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State Sen. Holly Mitchell at a campaign event at Chuco’s Justice Center in South L.A. in February. Photo: Jeremy Loudenback

Riding a huge advantage in early ballots, state Sen. Holly Mitchell held a commanding lead on Los Angeles City Councilmember Herb Wesson Jr. early Wednesday morning in their race for the 2nd District seat on the county’s Board of Supervisors.

At press time, Mitchell had garnered 61% of votes cast, with about 3.2 million counted so far, according to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder. Wesson received nearly 39% of all votes.

Nearly 75% of all votes counted in Los Angeles County were cast by mail and were the first to be counted. That gave Mitchell an early advantage that stands after the first day. A victory by Mitchell would mean that the five-member Board of Supervisors would be led by all women for the first time in history.

The two are vying to replace Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is termed out after 12 years on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Running from Koreatown to Carson, District 2 includes more than 2 million people. The majority-Latino district also includes more than half the entire county’s Black population.

The state Senator raced to a 32% advantage by early Wednesday morning.

During a seven-candidate primary in March, Wesson earned 29.9% of the vote, but Mitchell was close behind with 29%.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors oversees the country’s largest locally administered child welfare and juvenile justice systems as well as a host of other safety net programs for a county with a population greater than the number of residents in 41 states. More than half of the county’s $36 billion budget is set aside for social services and health, including the Department of Children and Families Services, the county’s public hospitals and its mental health system.

Wesson has been in politics for 22 years, including the last 15 years as a member of the Los Angeles City Council. Before that, he served as speaker of the California State Assembly. In January, Wesson wrote that L.A. County’s child welfare system was “deeply broken,” citing high caseloads and its failure to remove children from abusive homes who later died.

If he is elected, Wesson also said his first action as supervisor would be to ensure that the Department of Children and Family Services fully implements recommendations made in the state auditor’s report, including a tracking system to ensure that social workers complete investigations of child maltreatment allegations in a timely manner. The council member said he would create an “army of professional volunteers similar to volunteer fire departments that can provide rapid response” to children and families in need.

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“We have to have a system that actually has a chance to work, and we need those reforms in place,” Wesson said at a candidates forum in January focused on child welfare, juvenile justice and affordable housing.

Wesson’s comments came before the start of the coronavirus pandemic in March, which has strained government coffers at the state and local level and disrupted the work of child welfare agencies across the state.

As the chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, state Sen. Holly Mitchell helped broker a state budget that averted harsh cuts to California’s social safety net. The daughter of social workers, Mitchell has worked in the state Legislature since 2010, forging a reputation as a champion of poor families.

holly mitchell

Los Angeles City Councilmember Herb Wesson, Jr. at candidates forum in January. Photo: Christine Ongjoco

Her accomplishments in Sacramento include legislation that prevented the arrest of children younger than 12, financial assistance for relatives who take in foster children and expanded support to families receiving help from the state’s welfare program, among others

At the forum in January, Holly Mitchell said caseloads for county social workers were too high and that Los Angeles County’s foster care system fails to reunify children with their families “at record levels.” Noting that poverty has long been “the leading cause” of a child’s entry into foster care, Mitchell called for greater investments in prevention efforts for struggling families. Those anti-poverty efforts, she said, will lower the number of families involved with the system.“That’s not new,” Mitchell said, “it’s about having the political courage and will to invest money up front and do something about it.”

Los Angeles County voters also endorsed a measure supported by the current Board of Supervisors.

Measure J would require that the county use 10% of locally generated, unrestricted county revenues on social services designed to provide alternatives to incarceration. That money – which could range between $300 and $900 million – would be spent on youth development, housing, criminal justice diversion programs and mental health treatment. As much as $110 million could be wrested from the budget of the Sheriff’s Department, and the county would be prohibited from using the money on jails or law enforcement agencies.

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As of press time on Wednesday morning, 57% of voters had voted yes on the charter amendment.

Jeremy Loudenback
The Imprint

This story originally appeared in The Imprint, a daily news publication dedicated to rigorous, in-depth journalism focused on families and the systems that impact their lives.