Candidates vying for Tom LaBonge's seat try to break out of the pack

The campaign in an eclectic, recently redrawn City Council district that stretches from the Miracle Mile to Sherman Oaks is shaping up as Los Angeles' most unpredictable election this year.

Fourteen candidates are vying to replace 4th District Councilman Tom LaBonge, who will soon be termed out of office. Experts say the crowded field offers a rare chance to any contender who is able to cobble together the few thousand votes that will probably be needed to advance to a May runoff.

With no incumbent and no clear front-runner, City Hall watchers say it's unusually hard to guess who will emerge to represent a sprawling array of some of L.A.'s more affluent and politically engaged neighborhoods.

Details on the 14 candidates for 4th District City Council seat.

"You've got a lot of people here who have a chance," said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles. With a number of strong contenders, he said, "the unpredictability level just explodes. "

So far, it's been a struggle for the candidates to stand out. Several have government experience, including former state legislator Wally Knox, City Council aides Carolyn Ramsay and Joan Pelico, former mayoralaide Teddy Davis and Steve Veres, who works as Los Angeles director for state Sen. Kevin de León.

But none have the kind of name recognition that could quickly separate them from the field. Some are playing up their outsider status — but that political space also is packed. 

More than $1.5 million has been raised by the candidates as of last week. David Ryu, a community health center development director, led the field with more than $300,000 in contributions. Close behind were Ramsay and Veres, who raised more than $200,000. Knox was near that mark.

Debates have focused on familiar issues of traffic, development and city finances. Candidates have staked out a range of positions on such questions as the future of a gross receipts tax reviled by many businesses and boosting the citywide minimum wage.

Overall, however, "there's no wedge issue," said Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. "They all agree — we want crime down, traffic to be calmer, development to be under control."

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