Crowded field for Los Angeles primary election in March, but no serious threat yet for Garcetti

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The field of candidates lining up to run in Los Angeles' March 7 primary election is crowded, with a dozen mostly little-known candidates set to face off against Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Wednesday marked the deadline for candidates to complete the paperwork necessary to run for office. Election officials have yet to certify the list of candidates. 

On the ballot besides those running for mayor will be candidates for controller, eight City Council seats, three Los Angeles Unified School District board seats and three Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees seats. 

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer is also running for reelection, but he is unopposed.

The lengthy ballot will feature only one council seat not held by an incumbent: that office represents Los Angeles City Council District 7 covering northeast San Fernando Valley.

Over 20 candidates are looking to fill the seat left vacant by the unexpected resignation of former Councilman Felipe Fuentes. He departed abruptly in September to become a lobbyist. 

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson has been overseeing the district, after he appointed himself to do the job

Among the contenders seeking the seat is Monica Ratliff, a former teacher and current Los Angeles Unified School District board member. Ratliff was tracking third in campaign fundraising in that race, according to the latest campaign spending reports. 

Monica Rodriguez, a former public works commissioner, had raised the most in the contest with about $139,000 in campaign funds. Karo Torossian, director of planning and the environment for Councilmember Paul Krekorian, came in second with about $125,000 on hand. 

Ratliff's bid for City Council will create an opening for her school board seat representing communities that include Sylmar and Pacoima.

Meanwhile, Garcetti's challengers were expected to include Steve Barr, founder of Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school management organization based in Los Angeles. Barr is also known for co-founding Rock the Vote, a group that focuses on youth voter registration.

Barr had been collecting signatures in recent days, but on Wednesday night he posted on Facebook that he had dropped out of the race. 

"I'm not going anywhere, I will continue the fight," he wrote, apologizing to his supporters for letting them down. 

Barr's withdrawal leaves candidate Mitchell Schwartz as Garcetti's most viable challenger. Schwartz is a Democratic political consultant who worked on former President Bill Clinton's campaigns in the 1990s.

Schwartz opposed Measure M, which Los Angeles County voters passed during the November election. The measure will usher in a half-cent sales tax increase to fund billions of dollars worth of transportation projects over the next few decades, many benefiting Los Angeles.

Schwartz criticized the measure, saying project costs would likely be much higher than estimates and that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that pushed for the measure was in need of reforms.  

As of the last campaign fundraising report, Schwartz was the only candidate to raise significant money for the mayor's race but Garcetti was far ahead of him in fundraising.

Schwartz reported about $118,000 on hand compared to Garcetti's nearly $1.8 million war chest. Barr trailed with about $14,000 in campaign funds. 

No candidate yet poses a serious challenge to Garcetti and his bid for another term. The election will be a measure of his popularity and support, and could determine his standing for statewide and national posts.

Over the summer, Garcetti made headlines when he was reported as a potential vice presidential pick for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Clinton chose Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as a running mate, but Garcetti is often described as a national party up-and-comer.

The next fundraising reporting deadline is Jan. 10.

Voters can begin requesting vote by mail ballots for the city election on Feb. 6. The last day to register to vote in the primary is Feb. 21. The fastest way to register to vote is online via the Secretary of State's website

After the March 7 primary, the city's general election follows on May 16.

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