Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Shootout for Los Angeles County board may be most interesting race

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

In an otherwise lackluster campaign season, California’s most interesting political duel may be one for a rare vacancy on the five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

It’s interesting because a supervisor’s seat in a county that’s more populous (10 million-plus) than all but eight states is a powerful political prize. And it’s interesting because of the two candidates who survived the June primary.

A few decades ago, when all members were white men, the board was known colloquially as the “five little kings.”

It’s more diverse these days, and its five seats have been carefully apportioned by the board itself – one African American seat, one Latino seat, one Jewish seat (all Democratic) and two Republican seats.

Latino activists believe that with half of the county’s population, they should have another seat.

For now, however, they have just one that will soon switch from Gloria Molina to Hilda Solis due to term limits, although Solis is under investigation for allegedly soliciting campaign contributions for President Barack Obama while serving as his secretary of labor.

The seat representing the county’s wealthy west side – Beverly Hills and environs – has been held by a succession of Jewish politicians, but the current occupant, Zev Yaroslavsky, is also termed out and it will no longer be overtly Jewish.

Rather, it will be filled either by Sheila Kuehl, a former actress who later became a law professor and the Legislature’s first openly homosexual member, or Bobby Shriver, a nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy and sister of Maria Shriver, the estranged wife of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Kuehl has been angling for the seat ever since leaving the Legislature six years ago, and for years was virtually the only aspirant, but then Shriver, the former mayor of Santa Monica, declared.

It was widely assumed that when a member of the vast Kennedy clan jumped in with a million dollars of his own money, it was lights out and he might even win the seat outright on June 3.

But Kuehl, who claims a very faint Jewish family connection, has been a gritty contender, and she outpolled Shriver, 36 percent to his 29 percent.

The third-place finisher, gay-rights advocate John Duran, has endorsed Shriver, thus dividing the LGBT community, while Kuehl appears to have gained important union support.

The stage is set for a high-decibel shootout in November with the kind of financing and strategizing more typical of a statewide race, complete with two veteran campaign managers, Bill Carrick for Shriver and Parke Skelton for Kuehl.

There’s not much ideological difference between Kuehl and Shriver, although he might be a tad less liberal, so the campaign is likely to focus on personalities and could be, if post-primary utterances are any guide, very negative in tenor.