Proving he doesn't need to be present to stir controversy, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump created a contentious moment for candidates seeking to succeed Michael Antonovich on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors during a KPCC debate Thursday evening.
Moderated by AirTalk's Larry Mantle, the debate featured six of eight candidates competing for the seat representing District 5 (North Los Angeles County) covering cities that include Burbank, Palmdale, Glendale and Pasadena.
When the candidates were asked if any planned not to support Trump, only one of the five Republicans on stage answered the question. The rest remained silent.
Candidate Ara Najarian, a former Glendale mayor, was the lone Republican who voiced concerns about Trump.
"I am strongly opposed to many, many and much of the platform of Donald Trump and unless he changes that I will not be voting for him," Najarian said.
The supervisors seat is officially nonpartisan. But party politics have been playing a significant role in the race. Former White House staffer Darrell Park, the only Democrat in the debate, has sent out mailers that attempts to link Trump to the GOP candidates.
During Thursday's debate, Park repeatedly reminded the audience of his political party affiliation.
There is no clear front-runner in the competitive District 5 race, although L.A. City Councilman Mitchell Englander, Najarian, and former state Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff may have the advantage of name recognition.
Kathryn Barger, a longtime staffer for Antonovich, has the supervisor's endorsement. The other candidates include Park, Elan Carr, an L.A. county prosecutor; businessman Raj Kahlon and Altadena Councilman Billy Malone. Kahlon and Malone were not included in the debate.
The event, which will air Monday on AirTalk, spanned about 45 minutes and covered a wide variety of topics in rapid fire.
All six candidates present said they support the county’s $100 million homelessness initiative.
Najarian and Barger were the only candidates to also say they do not support an additional tax to help cover costs for serving the county’s homeless population.
Infrastructure also came up as an issue. The supervisors were asked whether they support a tunnel project to connect the 710 and 210 freeways.
All candidates said they oppose the tunnel, except for state Sen. Bob Huff who supports the project.
Antonovich is terming out after 36 years on the Board of Supervisors. His departure and that of Supervisor Don Knabe representing District 4 presents voters with a key opportunity to help set the future direction of the board and the county.
During a forum at Pasadena City College earlier this month, one issue that created division among the candidates was the supervisors' decision last year to merge the county's mental health services, public health and health services.
Barger defended the decision as one aimed at breaking down the silos among the agencies, which she said weren't communicating with each other. Najarian called the merger a bold move that could improve delivery of services to those who need it.
But Kahlon disagreed with the decision, saying those with mental health issues were being ignored by the government. Malone said the problems of the mentally ill needed to be solved first before the agencies were combined.
The size of the planned Men's Central Jail replacement also created some division. Huff said the plan for a 3,885-bed replacement would be too small. Carr supported the jail plan but said there isn't enough room currently and offenders are granted early release, endangering the community.
Park called the jail system "one of the most racist and bigoted" in the country while Englander said the county should replace the sheriffs working in the jail with experts in mental health and addiction.
Asked what they would do to improve the economy, Barger said she would bring in private businesses and ask them where the county could cut red tape. Englander similarly said the county needs to "get government out of the way." Park praised solar as an industry that could create new jobs, a theme he returned to several times during the forum.
Huff said Pasadena achieves great marketing with the Rose Bowl Parade, but he said it is Pasadena, Texas, that is getting the jobs because officials from there go after California companies.
AirTalk will host a debate for the District 4 candidates on June 2. Thursday's District 5 debate can be watched online.
To study up for the June 4 primary, read our Voter Guide. You can type in your address and see the candidates who will be on your primary ballot.