Council District 13 rivals John Choi and Mitch O’Farrell on Tuesday night repeated some common themes during a debate in the final week of the campaign, with O’Farrell touting his deep roots in the district and extensive knowledge of neighborhood issues while Choi called for a broader vision and the ability to work across council district boundaries to improve conditions for the 13th district.
Seated behind classroom desks topped with flowers and nameplates, Choi, a labor organizer and former Public Works Commissioner, and O’Farrell, a former senior staffer for termed-councilman Eric Garcetti, were cordial for the most part during the approximately 90-minute debate as they stood up to respond to questions in the auditorium of Dorris Place Elementary in Elysian Valley. But there were at times signs of tension between the two candidates, whose campaigns have traded charges of voter fraud and race-baiting in the final weeks before the May 21 city election.
After O’Farrell, who is half Native American and half Irish, said he would hire a staff that was reflective of the council district, Choi, who is Korean-American, pointed out one of his Latino campaign staff members and used him as an example of what to expect. “Mitch talked about hiring people who look like the district,” said Choi. “I really would be curious what his staff looks like right now … We got folks who speak seven different languages … That’s a different type of commitment to say that everyone in this community matters.”
O’Farrell responded by describing his campaign staff as a “rainbow coalition” who are not all white. “It’s that type of subtle fomenting the racial divisions that is unbecoming of a leader,” O’Farrell said. “I just can’t stand for it any longer.”
The candidates also made efforts to distinguish themselves on their approach to government, with O’Farrell saying he would devote more staff to work in the field than at City Hall. “I am an on-the-ground kind of guy,” O’Farrell said. “I will have more staff in the field than at City Hall.”
Choi, however, said focusing attention away from a City Hall staff would shortchange the district in the end. “I think it’s incredibly important to have a robust City Hall presence because those are the folks that move the gears of the bureaucracy in order to get resources for your district,” Choi said.
Despite some tense moments, the two candidates quickly shook hands at the end of the forum.
* Correction: A previous version of this story described O’Farrell as white. That’s wrong or at least half wrong. O’Farrell his half white and half Native American.
“Mitch is 1/2 Native American (his maternal-grandfather, Mont Cotter, was a Chief of the Wyandotte Nation twice, and Mitch’s mother was a Princess of the Wyandotte Nation), and half Irish,” according to a campaign official. “He is very proud of his Native American heritage (he has actually been endorsed by Billy Friend, current Chief of the Wyandotte Nation).”