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No, There Aren’t Two “Progressive Options” in District 11’s City Council Race

There aren’t even two Democrats.

Traci Park, wearing a blue dress, speaks with a policeman in uniform in front of a line of parked police cruisers
One-sixth of the organizational endorsements Traci Park lists on her campaign website are affiliated with police. (traciparkforla | Instagram)

Los Angeles is the epicenter of commerce and entertainment in the largest sub-national economy in human history. It employs 15 city councilmembers, compared to 50 seats in Chicago and 51 in New York City. This concentration of power explains why the feds indicted three former Los Angeles city councilmembers in a dizzying two-year span: with so much money at stake and precious few representatives to issue contracts and cast key votes, pay-for-play corruption wins. It’s also necessary context for the current scandal engulfing Los Angeles City Council, in which three sitting members (including the council’s former president, Nury Martinez) were caught on tape conspiring to redistrict the city in their favor — making flagrantly racist, homophobic, and abusive remarks in the process. Now, as the council receives national attention and scrutiny, it’s bringing on four new members. Along with council districts 5, 13, and 15, CD 11 will be electing a new representative this November.

The race has gone to a runoff after June’s primary saw two attorneys-turned-rookie-campaigners, Erin Darling and Traci Park, collect a supermajority of votes. Darling, despite getting massively outspent by four different candidates, finished with 33.4% of the vote, while Park brought in 30%. Both candidates are vying for the seat held by Mike Bonin, who soundly defeated a recall effort this year but chose to prioritize his mental well-being over reelection. Bonin, who is white, and his young adopted son, who is Black, were also primary targets of the vitriol leaked from those City Council recordings. Because council primaries are nonpartisan, there were no party designations on June’s ballot. This time, residents will be presented with ERIN DARLING and TRACI PARK, both accompanied by the bespoke D requisite for much of the city’s voter turnout.

The feverish recall efforts in this district are incompatible with statistics. While rents have almost doubled in a decade and unhoused populations continue to increase in both the city and county, CD 11 just reported a 38.5% drop in residents experiencing homelessness. Meanwhile, CD 11’s rates of violent crime, environmental degradation, teen pregnancy, and alcohol outlet concentration are all at least three times lower than the county average. While it still faces daunting inequities, CD 11 is, empirically speaking, about the highest quality-of-life in Los Angeles.

It’s here where I explain that I’m volunteering for Erin Darling’s campaign. Not because I knew Erin personally. Nor because I was coerced by staff or offered money. I’m doing it because Traci Park’s campaign is pulling insulting levels of disingenuity. Since the summer, friends and neighbors have been asking me how to differentiate between two Democratic candidates, to which I’m compelled to say:

Traci Park’s career conservatism should instantly disqualify her from anyone’s consideration. She’s been a registered Republican for much of her adult life, and continues to work for and with prominent reactionaries across the state. Her candidacy’s origin story of mainlined grievance politics, combined with a callous résumé as a management-friendly corporate attorney, should at best render her a letter-to-the-editor type of crank.

This is someone who legally defended an Anaheim city manager for repeated racial harassment of his sole Black employee; Traci’s argument in Harrell v. City of Anaheim concluded that jokes about the employee’s genitalia and frequent use of the “N-word” were not actionable instances of harassment (fortunately, the judge disagreed). Her first job out of law school was with the very firm union-busting at Starbucks right now. The second place she worked is the RNC-paid firm currently union-busting at Duke University. According to the LA Times, she was a leading signature collector in Venice for the Bonin recall, which was funded largely by Trump sycophants and a Utah-based GOP operative.

A Park victory wouldn’t only guarantee the swift unraveling of our district’s tangible progress outlined above, it would also give cover for the city’s worst-faith actors to run future campaigns on outright deception with liberal imagery. And with all the six-figure developer donations that she’s breathlessly taking in, she would be a bettor’s odds-on favorite for “next councilmember to get federally investigated for pay-to-play.”

Traci Park is a viable Dem in the way that sunscreen is a hearty snack. It’s hard to understate the hollow incoherence her victory would bring. And for whoever still needs to hear it, when Black leadership hosts an emergency press conference regarding your legal record of racism, you’re probably not a progressive!

