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High-level Villaraigosa aide runs to replace Councilman Garcetti

July 11, 2012 |  3:00 pm

Los Angeles City Council candidate Matt Szabo poses for a portrait at City Hall on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. Credit: Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles Times
The traffic jam that is the race to replace Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti saw yet another candidate jump in, with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s No. 2 policy adviser announcing that he will run for the seat.

Matt Szabo, 36, on Wednesday became the 13th person to pursue a bid in the 13th District, which takes in all or part of neighborhoods such as Echo Park, Silver Lake, Historic Filipinotown and Hollywood. As Villaraigosa's deputy chief of staff, Szabo handled such issues as the city’s ongoing budget crisis, labor relations and, earlier this year, the once-a-decade process of producing new maps for the council’s 15 districts.

“I know how the city works , I know how it doesn’t work and I know how to make it work,” said Szabo, who submitted his resignation  letter Wednesday.

Garcetti is running for mayor in the March election and must leave because of term limits. Villaraigosa is also termed out next year.

When he got into politics more than a decade ago, Szabo was a registered Republican working for a Republican mayor -– Richard Riordan. In recent years, he re-registered as a Democrat and became closely aligned with the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, which viewed him as a check on the power of City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana, who had advised Villaraigosa to use layoffs and employee concessions to balance the books.

Szabo, who earned nearly $170,000 annually in his post, said Friday will be his last day.

The field of competing candidates already includes Emile Mack, a former assistant fire chief; Mitch O’Farrell, a longtime Garcetti deputy; Josh Post, an attorney for Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris; Jose Sigala, a former aide to Councilman Richard Alarcon;  John Choi, a former member of the city’s Board of Public Works; Alexander Cruz De Ocampo, foundation manager for the Saban Family Foundation; and BongHwan Kim, general manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment, which oversees the city’s network of neighborhood councils.

Council members can serve up to a dozen years under term limits and the last time the 13th District had an election without an incumbent was 2001. As a result, Garcetti's departure has created a "pent up demand" among ambitious political types, said Raphael Sonenshein, political science professor at Cal State L.A.

Sonenshein said the large pool of candidates could encourage even more ambitious would-be politicians to jump in. With such a crowded field, any candidate will need only a fraction of votes to reach the runoff election, when the top two vote-getters square off.

"The more candidates you have, the more reason there is to run," he said.


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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Los Angeles City Council candidate Matt Szabo poses for a portrait at City Hall on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. Credit: Patrick T. Fallon / Los Angeles Times