A dizzying number of hopefuls are eyeing the Westside congressional seat Henry Waxman will leave behind

By Gary Walker  

Last week’s unexpected announcement by Rep. Henry Waxman (D- Beverly Hills) that he will retire from Congress after 40 years of representing Westside communities in Washington has triggered an avalanche of candidates looking to fill his seat.

State Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), whose district includes many of the same communities as Waxman’s, and former Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel, who recently campaigned to become mayor of Los Angeles, wasted no time launching campaigns after Waxman said he would step down.

Attorney Sandra Fluke, who became a gender equality celebrity last year after House Republicans blocked her from testifying about contraception coverage during an Affordable Care Act hearing, is also seeking the state Democratic Party’s endorsement for the seat, according to reports.

State Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D- Santa Monica), formerly mayor of Santa Monica, wrote last week on Twitter that he is “seriously considering running for Waxman’s seat.”

Author and lecturer Marianne Williamson and film producer Brent Roske have been campaigning as left-leaning independent candidates since last year.

Four other dark horse candidates — Republican Christopher David and Democrats Robert Baker, Derrick Ferree and attorney Zein Obagi Jr. — pulled candidacy papers in January, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office.

Prognosticators also suggest Bill Bloomfield, a wealthy businessman who received 46% of the vote when challenging Waxman as an independent in 2012, may also enter the race.

Candidates will square off in a primary election on June 3. If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, those who finish first and second (regardless of party affiliation) will meet again in the Nov. 4 general election.

Loyola Marymount University political science professor Richard Fox, a specialist in congressional and electoral politics, expects even more candidates to join the race before a March 12 nomination papers filing deadline.

Waxman’s departure “is an opportunity if you’re an ambitious and aspiring city councilman, state senator or member of the Assembly who happens to be a Democrat,” Fox said. “If you want to go to Congress, this is probably your best chance to run.”

In a matter of days, Lieu and Greuel have rolled out several dozen endorsements that, along with their name recognition and ability to raise campaign funds, put them at an immediate advantage over other candidates.

Lieu was already slated to run for reelection to the state Senate.

“I love our nation. But I believe that we can do better. We have faced some of the same difficult issues in California that we have seen nationally,” Lieu said of his decision to run for Congress. “We have faced huge deficits, partisan gridlock and a government shutdown. But because I and other lawmakers reached across the aisle and made difficult decisions, we came out of those situations and now we have a budget surplus.”

Greuel, who also served on the Los Angeles City Council, said several supporters urged her to run following Waxman’s retirement announcement.

“I saw it as ‘aha’ moment,” Greuel said. “Congress is considered to be so dysfunctional by the public, and we deserve to have a Congress that gets things done.”

Greuel said she will move into the district in order to run for Waxman’s seat and that she isn’t concerned that opponents may charge her with carpet bagging.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “I live about a mile out of the district right now, and as city controller I represented people on the Westside and the entire city.”

Fox said Lieu may have the edge going into the primary because he’s already representing Marina del Rey, Venice, Playa del Rey, Santa Monica and some South Bay communities within Waxman’s congressional district.

“Greuel and Lieu both have high name recognition, but voters in the district are more familiar with Lieu,” Fox said.

Lieu and Greuel also have connections with two of the district’s main business constituencies —entertainment and aerospace. Greuel was a government and community affairs executive for DreamWorks Studios prior to running for the L.A. City Council, and Lieu has received nearly a decade of support from South Bay aerospace companies and sits on the California Senate Select Committee on Defense and Aerospace.

Other candidates were optimistic that Waxman taking himself out of the equation will result in healthy debate and broader political participation.

“Waxman’s retirement really opens up the race,” Roske said. “I think a lot of different people now have a shot at this, and it makes an already interesting endeavor quite exciting.”

Williamson said she expected a “dynamic” contest — especially with Fluke’s apparent decision to join the race.

“I think our democracy is at its best when everyone participates, especially women,” Williamson said. “I think it’s going to be a very exciting race.”

On the national landscape, Fox reads Waxman’s decision to leave Congress as a tacit admission that Democrats do not have high hopes for the 2014 midterm elections.

“Clearly the Democrats don’t think that they can win back the House. “[Waxman] probably doesn’t feel like [being a member of the minority party] is a great way to spend the twilight years of his career in Congress,” Fox said — a claim Waxman has denied.  §