In a heated exchange at a debate in Hollywood Wednesday night, 13th District city council candidate John Choi accused rival Mitch O’Farrell of attempting to stir xenophobia among voters.
“My opponent has continued to attack me from day one, using language like ‘new arrival,' ‘outsider,’ and ‘not one of us,’” Choi told an audience inside Karapetian Hall at St. Garabed Armenian Church. “That type of language has been used for decades to raise xenophobic fears of outsiders and immigrants.”
Choi, 32, who is Korean American, pointed to a red campaign mailer that features a grainy picture of him above the words “not from our community.”
O’Farrell, 52, disavowed the mailer, which was sent by an independent committee. “I didn’t like it anymore than you did, John. I thought it was a terrible picture,” O’Farrell said. “Any sort of hint of discrimination has no place in a campaign.”
Choi, a former member of the Board of Public Works and labor activist, has widely redistributed the mailer to garner support for his campaign. Choi would become only the second-ever Asian-American member of the L.A. city council and the first Korean-American. He has garnered support from Asian-Americans across the country.
While he denounced the mailer, O’Farrell, a longtime aide to outgoing Councilman Eric Garcetti, said Choi moved into the district just last year. “The fact is my opponent is new to the district,” he said. “I am the local candidate.”
Choi said he previously lived within a mile of the district, which includes Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Atwater Village and Glassell Park.
The two also clashed over the role of city labor unions in the campaign. Unions have spent more than $500,000 backing Choi. “It's time for leadership to put what is now some out of control power in check,” O’Farrell said of what he called “union bosses” at City Hall. He noted his father was a Teamster and that he supports unions, but added, “You need to stand up to them at times.”
Choi said unions are “nothing more than average people fighting for a decent lifestyle,” and chided O’Farrell for “demonizing” them. He compared O’Farrell to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who sought to drastically diminish the power of labor unions.
Choi argued that his work as a labor activist leaves him best situated to negotiate with unions, which are seeking pay raises for their workers amid a city budget deficit. “I’m going to be able to sit across the table and be an honest broker.”
The two differed little on issues of public safety, transportation and housing. Both said they’d like to see a downsizing of the $664 million Millennium Towers project in Hollywood.