Special Election Today To Fill State Senate Seat

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Seven candidates will appear on the ballot of today's special election to fill the state Senate seat vacated by Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, seeking to represent the district stretching from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City.

Mitchell has endorsed Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager, D-Baldwin Hills, who was her district director before being elected to represent the 54th Assembly District in a 2018 special election. The 54th Assembly District covers 53.6% of the 30th Senate District, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk.

Kamlager is also endorsed by the California Democratic Party, receiving 93% of the votes from the Endorsing Caucus, which is made up of the 2019-2021 Democratic State Central Committee.

California Democratic Party Chair Rusty Hicks called Kamlager “a social justice champion (who) has made transformative changes to reform the criminal justice system and has strongly advocated for environmental justice policies and equity in our education system.''

Kamlager was a member of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees from 2015-18. She was appointed in 2013 to the Los Angeles County Commission on Children and Families.

Kamlager also worked at the Social and Public Arts Resource Center in Venice and the Ladera Heights-based early childhood care and education organization Crystal Stairs.

Kamlager said that if elected, her priorities would include:

-- criminal justice system reform “that moves us closer to equality before the law'';

-- employment strategies “that will reboot our economy and create opportunities for all communities'';

-- innovative investment in housing and homelessness initiatives;

-- climate change action while working toward a Green New Deal and quality jobs; and

-- investments in education and the arts.

Kamlager told City News Service she “was prompted to run for state Senate by the urgency of the moment.''

“Poverty -- which I've spent a lifetime battling -- has taken a quantum jump this last year,'' the 48-year-old Kamlager said. “The upheaval thrust upon California's working families by the pandemic requires relentless, bold action to steer us safely to full recovery.

“That means getting folks back to work, getting students back in classrooms, keeping people in their homes and expanding affordable housing and getting our economy back on track.''

“We're in the middle of an enormously important budget and legislative session, addressing COVID and people's urgent needs,'' Kamlager added. “This is a moment that requires someone who knows how to build consensus among lawmakers and win the votes necessary to usher in real change to our criminal legal system, health care for all, and climate action.''

The district has been represented by a Black Democrat since 1974, including two women, Mitchell and Diane Watson, who held the seat from 1978-98.

“There are zero Black women in the California Senate,'' Kamlager said. “I've seen what happens when we don't have a seat at the table -- policies and budgets fail us. I know representation matters. And having a Black woman, a working mother, in the state Senate is critically important for perspective in the fight for recovery, justice, and equity.''

The other two Democrats in the race are also Black.

Culver City Councilman Daniel Lee said he is running “because instead of instituting substantive change in response to the unprecedented uprising this summer against White supremacy and police brutality, our state Legislature has only offered us eloquent phrases on the state level without more substantive policy action.

“I'm running because as a renter, I am disappointed with the lip service that our state officials have given the plight of renters while voting against bills that would provide them more protections,'' Lee said.

“I'm running because though we hear inspiring words from our state leaders, when it comes to addressing the climate crisis, we lack swift and concrete policy action that can address the deleterious health effects felt by frontline communities of color and low-income communities.''

Lee said he supports a single-payer health care system; expanded homelessness services and stronger protections for renters; forcing public pension funds to “divest from corporate landlords like the Blackstone Group, who use investments from those pension funds to gentrify the neighborhoods of pension holders''; and “economic development focused on community participation from the start.''

Lee has a master's degree in social welfare from UCLA and is a doctoral candidate at USC. He served in the Air Force and California Air National Guard, was an organizer for the South Los Angeles-based social justice organization Community Coalition and an environmental justice fellow at the social justice foundation the Liberty Hill Foundation.

The other Democrat is Cheryl C. Turner, a trial lawyer and transactional attorney, president of the Board of Directors of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles and member of the Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians.

Turner promised to “work tirelessly to make this district a better, safer and healthier place to live by addressing COVID crisis impact on jobs, housing, education and the economy'' and “to provide transparency, maintain an open door policy and keep you informed.''

“I will work to create jobs, lower taxes, improve the economy and environment by developing clean energy public infrastructure,'' Turner said.

The Republican candidates are businessman/entrepreneur Joe Lisuzzo and business consultant Tiffani Jones.

Lisuzzo described himself as “an eternal optimist.''

“I don't believe there's anything we can't do,'' Lisuzzo said. “If America can send a rocket to Mars and have a rover crawl out and send research back to Earth, we can solve homelessness.''

Lisuzzo has called for homelessness to “be handled compassionately, logistically and immediately.''

Jones could not be reached for comment.

Renita Duncan, a U.S. Army Reserve command sergeant major and a violence prevention integrator/program director with the U.S. Air Force, is registered to vote without a party preference. She was a Republican from 2018-2020 and had no party preference from 2014-18, according to information from the Secretary of State's Office.

Duncan described herself as “a middle-class woman who is tired of waiting for our current elected officials to do something, anything.''

“In the past six years the lives of the families in our district have not gotten better, in fact in cases of housing and homelessness, it has gotten even worse,'' Duncan said.

Duncan said her priorities in the state Senate would be “economic empowerment for families and businesses,'' “collaborative community & law enforcement reform,'' “accountability of housing, homeless and homeless veteran initiatives,'' and “transparency and accountability of government officials.''

“I aim to act and support bills and policies that protect the livelihood of the citizens in our district,'' Duncan said. “I will ask questions about the bottom line to where our tax dollars are going and what we are doing.

“This position should not be viewed as a rite of passage based on party alliance, but rather, a leadership responsibility. I am running because I can provide that leadership. I want to be the voice of the people and respond to the needs of the people.''

Ernesto Huerta, a community organizer who is a member of the Peace and Freedom Party, said he is running “to challenge both of the major parties' disregard of ordinary people throughout the pandemic and their failure to meet the needs of Black, brown, and working class communities during this rebellion.''

Huerta's “Five-Point Program to Immediately Address Today's Crises'' consists of “Cancel the Rents and Mortgages,'' “Free Healthcare to Combat COVID-19,'' “Defund the Police and End Police Brutality,'' “Reparations for African Americans & Other Oppressed Peoples'' and “Full Rights for Immigrants.''

If no candidate receives a majority, a runoff between the top two finishers will be held May 4. The overwhelmingly Democratic district also includes Mar Vista, Century City, Ladera Heights, Exposition Park, South Los Angeles, Westmont and a portion of Inglewood.

County registrar officials began sending vote-by-mail ballots to voters in the district Feb. 1. They can be dropped off at drop boxes until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

An interactive map of drop boxes can be found at https://locator.lavote.net/locations/vbm/?id=4256&culture=en

Ballots can also be cast at vote centers. An interactive map of vote centers, which includes wait times, is at https://locator.lavote.net/locations/vc/?id=4256&culture=en

Ballot postmarked by Tuesday and received within three days by the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk will be processed, verified and counted, according to Mike Sanchez, its public information officer.

Photo: Getty Images

Copyright 2021 City News Service, Inc.

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