his life-long residency here in Venice and former service on the Venice Neighborhood Council along with support from a multitude of Democratic clubs, public employee unions and elected officials such as Assembly member Tina McKinnor and California Senator Ben Allen of Santa Monica to make his case to voters.
But the 800lb gorilla in the room was the long shadow of the outgoing, twice-recalled incumbent Mike Bonin who endorsed Darling and many voters viewed the tenant right’s attorney in many cases as his clone. While Darling was running against Park, he was also forced to defend the record of an unpopular incumbent, especially on the core issues of homeless encampments and rising crime.
While Darling finished first in the 8-candidate primary garnering 22,939, his total in the general grew to just 40,101 or 17,162 additional votes. In contrast Park, the second place finisher received 19,168 in June, but saw her numbers swell to 45,171, or 26,003 votes and nearly 10,000 more votes than her opponent.
Clearly, most of that Primary voted shifted significantly to Park with former candidates Mike Newhouse, Mat Smith and James Murez all endorsing her while Darling was unable to secure a single primary opponent endorsement with third and fourth place finishers Greg Good and Allison Holdorff-Polhill making no endorsement at all.
But the central issue of the campaign was homelessness, and Park pounded away at Darling’s support of many of the Bonin proposals that just didn’t work.
In many ways the Darling campaign was perceived as an extension of the Bonin agenda and it haunted him throughout the contest,
Organizationally, the Park campaign out-hustled the Darling effort as they plastered Venice with hundreds of signs where her support seemed the strongest. The 2021 Bonin Recall campaign was centered in Venice and many of the financial supporters of that effort naturally moved to the Park campaign.
At the end of the day, Darling was running against Park, but found himself defending the Bonin agenda which was just too much to overcome.
Park proved herself to be a tremendous campaigner who led from the front of the line.
A strong public speaker, Park was well versed on the issues and spoke confidently and articulately on homelessness.
She was first in the race and her drive and determination was obvious and evident. Her personal style was contagious and defining Darling as Bonin 2.0 proved to be a winning formula.
Her drive and confidence was impressive for someone who never ran for public office.
This council race was the closest of those on the ballot and the last to be called. Ironically, the political landscape at City Hall has shifted to the left, and with Karen Bass as the new Mayor, Park has the unique opportunity to carve out a more moderate and solutions based agenda when it comes to the encampments and high crime.
Park seems ready to hit the ground running and understands why she won and who she represents in changing LA’s current and failed approach to homelessness and rising crime.
The need for unity and putting this campaign cycle in the rearview will be equally important and Park’s professional demeanor and understanding of this journey traveled for some sixteen months has been a crash course in local city governance.
Her character and determination to get things done is seemingly the foundation of what her term of office will be all about.
I wish her well.
Nick Antonicello is a longtime Venetian who has covered the race in CD-11 since 2020. A member of the Outreach and Oceanfront Committee’s of the VNC, He can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org