Independent spending surpassed $1 million this week in support of State Sen. Curren Price for the 9th District City Council seat.
The battle has been a money mismatch between Price and his runoff opponent Ana Cubas, a former City Council chief of staff. Independent groups have spent just $38,000 backing her.
The spending on Price's behalf is approaching the record for an L.A. City Council seat. Two years ago, $1.14 million was unsuccessfully spent to unseat Bernard Parks.
Fewer than 12,000 votes were cast in District 9 in the March 5 primary — the lowest turnout among the eight city council races on that ballot.
The Service Employees International Union local representing home health care workers has given the most to back Price, $244,000, followed by several PACs comprised of public employee and other unions affiliated with the L.A. County Federation of Labor.
At least half of the SEIU health care workers' spending has been on a field campaign in District 9. The other unions and indpendent groups are splitting their spending for Price between direct mail, in-person canvassers and phone banks.
Unlike in the mayor's campaign, which is blanketing the city in TV ads, independent groups are not spending on TV advertising in council campaigns because they cannot be targeted just to one district's voters.
Cubas' campaign manager John Hill says she is focusing her strategy on personal contact in the district, where only 12 percent of voters came to the polls in the primary. They've sent about 30 field workers and additional volunteers to ply the district with her message every day, Hill said.
District 9 has a majority of Latino residents and they represent a larger share of registered voters, though this seat has been held by black politicians since the 1960s. Both Cubas, who is Latina, and Price, who is African-American, have been pitching themselves to each other's demographic.
Cubas has the backing of former district councilwoman Rita Walters, as well as current L.A. city councilman Parks, the former LAPD chief who is much admired in the black community. Price has the support of UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Cubas signed a pledge with a group of African-American ministers to let herself be held accountable to black voters, Hill said. A campaign video Price launched earlier this year shows him interacting in the district with more Latinos than African-American.
A spokesperson for the Price campaign could not be reached Friday.
Council District 9 is just one race where political action committees are flexing their freedom to raise and spend unlimited amounts in city races.
Many of the same sources of independent support for Price are also putting millions of dollars to back Wendy Greuel's mayoral bid, along with Gil Cedillo in Council District 1, and John Choi in the 13th.
In Council District 1, independent groups have put up nearly $742,000 to support Cedillo, versus only about $93,000 for his opponent, current district Chief of Staff Jose Gardea.
Those PACs for Choi include city firefighters, billboard companies, the L.A. County Federation of Labor, the Los Angels Area Chamber of Commerce and the Working Californians PAC dominated by the DWP employee union.
Gardea's campaign fought back with a new email Thursday condemning the PAC spending and pleading with supporters to volunteer for his get-out-the-vote effort this weekend.
In Council District 13, a video is circulating that depicts elderly Armenian-American voters describing how campaign workers for Choi coming to their homes and attempting to fill in their vote-by-mail ballots. The District Attorney's office is checking into the voter fraud allegations.
Independent groups have spent nearly $6oo,000 to back former Public Works Commissioner Choi and oppose Mitch O'Farrell, a former aide to outgoing Councilman Eric Garcetti. In addition to the labor groups, PACs of the National Association of Realtors and the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce spent to support Choi.
PACs have spent about $161,000 for O'Farrell, who just Thursday was endorsed by Garcetti.