The Wrath of Wesson: Friday's Redistricting Fiasco

The Great Game
| Public domain source

There were bagpipers (for St. Patrick's Day) and Persian treats (for the celebration of Nowruz) and a display of contempt for the people of Los Angeles when Council President Herb Wesson and his band of sullen men voted on Friday to adopt a gerrymandered map that draws new borders around the city's 15 council districts.

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The effect of the 13-to-2 vote was like watching Austria, Prussia, and Russia partition Poland, except this time the lines of power and punishment were drawn through the districts of Councilmembers Jan Perry and Bernard Parks. The whole fiasco ended in a surreal moment more like a Stalinist show trial than anything else.

The hapless Perry, who wants to be mayor, kowtowed deeply to Wesson's methods and ambitions and (as reported by the City Maven) said:

If I had the ability to turn the clock back to the day when I came to see you, to talk to you about your run for president and we had an exchange and I had questions which, in retrospect, perhaps I was impertinent. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so direct. If I had known then what I know now, I would have kept my mouth shut so that my district would not be sacrificed. Here we are, at the end of this process, and for me I feel your wrath, I feel your power.

I'm the only woman on the city council now. I'm one woman out of 14 men. This is a lesson in the wise use of power, to respect the process, to respect the people, and to do their business in the light of day. I want to tell you publicly, Mr. President, I regret not voting for you and I am sorry. As a woman, I'm completely comfortable saying that because I'm fighting for something bigger than the both of us. For those of you who have commented they don't like to see three African-Americans fighting amongst each other, don't marginalize the issue. It's bigger than that. We are fighting for the futures of our communities.

Actually, they are fighting for power within city hall and influence outside it with no moral compass to go by. The post-Bradley decomposition of the city hall system -- forever backward looking -- has come to this: humiliation, cowardice, and supreme indifference to the city's evolving racial, ethnic, and economic mix.

Instead of fostering a new politics for a maximally hybrid Los Angeles, the council majority struck a nasty bargain to give Councilman José Huizar the development "juice" of the downtown portions of Perry's district and give Wesson the African-American heart of Parks' district and the "juiciest" precincts of Koreatown.

"Nothing is perfect," Wesson blandly told reporters after the vote, "but 13 members were comfortable with it."

Their comfort lay in the knowledge that the system of power distribution at city hall had been preserved; that downtown had been fashioned into a real prize for ambitious politicians; and that new players (mostly Asian) had been shut out of City Hall for another decade.

As the Los Angeles Times noted (in advance of the vote):

The Los Angeles City Redistricting Commission, composed of 21 political appointees, propos(ed) a map of 15 reshaped City Council districts, which probably (does) what a majority of the current council members, the mayor, the city attorney and the controller intended them to do: They secure districts and fundraising opportunities for favored incumbents; they punish members who act too independently; and they pave the way toward election for various aides and pols who are looking for a start in electoral politics or a comfortable landing place after being termed out in Sacramento. In other words, they turn(ed) the worthy goal of redistricting on its head.

Presumably lawsuits will follow (Perry and Parks have made that threat), and the system will carry on.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus and 1st and Spring blogs.

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