By Gary Walker
An otherwise listless special election contest to fill a state Assembly seat representing Mar Vista, Del Rey, Culver City and other Westside communities got a jolt of energy last week from a campaign mailer that targeted one candidate for his special relationship with the Los Angeles County Supervisor representing the area — that of father and son.
Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, the 25-year-old scion of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, faces former Culver City Mayor Christopher Armenta, 49, and Olympic Park Neighborhood Council President John Jake, 47, in the Dec. 3 race for the 54th Assembly District.
All three are Democrats. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, a runoff election would be held Feb. 4.
Last week county election officials mailed 195,000 sample ballot booklets and 80,000 vote-by-mail ballots for the contest.
Gov. Jerry Brown called the special election earlier this year after the seat’s previous occupant, Holly Mitchell, won election to the state Senate seat that had previously belonged to Curren Price and, before Price, Mark Ridley-Thomas. Price is now a member of the Los Angeles City Council and Sebastian Ridley-Thomas works as his education deputy.
The political mailer sent out Friday by Armenta’s campaign implied that ballot-box rival Sebastian Ridley-Thomas is getting unethical political assistance in the race from his powerful father.
“Nepotism is not democracy,” declares the front of the four-page mailer, which accuses the supervisor of raising money and endorsements for his son and even bullying other potential candidates out of running. The document goes on to also claim Mark Ridley Thomas had pushed for an ill-timed special election date during Chanukah in an effort to discourage voter participation.
Armenta could not be reached this week to discuss his Assembly campaign or his recent mailer, which earned him a written rebuke from Los Angeles County Democratic Party Chair Eric Baum.
In a letter to Armenta, Baum described the mailer as “a less than truthful attack designed to polarize the voters” and admonished him to “stick to issues rather than baseless attacks. Baum further scolded that “as a proud, practicing Jewish-American, just let me say that I don’t appreciate the overtones used to insinuate anyone pushed to have the election scheduled the middle of Chanukah.”
Sebastian Ridley-Thomas brushed off the controversy.
“I’m running a positive campaign,” Ridley-Thomas said. “I was surprised that [Armenta] decided to make this negative attack.”
Ridley-Thomas has every reason to be confident.
The first-time political campaigner leads his opponents not only in name recognition but also in resources, according to the most recent campaign finance reports filed with California Secretary of State.
As of Nov. 6, Ridley-Thomas had raised more than $584,000 — nearly 10 times as much campaign cash as both of his rivals combined.
Armenta had raised nearly $64,000, including $50,000 of his own money, and Jake, a real estate broker, was bringing up the rear with approximately $6,000.
While he has not been able to garner a lot of high profile endorsements, Jake thinks one personal quality will benefit him in the election: “I can relate to people who look like me and who don’t look like me,” he said.
While Armenta enjoys support from several current and former Culver City officials, Ridley-Thomas backers make up a virtual who’s-who list of area business and politics.
Ridley-Thomas donors include businessman Austin Beutner at $4,100, billionaire Eli Broad at $2,500, the Anschutz Entertainment Group at $2,500, businessman Steve Soborof at $2,000, developer Rick Caruso at $1,000, former Los Angeles International Airport Commissioner Alan Rothenberg at $1,000, plus Marina del Rey real estate developers Goldrich & Kest Industries at $5,000 and Heritage Development Corp. at $2,500.
Notable public figures who are Ridley-Thomas donors include former Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel at $1,000, Assemblyman Steven Bradford (D- Westchester) at $3,000, Rep. Karen Bass (D- Culver City) at $1,000, state Sen. Majority Leader Darrell Steinberg (D- Sacramento) at $4,100, Assemblyman Chris Holden (D- Pasadena) at $4,100, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D- Los Angeles) at $2,000, and former LAUSD board member Cindy Montañez at $2,500.
Ridley-Thomas has also received contributions from the Microsoft Corp. Political Action Committee ($3,000), Chevron ($2,500), NBC Universal Media ($2,000), Sony Pictures Entertainment ($2,000), Disney Worldwide Services ($1,500), Monsanto Global Food ($1,300), the California Independent Petroleum Assoc. PAC ($1,000) and Ford Motor Co. ($1,000).
Trade unions have contributed tens of thousands of dollars.
A frequently discussed topic in the race is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is a controversial technique used to obtain oil and natural gas in areas where the fuels are trapped in rock and sand formations.
Both Armenta and Jake have previously said they would pursue a ban on fracking if elected.
Ridley-Thomas, who has taken contributions from several energy companies, simply said he would enforce all environmental regulations and laws, but currently there are no laws that rule out fracking.
However, Ridley-Thomas also said he sees environmental sustainability efforts in Mar Vista and other parts of the Westside paying off as an economic engine of the future.
“I think the 54th Assembly District can be a vehicle for advancing green technology,” he said.