A woman (Traci Park) poses with another woman with a Villanueva campaign banner over a stage in the background
Traci Park attends an Alex Villanueva campaign event. (CD11 Watch | Twitter)

“If you’re a failing business, you bring in someone like McKinsey & Company or the RAND Corporation.”

Traci Park, Westside Current

If you Google “Traci Park,” it yields this top result:

A Google search result for Traci Park's campaign website. It reads: "Trace Park For LA City Council - A Pro-Choice Democrat. Traci will make sure Los Angeles is a safe haven for women accessing reproductive care. She will advocate for women in LA and push for policies that represent them. Learn more."
Despite the invitation to “learn more,” visiting the site won’t give you any information on Park’s plans to push for policies that represent women in LA. (Steven Louis | Knock LA)

This is confusing. Not the part about women having access to reproductive care, because that’s cool, nor the fact Park implies she’s personally pro-choice. What’s confusing is why Traci Park’s running on this issue without a single policy suggestion regarding abortion access or gender equity in her campaign’s official “PLANS.” These ads don’t even use the word “abortion.” And Park’s biggest financial supporters are fervent anti-choice donors, as we’ll see below. What gives? The most obvious answer: Traci Park needs blue voters to win this election, but she is not running a blue campaign.

She deploys a similar strategy with the public health crisis of homelessness. While Traci herself has repeatedly expressed that folks living on the street is inhumane (something that’s hard to argue against and rightfully tugs at Democratic sensibilities), her platform is largely centered on cutting spending from the LA Homeless Services Authority (with real Trump energy, Park announced on September 24 that she plans to audit LAHSA because she’s skeptical of its data) and enforcing new city ordinance 41.18, which tasks the most murderous police force in America with funneling people at encampments into jail cells (the fiscally responsible Park has not said anything on record about the LAPD’s increased budget of $3.2 billion dollars, more than three times the allotment for homeless services). “The chaos that you see in Venice will inevitably arrive in your neighborhood soon enough,” she wrote in August. If this reads like an Herbalife-fueled “American Carnage” rant, that’s because it is. Traci doesn’t support a single housing project for unhoused people, as she struggled to even name one when asked during the Mar Vista Community Council forum on September 19.

“Park’s political activism began in late 2020, when she learned that the city planned to convert a Ramada Inn into a shelter for the homeless, across the street from her Spanish-style bungalow,” that LA Times piece says. Running for office off the many injustices of 2020 is certainly noble… considering the police murders of unarmed Black and Brown folks; the protest movements that resulted; a global pandemic that killed millions; natural disasters and record heat waves brought by climate catastrophe. Nope, she’s running because the city planned to convert a chain hotel into shelter space for those in need, as if her bungalow was some perverse Abe Lincoln log cabin.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the funders of Traci Park (D):

  • $150,000 in back-to-back September donations from Kilroy Realty LP and McNichols & McNichols LLP. Kilroy is a realty behemoth making shareholders proud in neighborhood staples of CD 11 like… uh, San Diego, San Francisco, Austin, and the Pacific Northwest. McNichols is a firm of white-shoe lawyers that describe themselves as “advocates for police and firefighters throughout California.”
  • A generous donation from Steven Dahlberg, affectionately known as “the polluter of Paradise Cove.” Documents filed by Malibu’s water board in 2008 say his Kissel Co. caused 17 raw-sewage spills, totaling 2,000 gallons, into Ramirez Creek and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Douglas Emmett Management LP is a particularly big fan of what Traci’s putting down. They’re the group just busted for telling Wall Street that they’re rooting for unemployment to “bring people back to the office,” and leverage commercial real estate holdings. They are also the company that was sued by their west side tenants when one of their buildings burned down after requests for sprinklers, fire alarms, and serviceable exits went ignored for years. Just look at this simpage:
A campaign donation list showing a half a million dollars in campaign contributions from Douglas Emmett Management
Douglas Emmett Management LP is putting up big numbers for Park’s campaign. (Steven Louis | Los Angeles City Ethics Commission Database)

This is not the “rainbow coalition” other progressive candidates have strived to build. That coalition also includes Heidi Cuda, a former Breitbart contributor getting paid thousands to consult with the campaign, and Bill Simon, the 2002 Republican nominee for governor of California who advised Rudy Giuliani in his exploratory committee for president and was a longtime trustee of the Heritage Foundation. To come full circle, go ahead and guess what the Heritage Foundation’s opinion on restricting abortion access looks like.

