Why All of Los Angeles County Should Be Able to Vote in L.A. City Races

Campaign mailers from the March 5, 2013 L.A. Primary election. | Photo: waltarrrrr/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The mayoral runoff is almost upon us, and every four years I think about how great it would be if all of us could vote for mayor. By "all of us" I mean everybody living in the 88 cities and swaths of unincorporated county that aren't technically L.A., but are part of L.A. nonetheless. More than most cities, Los Angeles is a state of mind. It's impossible to think of the civic zeitgeist (to the extent that we have it) or imagine our public face without trendy West Hollywood, beachy Santa Monica, iconic Beverly Hills, or equally iconic Compton. All are separate cities, but do you know the mayors of any of them? Unless you're a resident of any of these places, probably not.

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And the geography of all of them argues for L.A. inclusion; you can drive from L.A. through Beverly Hills and back into L.A. in a matter of minutes without realizing you left town. I always chuckle when non-local journalists describe West Hollywood, Inglewood, et al. as "suburbs" of L.A. in the same way they describe real suburbs like Fontana or Simi Valley. There's simply no comparison. Folks in those places may not be paying attention to the battle winding down between Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti, but folks in West Hollywood and Inglewood certainly are. What happens in L.A. impacts all those places just outside its borders, but well inside its sphere of influence. Call us L.A. affiliates.

The relationship also applies to city council races. For example, the runoff in the ninth council district, which encompasses the heart of South Central, has great implications for the future of all local black representation. Since about the '60s the ninth has been a reliable black seat, but no more. Latino demographics have entirely remade South Central; a Latino city councilperson would complete the revolution. Curren Price, a former black assemblyman who started his political career as a councilman in Inglewood, is running against a young political novice and Latina, Ana Cubas. In the primary, Price had heavy backing from the black establishment, among others, but attracted less than 30 percent of the vote. The poor showing has something to do with the fact that Price is not viewed as someone with any real connection to the district, that he parachuted in with a new address to run for the seat.

The majority of black folks who voted did vote for him, but they didn't turn out in great numbers. All of this reverberates in towns like Compton and Inglewood, which are undergoing a similar demographic shift and similar issues with its electeds, as well as in neighboring L.A. council district eight. The eighth is more black and more middle-class, but like the ninth, it has been reconfigured by redistricting -- it lost Leimert Park to the tenth -- and is not quite as solidly black as it used to be. And there is nothing to suggest that the black population there or elsewhere will increase.

As an Inglewood resident I can't vote on any of this, only watch with vested interest. By the way, Inglewood's having a runoff, too. In the north part of the city, a veteran councilperson who's represented the area twenty years is running against a Latino candidate. The veteran is not black, but white. It's nothing if not interesting. Maybe my town -- my state in the L.A. nation -- is the one to watch.

About the Author

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in L.A., with an eye toward the city's African American community, appear weekly on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.
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