Hollywood Takes Sides in L.A. City Council Race

David Ryu and Sarah Kate Levy- Split-H 2020
Timothy Norris/Getty Images; Courtesy of Subject

The fight to lead District 4 (including Silver Lake and Sherman?Oaks) breaks a record for most expensive ever and draws an unusual amount of industry interest including Jane Fonda and Natalie Portman, with homelessness a top issue.

A pair of progressive women — with ties to the entertainment industry — are gunning to unseat L.A. City Council member David Ryu in a big-money council race that's shaping up as a potential referendum on the homeless crisis.

Screenwriter and activist Sarah Kate Levy and Nithya Raman, former executive director of Time's Up Entertainment, have both amassed sizable war chests to compete in the March 3 election for Council District 4, which stretches from the Miracle Mile to Silver Lake and all the way over the hill to Sherman Oaks and Toluca Lake. As of Jan. 18, Levy had raised nearly $237,000, with Raman generating $221,000. Ryu, though, has amassed $947,635 — the most ever recorded by the City Ethics Commission for a council race. Ryu's donors include Ron Burkle, WarnerMedia's Robert Greenblatt and producer Lynn Harris.

To help bridge her financing gap, Raman held a sold-out comedy show at the El Rey Theatre on Jan. 29 with performances by Joel Kim Booster, Kristen Schaal and Adam Conover, raising more than $20,000. "We have a campaign that's been very interlinked with the entertainment industry," says Raman, who has made homelessness a priority issue. Raman, who's married to writer-producer Vali Chandrasekaran (Modern Family), has turned out dozens of TV writers and showrunners to canvass for her, as well as picking up endorsements from Natalie Portman and Jane Fonda. "[Ryu] has a lot of money, but … if we can just keep getting people excited about this race, we can overwhelm his financial advantage," she says.

Levy (No Way Jose) entered the race two years ago after multiple conversations in which she tried to recruit other women to get involved in local politics, and which all led to the same conclusion: She should jump in. "I'm in the race because David has failed on every level that a council member is supposed to deliver on," says Levy (who counts Jack Black as a supporter), noting that the district she's lived in for 20 years saw a 53 percent spike in homelessness in 2019, the largest in any of L.A.'s 15 districts. A spokesman for Ryu's campaign called Levy's comments a "misrepresentation of his record."

This story first appeared in the Feb. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.