A campaign finance reporting form displaying Heidi Siegmund Cuda payment of $5000 for consulting on Park's campaign
Heidi Siegmund Cuda racks up $5k for consulting on Park’s campaign. (Steven Louis | Los Angeles City Ethics Commission Database)
Heidi Siegmund Cuda's author page on Breitbart. The article headlines read: "The Big Game: Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Defeat, Bears Style," "Confessions of a Poll Worker--No, Not That Kind," and "Stockon Bankruptcy Ruling Backs away from Pension Reform."
A selection of the articles that Heidi Siegmund Cuda contributed to Breitbart. (Steven Louis | Breitbart via Way Back Machine)

“Not every utterance of a racial slur in the workplace violates the FEHA.”

Traci Park, Demurrer for Harrell v. City of Anaheim

Park and Darling are both lawyers running first-time campaigns for City Council, but the similarities abruptly end there. After graduating Loyola Law, Park joined Littler Mendelson PC, which focuses on “employer-side labor law.” To put it generously, Littler is a big ol’ union-buster: they’re advising Starbucks, Nissan, and Delta on beating back unionization drives, and they’re truly the OGs here (“If you plan on suing your employer for unfair treatment, prepare to face Littler,” the San Francisco Gate penned in 1996). Her current firm says she “exclusively advises and assists employers and management in labor and employment law and civil rights litigation.” Unlike her party preference, Traci’s legal practice does stay consistent. And expecting someone who privately “exclusively assists management” to suddenly become a public progressive is letting Lucy rip the football away.

Park’s other clients include the defense contractor Raytheon against wrongful termination (Weibezahl v. Raytheon Co., 2016) and the company Dynamex against a class action suit for misclassifying drivers as independent contractors (Lee v. Dynamex, 2008). She defended the City of Hemet against police brutality that left a man’s head bloodied (Chad Peters v. City of Hemet et al, 2009) and the City of Pasadena against a whistleblowing former detective (Okamoto v. City of Pasadena et al, 2020).

Darling, in contrast, was a deputy federal public defender representing poor folks on the west side. His career began at the Eviction Defense Network. In all the ways that a boot-shining lawyer is a bad look for this seat, a public defender with experience in tenants’ rights is a fantastic one. The endorsements reflect as such: Eunisses Hernandez, who just won her CD 1 race over an incumbent without runoff; Dolores Huerta, the legendary labor leader; United Teachers Los Angeles and various other unions; the Los Angeles Times; California Working Families Party; the West LA Democrats; even a recommendation from Knock LA. At least Traci landed Nury Martinez’s endorsement.

A screenshot of Traci Park's campaign website with a recommendation from Nury Martinez, the former President of the LA City Council. The endorsement reads: "We need strong female leaders like Traci. Women in leadership recognize that if our families succeed, our communities will succeed. However, this success requires a strong voice and fearlessness. This why I am proud to support Traci Park for the Los Angeles City Council. We need strong female leaders like Traci to advocate for the Angelenos that have been forgotten in Council District 11 for the past few years."
Former President of LA City Council Nury Martinez fully endorsed Traci Park for the CD 11 seat. (Steven Louis | Traci Park Campaign Site)

Darling certainly has my endorsement. Traci Park is wholly disingenuous for putting a “(D)” next to her name, and we cannot let her wield real power in this city. She was and is and forever will be a Republican, not only in title and individual voting record but in the totality of her professional existence. At work, she’s helping employers repress discrimination claims and fatten their bottom lines. After work, she’s leading Trump-donor-funded recall campaigns because a Ramada Inn by her house let the unhoused inside. She’s leveraged that into hundreds of thousands of donation dollars from cops and Wall Street landlords. While the attack ads and spending disparities will further intensify in the final weeks, one thing will remain in unwavering permanence: this district deserves something of greater dignity and decency than what Park is offering us.

Knock LA is a journalism project paid for by Ground Game LA, which has endorsed Erin Darling for CD 11. This article was not authorized or paid for by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.