Assembly race kicks off

ISSUE-ORIENTED—Candidates meet in a debate for the 45th California Assembly District election April 3. IAN BRADLEY/Acorn Newspapers

ISSUE-ORIENTED—Candidates meet in a debate for the 45th California Assembly District election April 3. IAN BRADLEY/Acorn Newspapers

The race is on to fill the 45th Assembly District seat vacated in January by Democrat Matt Dababneh, accused of sexual misconduct while in office.

The West Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum on Feb. 21 to introduce the seven candidates who will appear on the ballot in a special election on April 3.

The two-hour event was held at the West Valley-Warner Center Chamber of Commerce in Woodland Hills. More than 100 people attended and heard the candidates answer questions about homelessness, gun violence and the future of water in the state, among other issues.

Six of the candidates are Democrats: Los Angeles City Council aide Tricia Robbins Kasson, activist Ankur Patel, attorney Jesse Gabriel, West Hills Neighborhood Council president Daniel Brin, and business owners Jeff Bornstein and Ray Bishop. The lone Republican is 18-year-old Cal State Northridge student Justin Clark.

Moderator Sean McCarthy raised the issue of campus gun violence. The candidates suggested solutions such as better background checks and measures to keep mentally ill people from obtaining firearms. Most of the candidates said they support an all-out ban on assault weapons.

Clark said many schools have programs to address potential gun violence, but need funding to use them, something he would work for. He also said gun-owning parents have a responsibility to teach their children about gun safety and to make sure they can’t cannot access weapons in the home.

Patel, who works for Los Angeles Unified School District board member Scott Schmerelson, said schools conducting random searches of students isn’t enough and that there needs to be a better framework for identifying troubled kids. Robbins Kasson said schools need staff equipped to identify and counsel students who could commit acts of violence.

Gabriel said lawmakers need to do everything they can to prevent school shootings. He said he supports an assault weapons ban and said he would address the influx of guns from states with more relaxed ownership laws, such as Arizona and Nevada.

Bornstein said the first thing he did when he arrived for the event was map out an exit strategy, which he called an unfortunate adaptation to the regularity of gun violence. He called for more gun buy-backs and better background checks.

The candidates all agreed something needed to be done to address harassment in the state government—several representatives have left office after being accused of sexual misconduct, including Dababneh, who represented the 45th district until Jan. 1, when he stepped down. In December, several women came forward to accuse him of harassment. Dababneh, a San Fernando Valley native, was elected to the seat in 2013 when he won a special election that was held after then-representative Bob Blumenfield left office to become a member of the Los Angeles City Council.

Dababneh’s term would have lasted through the end of 2018. There will be a special election on April 3 to determine who will represent the district for the rest of the year. Whoever wins the race will have to run for re-election shortly after. The seat is one of the many that will be on the ballot in the November election.

To win the special election, a candidate must receive over 50 percent of the vote. If no winner is selected, there will be another vote in June, on the same day as the primary elections. All seven of the candidates are registered for the special election and the primary.

The California Assembly’s 45th district covers an area that includes Calabasas, Bell Canyon Hidden Hills, Canoga Park, Woodland Hills, Tarzana, West Hills, Winnetka, Encino, Northridge and Reseda.