The two candidates competing to fill the seat currently held by the termed out Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe engaged in a sometimes tense exchange Tuesday night over campaign financing and several major issues.
Democrat Janice Hahn, a congresswoman who is leaving her post to run for the supervisor's seat, faced off against Republican Steve Napolitano, Knabe's chief deputy, during KPCC's AirTalk debate held in Cerritos.
Hahn and Napolitano are seeking to represent 2.2 million county residents in District 4, a sprawling area that runs from Marina del Rey down to Long Beach and out to Cerritos and Diamond Bar.
Although the five-member Board of Supervisors is nonpartisan, the only Republicans on the panel, Knabe and Mike Antonovich are both at the end of their allowable terms.
A charged exchange erupted when Larry Mantle, AirTalk's host, asked Hahn about having to pay back about $440,000 in donations after it was discovered that her campaign had accepted more than the allowable $150,000 from political action committees.
Hahn framed the problem as a misunderstanding, saying the country registrar initially determined there would be no caps because her opponent had contributed $1 million to his own campaign at that point. She said the registrar later revised that instruction and notified Hahn that she would need to return the money, which Hahn said her campaign has done.
Napolitano said had he not come in second in the primary election and prevented the congresswoman from scoring a victory outright, she could have "stolen" the election.
"If my efforts did not force a runoff in this election, she would have won in June with a third of her money from illegal contributions from special interests," he said.
Hahn launched her own attack, suggesting that Napolitano's approach — he said he has spent about $2 million of his own money for the race — was an attempt to buy a supervisor's seat.
"Wow, I didn’t know you put 2 million of your own money in," she said. "So I’m not a millionaire. So I’ve had to raise every dollar."
Differences on the issues
The two candidates parted company on major issues, notably on Measure M, the half-cent sales tax increase on this year's ballot that would raise $120 billion for road, highway and transit projects. Hahn, who has won key endorsements from labor unions, said she supports the measure in part because it would create jobs.
She added she's not fully happy with the measure because it fails to fast-track projects for District 4. If elected, she promised to speed up the projects that would help the area.
Napolitano said he opposes Measure M because it benefits the city of Los Angeles and does not provide for such projects as relief from traffic on the 60 Freeway.
The two also differed on their approach to homelessness. Hahn said funding from the state and city will help alleviate the shortfall in housing and services for the homeless, noting that the county has designated $100 million to address the problem as well.
But she said it would take billions to make a tangible difference in reducing the estimated 47,000 people who live on L.A. streets and providing them with such services as mental health treatments.
Napolitano called for public-private partnerships to help address the homeless issue and said he was disappointed that the county had not provided a measure of its own on the ballot to fund programs for those who need shelter.
Both agreed that conditions at the county Men's Central Jail are unsafe for inmates and the staff who guard them. But Hahn called for the jail to be modernized while Napolitano said he would tear it down.
Listen Wednesday to the full debate on AirTalk that begins at 11:06 a.m. on FM 89.3 KPCC or watch a replay of the streamed event below or on KPCC's In Person events page.