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CD4 Campaign Gets Dirty as David Ryu Attacks his Progressive Opponent

An incumbent’s last-ditch effort in an LA City Council race is drawing national attention.

Source: Flickr | YouTube

David Ryu’s City Council campaign is facing an identity crisis.

The Council District 4 incumbent has often positioned himself as progressive during his five-year term (for example, in this Ryu campaign ad titled “Progressive”). However, as his race against challenger Nithya Raman (herself a grassroots activist) has grown tighter and tighter, he’s openly courted a more conservative base.

It seems that Ryu is moving farther right from his nominally progressive stance to a centrist one, accruing an endorsement from Hillary Clinton. And, with this move, he seems to have adopted farther right strategies, such as accusing his challenger Raman of illegal electioneering (a relative rarity Los Angeles City Council races, most recently employed by John Choi in 2013 when he ran against Mitch O’Farrell for the CD 13 seat). In response to that accusation, a staffer for Nithya Raman posted a photo appearing to show Ryu volunteers violating the same campaign regulation.

But this accusation is far from Ryu’s only attempt to discredit his opponent. In a recent email, for instance, Ryu attempted to solicit donations by claiming that the organizations backing Raman (specifically the Democratic Socialists of America, identified in an earlier paragraph) are “extremist groups who promote hate and violence.”

This year, one of DSA-LA’s largest projects was raising money for undocumented Angelenos who were ineligible for federal COVID-19 relief and receiving no support from the Los Angeles city government (including Ryu).

The above email also prompted a local DSA member to point out that Ryu in fact eagerly worked with DSA-LA members to open Rowena Reservoir in his district last year.

Ryu and his campaign have also accused Raman of wanting to cut the police budget by 98%, a reference to her support of the People’s Budget LA. Not only does the People’s Budget (a coalition project co-led by Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles) not say that, but it was also signed by Senator Holly Mitchell, a candidate whom Ryu has explicitly endorsed. Ryu’s comments led BLM-LA to publicly ask Councilmember Ryu to stop misrepresenting their work.

Additionally, sources from BLM-LA confirmed with KNOCK.LA that Ryu privately asked to meet with the People’s Budget coalition over the summer, but ultimately didn’t when he was informed that he wouldn’t be allowed to just take photos with BLM-LA leaders.

So, why is Ryu doubling back (and sometimes tripling) back on his publicly stated positions?

Despite starting this race with every possible advantage (including key endorsements from the local political establishment, a campaign war chest in the high six figures, and name recognition among constituents), the simple fact remains: Ryu might lose. This basically never happens to sitting City Council members — only one incumbent on the council has lost their position in the past 20 years.

And the reason Ryu might lose is because his opponent’s campaign is, objectively, unlike any the city council has seen before. Despite being a virtual unknown in LA politics two years ago, Raman has earned the support of a massive volunteer base (by some estimates over 1,000 individuals), produced a wealth of researched and practical progressive policies, and civically engaged tens of thousands of people in the district. And all of this was accomplished without accepting funds from corporations or PACs (despite Ryu’s blatantly misleading attack ads suggesting the contrary).

Apparently, Raman’s surge in popularity (she actually outraised Ryu in individual donations during the general election) has forced Ryu into an unenviable position: going negative with personal smears. For instance, the Los Feliz Ledger received an open letter signed by a few dozen Ryu supporters asking Raman to disavow instances of alleged “online attacks and vitriol” from her backers. However, it was almost immediately discovered that the letter had actually been orchestrated directly by the Ryu campaign (a likely violation of campaign ethics laws, since it wasn’t disclosed to the Ethics Committee). Or, take this direct mailer, funded by the Ryu campaign, highlighting Ryu’s pivot away from progressive calls to action:

One might notice that KNOCK.LA has not highlighted any of Raman’s attack mailers or digital ads coming out against Ryu. That’s because, as of publishing time, there aren’t any.

So, while Ryu seems to cry for civility and respect on the one hand, his campaign is actively producing toxic and misleading attacks with the other. This type of dichotomy (or, depending on your perspective, hypocrisy) is incredibly common with Ryu.

For instance, here is Ryu pledging to refuse police union money.

And a statement from Ryu clarifying that he does not support an increase in LAPD funding, specifying that he actually wants “to replace the use of police officers to address chronic social issues.”

