Pity the voter: 23 congressional candidates compete to succeed Becerra

Candidates make their pitch at a 34th Congressional District Candidate Forum on Wednesday, Mar. 23, 2017, at Eagle Rock High School.
Candidates make their pitch at a 34th Congressional District Candidate Forum on Wednesday, Mar. 23, 2017, at Eagle Rock High School.
Susanica Tam for KPCC

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Voters in the congressional district once represented by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra have a daunting task: 23 candidates are vying for the open seat in a special election on April 4.

At a candidate forum for the 34th Congressional District race Wednesday night at Eagle Rock High School, 2o of 23 candidates showed up.

There were balloons, a table overflowing with campaign literature and even a semi-truck with a giant advertisement plastered on the side touting one candidate, all in full view of the undecided voters attending the event.

"It’s hard," said Cypress Park resident Richard Gallegos, who hadn't yet made up his mind and was looking to get informed about the plethora of candidates. "But I also love that there’s that much engagement in people who want to come forward and run for office. I think that’s really great."

Gallegos ranked compassionate views on immigration policies among his top priorities in weighing who to vote for. Others in the audience had different concerns.

"Environmental issues are extremely important to me, issues of equality, and I’m also looking for someone who has enough experience to get something done when they get there,” said Highland Park resident Allison Achauer. 

The candidates, mostly Democrats in a district that went heavily for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, sought to differentiate themselves on the crowed stage. One Green Party candidate, Kenneth Mejia, wore a T-shirt with his name on it and frequently ducked under a row of folding tables to talk to the audience from center stage.

When asked to list top legislative priorities, one candidate wove in a mnemonic device: 

"My name is Tenaya, it rhymes with papaya, but it's actually a lake in Yosemite National Park. So the environment has always been an incredibly important part to me," said Tenaya Wallace.

The event was co-sponsored by several local neighborhood councils. ABC7 reporter Elex Michaelson moderated the forum.

State Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez was among the candidates in attendance. First elected to the California State Assembly in 2012 and an Eagle Rock resident, Gomez is leading the pack in endorsements from the state Democratic Party establishment. State Senate leader Kevin de León, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Becerra are among Gomez' backers. 

One key endorsement, however, has eluded him: the Los Angeles Times editorial board endorsed Maria Cabildo. She's an urban planner who founded the nonprofit East LA Community Corp. Cabildo reminded the audience of the endorsement several times throughout the night.

A full list of the candidates is available online. KPCC will be publishing a candidate survey next week to help voters decide on the race. 

Given the number of candidates competing for the seat, a runoff election is very likely. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes, the top two vote-getters regardless of political party will move on to the special general election scheduled for June 6. 

L.A. County election officials have estimated the April 4 special election will cost about $1,371,000 for a district with roughly 306,000 registered voters.