The race for the 69th Assembly seat may be between two pro-labor Democrats with high name recognition, but in terms of endorsements and campaign cash, the result is anything but a toss-up.
Al Austin is a labor organizer who has spent the last decade representing the 8th District on the Long Beach City Council. In contrast, Josh Lowenthal is a son of U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal and a member of one of the most politically connected Long Beach families, but he has no political experience himself beyond a failed 2018 state Assembly race in Orange County.
Though Lowenthal lacks Austin’s considerable local government experience, he’s won many endorsements and huge amounts of campaign money from the state’s most powerful Democratic Party power brokers.
“This is a club,” said Cal State Long Beach political science professor Matt Lesenyie. In races like this that pit Democrats against each other, “elites will sometimes put their thumb on the scale.”
“Even though you’ve paid your dues, the other guy’s family may have also paid their dues,” Lesenyie added, referring to the Lowenthal family, which has sent members to the U.S. Congress, Long Beach City Council and the Los Angeles Superior Court in the last few decades.
Following redistricting, Long Beach will be part of the 69th State Assembly district next year. Though he could have run for the seat, incumbent 70th District Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, who currently represents Long Beach in Sacramento, chose to retire. Four Democrats ran for the seat in the June Primary, and Lowenthal and Austin finished first and second, respectively.
In the primary election, Lowenthal emerged with the highest share of the vote: 45.6%, compared to Austin’s second-place showing at 26.5%.
Though Lowenthal has made his living in the private sector for most of his life, in contrast to his father, mother, brother and sister-in-law who have all held public office, his life as the “for-profit Lowenthal,” as he joked at a recent candidates forum, doesn’t seem have to hurt him in the 69th race.
“While many voters may not know Josh yet, the Lowenthal name will be quite recognizable on the ballot,” said Lesenyie.
Lowenthal’s personal investments total between $330,006 and $3.3 million and his 2021 income was in excess of $210,000, which was derived from ownership stakes in real estate and hospitality investment firms Jarvik Seven, ORV Capital, Jover and ATL Capital, according to his statement of economic interest that he filed with Los Angeles County in March.
Lowenthal has never been elected to public office. In 2018, he ran against Republican Tyler Diep in Orange County’s 72nd Assembly District, losing by more than 5,000 votes. Jewish leaders at the time said that some campaign mailers in that race, which depicted Lowenthal clutching hundred-dollar bills and having a chariactured nose, were anti-semitic—a charge Diep denied, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In contrast to Lowenthal, Austin has three decades of experience as a labor organizer, political activist and elected official. He currently works as an organizer for AFSCME Local 57, and has represented the 8th District on the City Council since 2012 (his final term ends in 2024). A board member of the California League of Cities, Austin also previously served as president of the Gateway Council of Governments.
“I understand the state, the state budget, how legislation works,” Austin said. “The policies that matter to people today, I’m already working on.”
Ideologically, both candidates are very similar. For instance, both see homelessness and the lack of affordable housing as the preeminent issues facing the district, with Austin saying he wants to “treat these issues as crises, just as we did with COVID,” and Lowenthal saying that he hopes to help “break the cycle of homelessness.”
But a wide array of powerful Democratic officials see major differences between the two men. In fact, 16 State Assembly members—including O’Donnell—have endorsed Lowenthal, as has the California Democratic Party, state Sen. Lena Gonzalez, U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal (of course), Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia and Austin’s City Council colleagues Cindy Allen, Roberto Uranga and Mary Zendejas.
While a variety of Democratic clubs, labor officials and community leaders have endorsed Austin, including the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, state Sen. Steve Bradford and Compton Mayor Emma Sharif, just one State Assembly member, Reggie Jones-Sawyer, and only one of Austin’s City Council colleagues—Stacy Mungo—have endorsed him.
Lowenthal is also out-raising Austin by a factor of five to one. While Austin raised nearly $236,000 in campaign cash during the first 10 months of 2022, Lowenthal brought in $1.18 million, according to the most recent filings with the California Secretary of State’s office. That allowed Lowenthal to spend nearly $707,000 in the race so far, while Austin spent just $193,000, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
Lowenthal’s donors were often corporate and labor political action committees, law firms and local companies, whereas Austin relied more on individual donors, according to the filings.
Both candidates have secured myriad endorsements from labor unions, though one labor leader freely acknowledged the close similarities between both men.
“Al has always been a strong supporter of firefighters,” said Rex Pritchard, president of Long Beach Firefighters Association Local 372, which endorsed Austin. “This is not to say Josh is a bad guy, or that he isn’t a supporter—he is. There just was no reason not to get behind Al. We think either one will be good for firefighters, but we’ll be for Al.”
Clearly rankled by Lowenthal, throughout the campaign Austin has occasionally posted vague but still critical tweets that seem aimed at his opponent.
“When you don’t have a record of public service I guess it’s okay to just run on family clout and rigged endorsements to fool voters,” Austin tweeted on May 28, a few days before the primary election.
A few months later, on Sept. 21, Austin tweeted, “The choice for the 69th Assembly District comes down to real experience versus deep political privilege.”
For his part, Lowenthal has leaned into these attacks, telling audiences that he is proud that he comes “from a family of activists” and that it’s important for voters to send people “with life experience” to the Legislature.
“In a lot of respects, my last name is making me work harder because I want the voters to get to know me and who I am,” Lowenthal said.
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