O’Farrell grew up in a working-class family in Oklahoma. His father was a truck driver and Teamster, his mother an administrative assistant. Native American and openly gay, he made his way to Southern California in the early 1980s for that most L.A. of reasons: He had an audition. The production didn’t work out, but O’Farrell stayed, studying acting and dance.
After becoming a neighborhood volunteer, O’Farrell got a job on the staff of Councilmember Eric Garcetti in 2002, overseeing constituent services. Nearly a dozen years later, he emerged from an eight-way race to win Garcetti’s former seat on the City Council, defeating an opponent who had more money and the financial backing of one of the biggest players at City Hall — the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.
In recent years, O’Farrell has carved out a role on the council’s energy committee, where he has called for the Department of Water and Power to reach 100% renewable energy by 2035. He also has been an outspoken advocate for more housing, boasting that nearly a third of the units built or being produced in his district — nearly 4,400 out of about 15,000 — are or will be affordable, with limits on the amount of rent that can be charged.
Soto-Martinez grew up in poverty, the son of Mexican immigrants who moved to South Los Angeles and worked as street vendors. He graduated from UC Irvine, studying political science and criminology, and went on to become an organizer with Unite Here Local 11, the hotel and restaurant workers union. He also got involved with the L.A. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA, whose canvassers helped power him to a nine-point lead in the June primary.
On the campaign trail, Soto-Martinez has portrayed O’Farrell as a tool of real estate developers, saying every residential project should have 20% of its units designated as affordable. He has also called for the city to convert hotel facilities — the Standard in downtown Los Angeles, the Sportsmen’s Lodge in the San Fernando Valley — into temporary housing for L.A.’s homeless population.
Soto-Martinez has been a sharp critic of O’Farrell’s decision to clear a homeless encampment from Echo Park Lake, which concluded with the arrest of scores of protesters last year. Although more than 100 people were moved from the park into Project Roomkey hotels and other facilities, few received permanent housing. O’Farrell has defended the initiative, saying the park had become a dangerous place and needed to be restored for public use.
Get the lowdown on L.A. politics
In this pivotal election year, we’ll break down the ballot and tell you why it matters in our L.A. on the Record newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.