Conveniently for Ryu, this after a PAC funded by the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) spent around $45,000 to get him reelected, including mailers promoting Ryu as “The Choice of Law Enforcement.” It should be noted that while Ryu did return individual donations from law enforcement, it appears the LAPPL PAC money was still spent supporting his election.

And, in another reversal, Ryu retreated from his pledge to help reform and partially defund the LAPD with a fear mongering claim that Raman was going to defund the police as recently as October 2020:

Ryu also frequently frames himself as the “anti-corruption” candidate, claiming that he does not take developer money, and bragging about forcing his fellow members of the council to do the same. However, in addition to breaking campaign finance regulations multiple times in the past year, Ryu’s legislation on developer donations is basically just for show, with loopholes big enough to drive a truck through.

For instance, Ryu (and others on the city council) still take money from the families of developers, as well as their personal employees (and the employee’s families). Ryu has also clarified that he is fine with accepting money from architects and land consultants involved in development, as well as funds from any developers who don’t regularly work in Los Angeles.

Local media coverage of the campaign from outlets, like Los Angeles Magazine and KTLA, has largely painted the CD 4 race as a battle between two leftists. Ryu is progressive, and Raman is simply slightly more progressive, they say. However, Ryu’s rise to power, and his voting record while in office, tells a different story.

Ryu won his council seat in 2015 with 13,161 votes, 2,317 more than his opponent Carolyn Ramsay (CD 4 has a population of around 250,000). Ryu claims the reason he won was because of the support of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, which consists of approximately 2,100 households. SOHA has been run by attorney and Valley secessionist Richard Close since 1977. A powerful figure in LA politics, Close literally campaigned, using SOHA, for the passage of Prop 13, often regarded in progressive circles as one of the most damaging pieces of California legislation in the past four decades. This is not a dead issue: Close actively campaigned against Prop 13 reform as recently as 2019. Close was also a member of Ryu’s transitional committee in 2015, and has expressed support for Ryu’s current re-election campaign.

Close is not the only controversial supporter that Ryu embraces. Others include President Donald Trump’s former agent Ari Emanuel:

Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the sole Republican member of the Board of Supervisors, who said in June that she had “no issue” with how the LAPD handled the George Floyd Uprisings in LA (the LAPD is currently embroiled in a multimillion dollar class action lawsuit for alleged unlawful detainment and brutality during that period):

And her brother John Barger, the Republican operative instrumental in appointing Louis DeJoy as Postmaster General, is also a max donor to Ryu’s campaign. With all of Ryu’s attacks against the non-profits and mutual aid groups that support Raman, it’s interesting to see which of his own supporters he likes to brag about.

We cannot, however, solely assess Ryu on reactive people who got him into power. We need to look at who he supports, as well as his voting record while in office.

For instance, Ryu is one of the three LA city councilmembers who endorse District Attorney Jackie Lacey. Lacey has been a long-time target of BLM-LA for her refusal to prosecute killer cops, as well as her staunch support of the death penalty, prosecuting children under 12, and other regressive policies.

In the past five years, Ryu has voted to make it illegal to sleep in your car (homelessness has increased 72% in CD 4 during his term), relaxed emission standards at the Port of LA (one of our biggest polluters), halted a road diet meant to address pedestrian deaths on 6th Street, and approved controversial luxury developments in his district (after expensive lobbying efforts).

The race for the Los Angeles City Council’s District 4 seat has now gained national attention. Bernie Sanders has endorsed Raman, and establishment Democrats Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton endorsed Ryu shortly thereafter. Given that Los Angeles generally, and CD 4 specifically, voted largely in favor of Sanders in the primary election, it’s easy to see why Ryu could be nervous.

And for people who are paying attention, it is incredibly clear who the progressive is in this race, and it’s not Ryu. He has co-opted the language of progressivism when it suits him, and engaged in conservative fear mongering when it doesn’t. Ryu is the reactive candidate in this campaign.

Politicians should not be allowed to simply say the right things for the room they’re in. They should be clear about their policies, their vision improving our city, and what they stand for.

David Ryu is none of those things.

Nithya Raman is all of them.

KNOCK.LA is a project paid for by Ground Game LA. This article was not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.

Nithya Raman is one of several candidates endorsed by Ground Game LA.

Want to learn more about your 2020 election ballot? Check out KNOCK.LA’s Voter Guide, which breaks down propositions and candidate platforms for over 120 races in and around LA County.