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The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

The Student News Site of Harvard-Westlake School

The Harvard-Westlake Chronicle

School hosts District Attorney debate in Rugby Auditorium

Max Turetzky
From left to right: Jamie Page, Assistant A&E Editor Mia Morgan ’25, Councilmember Traci Park and Craig Fiegener.

The school hosted a Los Angeles (LA) County District Attorney (DA) debate between 10 candidates Feb. 20 in Rugby Auditorium. Incumbent DA and current frontrunner George Gascón was absent, reportedly due to a scheduling conflict.

The debate was organized by the Westside Current and the Valley Current, two local sister publications. Craig Fiegener from KNX News moderated the debate and fielded questions to the candidates. Mia Morgan ’25, who is an intern at the Westside Current, asked several student-produced questions as well.

Westside Current founder Jamie Page opened the event by honoring Cortlyn Bridges, a guest at the debate, whose daughter was killed in a Venice Beach shooting in 2020. Bridges later asked the candidates whether they would seek gang enhancements for violent crimes. Westside Current reported Feb. 5 that Bridges is affiliated with the campaign of candidate Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, who polls second behind Gascón at 8%, but this information was not disclosed at the debate.

Page also welcomed LA City Council-member Traci Park on stage before the debate. Park sharply criticized Gascón’s tenure but did not reference him by name, and urged the DA’s successor to take a tough-on-crime stance.

“Not only as an elected official in the city of Los Angeles but as a resident in the city of Los Angeles, I am sick and tired of the crime,” Park said. “The street crime, violent crime, drug crime, the retail theft, the residential burglaries, the vandalism and the infrastructure crime. [The next DA] is going to send a message that we are not going to put up with lawlessness in Los Angeles, and that there are going to be consequences for criminal behavior.”

Rising crime, homelessness and drug addiction were ever-present themes at the debate. Virtually every candidate promised to take a harder stance against crime and sharply criticized Gascón, a progressive prosecutor who has pursued a left-leaning criminal justice reform agenda, ending death penalty prosecutions and not requesting cash bail for certain low-level offenders.

Gascón’s disapproval rating sits at 51% according to ABC7 Los Angeles, and critics allege his policies are contributing to rising crime in LA. Though homicides fell 24% and robberies fell 12% in 2023, personal thefts surged 42% over the past two years, according to the same article, which cited Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) COMPSTAT data.

Hatami received the strongest audience reaction out of all the candidates. Several times, audience members cheered after he answered questions and booed his opponents. He opened his case to voters by attacking Gascón’s record and pledged to stand with victims and survivors of crime.

Hatami said he plans to reverse Gascón’s policies if elected.

“We don’t need a bureaucrat in the DA’s office like George Gascón, we need an actual leader,” Hatami said. “And I was the first one to step forward and fight against George Gascón’s directives, and I’ve been doing it for a long time. And day one, we will remove every policy George Gascón has implemented and go back to following the law and providing public safety for all of you.”

Defense attorney Dan Kapelovitz, the only candidate without prosecutorial experience, stood out as the sole progressive on stage. He said his opposition to Gascón was more so due to concerns about his leadership than his policies.

“Gascón, his directives, some of them are very good, but he has not been able to implement them because his line deputies are rogue,” Kapelowitz said. “They do whatever they want. Nothing has changed. I am the anti-murder candidate, if there is one, seriously, because I want to prevent violent crime, not just throw people away forever.”

San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Lloyd Masson, who introduced himself by the moniker “Bobcat,” was one of the most outspoken anti-crime candidates on stage. He is the only independent candidate in the race and said his new leadership could curtail crime in LA.

“Currently, because of policies that have been going on from the DA, criminals have been emboldened,” Masson said. “And that’s why I think voters need to make a bold choice this March 2024, and I represent the boldest choice you can make, because I will tell criminals, as a DA, to their face, that playtime is over.”

Retired Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge David Milton is the only Republican candidate for DA . He stressed his commitment to a “law and order approach” to policing, several times referencing his support for the death penalty and promising to implement strong public safety measures if elected.

Deputy District Attorney Eric Siddall ’94 said he would pursue a more practical, less radical approach to criminal justice reform than Gascón.

“As a member of this new generation of prosecutors, I think that we can actually make real, sustainable, long-term reform while also making our communities much safer,” Siddal said. “It’s nothing personal against him. I’ve actually had to work with him on a personal level, and we personally get along. It is a fundamental difference, in that he looks at everything in the prism of ideology, and I’m much more of a pragmatist. I want to see what works, and get us moving forward.”

President of the Sherman Oaks Homeowner’s Association (SOHA) and local realtor Matt Epstein strongly opposes Gascón’s re-election bid. Though SOHA does not officially endorse candidates, it remains one of the most influential political brokers in the city. Epstein said he blames rising crime and homelessness on Gascón’s progressive policies.

“Look, when I grew up in this community, you could walk down the street at 12 o’clock at night and not worry about the homeless, not worry about crazy people on the street,” Epstein said. “The streets are run by the insane, and the politicians are just letting it happen. The pendulum has swung way too far to the left.”

Page said she intended for the debate to be an open forum for the candidates to make their case to voters.

“One of the things we do as journalists is to provide an avenue, such as debates, to ask questions that maybe people haven’t heard before, or [to hear] something from the candidates,” Page said. “We go a little more in-depth with it, and I think it’s important to bring everybody to the table.”

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Max Turetzky, Assistant Opinion Editor

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