Early election returns in the 69th Assembly District race shows small business owner Josh Lowenthal has taken the lead over challengers Al Austin, a Long Beach city councilmember, Merry Taheri, a nurse practitioner and Long Beach citizen police commissioner, and Janet Denise Foster, a healthcare administrator.

Lowenthal has claimed 45% of the vote, or 14,890 votes, while Austin has 26% (8,827 votes), Foster has 20% and Taheri has 9%.

The votes counted so far include all of the vote by mail ballots received by county election officials before Election Day, as well as the in-person votes cast during the early voting period that began on May 29.

All four candidates in this open seat are Democrats. After redistricting, the 69th now includes virtually all of Long Beach as well as Signal Hill and portions of Carson.

Both Austin and Lowenthal, the front-runners in the race, talked about many of the same issues during the campaign, including reducing homelessness, creating good jobs and reducing gun violence.

Councilmember Al Austin on Thursday Feb. 13, 2020. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Lowenthal, the son of longtime Congressman Alan Lowenthal, raised nearly $685,000 this year in campaign contributions, more than four times that of Austin, who brought in a little more than $161,000, according to the California Secretary of State’s office. Foster raised about $10,000 in contributions and Taheri disclosed no contributions, according to the Secretary of State.

Though Austin has worked as a labor organizer for most of his career, he raised far less money from union political action committees than Lowenthal. In fact, Lowenthal brought in about $100,000 from nearly 20 labor PACs, far in excess of the $30,000 or so Austin raised from labor PACs, according to the Secretary of State.

At least one labor PAC, the Long Beach Police Officers Association, donated to both Austin and Lowenthal, though in different amounts. Campaign finance records show the PAC gave Austin $9,800, but just $2,500 to Lowenthal.

Retiring Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, who currently represents Long Beach in the state Assembly, endorsed Lowenthal, as did Rep. Lowenthal, state Sen. Lena Gonzalez, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Long Beach city councilmembers Cindy Allen, Roberto Uranga and Mary Zendejas, among others.

Long Beach city councilmember Stacy Mungo endorsed Austin, as did a variety of Carson officials, including Mayor Lulu Davis-Holmes, and longtime Signal Hill Councilmember Edward Wilson.

Voter turnout in the district was 14% going into Tuesday, according to the firm Political Data Intelligence.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated Wednesday morning with current vote totals. 

Anthony Pignataro is an investigative reporter and editor for the Long Beach Post. He has close to three decades of experience in journalism leading numerous investigations and long-form journalism projects for the OC Weekly and other publications. He joined the Post in May 2021.