Four candidates for the 3rd District seat of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors — Bobby Shriver, Sheila Kuehl, John Duran and Pamela Conley Ulich — sat on the bimah at Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH) on the evening of April 6, grappling with the many challenges facing the county, from how to reform the sheriff’s department to how to increase support for the arts, and more.
The event also featured the race’s front-runners, Shriver and Kuehl, squaring off on a range of issues.
For instance, on the subject of a sheriff’s department that has been engulfed in scandals of jail guards’ treatment of inmates, Shriver emphasized a need for better and more compassionate treatment of the incarcerated mentally ill. He proposed an alternative to jail sentencing for those who commit crimes.
“The good thing about treating the mentally ill outside of the jail setting is it frees up beds for the bad guys,” the former Santa Monica city councilman and mayor said.
Kuehl, who served the region for 14 years in Sacramento in the state’s Assembly and Legislature, said Shriver was evading the question put forth by the event moderator, Jewish Journal columnist Bill Boyarsky.
Boyarsky had asked about ways the candidates would clean up the sheriff’s department, which Boyarsky described as a “battered agency.”
“The more important question is what do you do about the culture of violence among the deputies that has been condoned,” Kuehl said.
How these candidates have financed their campaigns also served to illustrate differences among them, in particular between the two leading contenders. Some 2 million people reside in the 3rd District, which encompasses the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, West Hollywood and parts of the Westside.
The primary election takes place on June 3; if a winner is not voted in, a runoff of the two top finishers will take place.
The winner of the race will succeed termed-out Zev Yaroslavsky.
Shriver, a philanthropist and the son of Sargent Shriver and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, as well as the brother of Maria Shriver, said he has contributed $300,000 of his own money to his campaign. His choice to not abide by the voluntary spending limit of $1.4 million in the primary race has limited individual donations to his campaign to a maximum of $300, though he can continue to spend as much of his personal money as he wishes on his campaign. He currently has gathered about $850,000 for the campaign, which includes his own money, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Kuehl, who got her start as a child actor but has spent her adult life in public service and working for nonprofits, has chosen to stick to the spending cap.
The California Nurses Association has donated $75,000 to Kuehl’s campaign, and other unions are supporting her as well; she has raised more than $700,000 in total, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
Regarding his use of personal wealth, Shriver played defense last week.
“I have my kids here, my wife here, I have a deep commitment to the county, and I felt it was important that there be a competitive race here, and that’s why I did it,” Shriver said. “I think it’s an important thing in politics that there’s competition for races.”
“Would you put in more [of your money] if needed?” Boyarsky asked him.
“If I felt I had to tell my story, sure I would — or if I were attacked, I felt, on an unfair basis,” Shriver said.
Duran said that despite the fact he does not have the personal wealth or endorsements of the leading candidates, he is not naïve about the role money plays in races such as these.
“I think it’s just one of those necessary evils of politics,” Duran said.
Duran, who serves on West Hollywood’s city council, and Ulich, a former Malibu city councilwoman, proposed ideas for how to bolster the arts within Los Angeles County.
Duran said he hopes that county-run arts institutions will become more youth-friendly.
He said there has been a “graying of the audience” at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one of four venues that comprise the downtown Music Center, which belongs to the county.
Ulrich said she believes the county could increase revenue from merchandising, such as tote bags with new and fresh designs. “I think we need to be creative with how we raise revenue to go back into the arts,” Ulich said.
Shriver, 59, is an attorney. He co-founded, with pop singer Bono, HIV/AIDS charity organization (Product) RED.
In addition to serving on Santa Monica’s city council — where he focused on homelessness issues and cleaning up the area’s beaches, according to his official Web site — Shriver served as the city’s mayor in 2010.
Kuehl, 73, was the first openly LGBTQ person to be elected to the California Legislature. After serving eight years in the state Senate and eight years in the state Assembly, she served as the founding director of the Public Policy Institute at Santa Monica College. She also focuses on LGBTQ issues and women’s reproductive rights, according to sheilakuehl.org.
Shriver and Kuehl both reside in Santa Monica.
Approximately 100 people turned out for the evening gathering, which its organizers said was held to increase awareness in the community about the county race.
“It’s all part of educating the community and making available to the wide community — not just ours — the political process,” TIOH executive director Bill Shpall said in an interview.
This was the third or fourth time that the Hollywood Reform congregation has sponsored debates among candidates running for local government, according to Shpall. The Jewish Journal was a co-sponsor of the evening.
Abby Liebman, a congregant at TIOH, executive director of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and a Kuehl supporter — the two co-founded the California Women’s Law Center — was among the attendees. Liebman echoed Shpall about the importance of shedding light on politics, saying that races for seats on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors fly “under the radar.”
“The opportunity to learn not only about the candidates, but the issues they see as critical and are in a position to influence greatly, is important to me,” Liebman said.
Liebman, meanwhile, expressed disappointment that the discussion left out some issues, including health care.