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LA city voters sent mixed messages

Los Angeles City Council member-elect Hugo Soto-Martinez heads to City Hall with what he says is a clear mandate to pass bold and progressive policies on housing, homelessness, transportation and other issues.

Soto-Martinez, who won his race by more than 10,000 votes, said the Nov. 8 election showed that people in his Hollywood district want fewer police officers and more mental health teams — and the end laws that force homeless people to move from designated areas.

“The Progressives won the day,” he said.

Lawyer Traci Park also declared victory in a council race last week. And she too says she received a “clear mandate” for change. But she heard a markedly different set of demands from voters. Residents of coastal Los Angeles neighborhoods, she said, want more police and more encampment enforcement.

“They ultimately want to feel safe in their community,” she said.

Voters in this year’s mayoral election were clearly unhappy with City Hall, ousting two incumbents and rejecting several other Los Angeles lawmakers who had sought higher office. But the broader political message was more complicated, with candidates at different points on the political spectrum — and with different political views — winning their respective contests.

Soto-Martinez and community activist Eunisses Hernandez won their council races with major help from the LA Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, which supports defunding police, abolishing prisons and much bigger investment in social services. Hernandez defeated council member Gil Cedillo in the June primary, while Soto-Martinez knocked out council member Mitch O’Farrell in the runoff.

At the same time, voters also won victories over a handful of more moderate candidates, who placed themselves closer to the city’s political center – and more in line with the council’s current policies on homelessness and public safety. . They include Park and elected board member Tim McOsker, who has had the enthusiastic support of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the LAPD’s rank-and-file officers’ union.

Mayor-elect Karen Bass, who was elected citywide, will likely need her coalition-building skills to bridge these types of differences as she seeks to address homelessness, rising housing costs, crime and other issues, said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State Los Angeles.

“You have a push from the left” in this year’s municipal elections, he said. “But you also have a push from the centrist liberal wing. And you have Karen Bass in the middle of it all.

“The challenge for the mayor,” he added, “is to move forward with a strategy for the whole community.”

During the campaign, Bass sought to strike a balance between crime and other issues. She said the LAPD is expected to have about 9,700 officers, nearly 500 more than the department currently has. But she also promised to have a separate community safety office, which would not involve the police department.

“I know there are neighborhoods that want to see a more visible [police] presence. They don’t tend to be our neighborhoods,” Bass told Tavis Smiley, a radio host with KBLA Talk 1580, last week. “Our neighborhoods want serious investments in prevention, intervention and services to prevent crime in the first place. And I think I can make a huge dent in that.

Zach Seidl, a spokesman for Bass, said the phrase “our neighborhoods” refers to south Los Angeles.

Bass will take office the same day as Hernandez, who said in a candidate questionnaire that the police should have no role in his community. Hernandez, whose district stretches from Highland Park to Pico-Union, supports increased spending for mental health experts, public health workers and other unarmed responders.

Los Angeles Mayor-elect Karen Bass greets supporters at the Wilshire Ebell Theater on Thursday.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

On election night, the contrasts between the winning candidates were immediately clear. Soto-Martinez, at his victory party in Atwater Village, said the town was “torn apart” by property developers and police unions. Across town, voters were handing a 30-point victory to McOsker, who has spent much of the past decade as a registered lobbyist for developers and the LAPD union.

The mixed messages weren’t limited to council races.

Political science professor Fernando Guerra, who directs the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said two other downvoting contests — city comptroller and city attorney — ended up becoming “mirror images” of each other as the results came in. .

In the race for city comptroller, voters overwhelmingly elected CPA Kenneth Mejia, who used his campaign to stress the importance of the LAPD budget, which he called “swollen.” Mejia said during the campaign that he would send listeners every major event to monitor LAPD officers. He also opposed the city’s ban on homeless encampments outside public schools.

Mejia, a former Green Party member, won over 60% of the vote.

Porter Ranch attorney Faisal Gill delivered similar messages during his campaign to become city attorney, promising to hold the LAPD accountable and speaking out forcefully against the city’s anti-encampment law. he called it unconstitutional. Still, he lost by double digits to his opponent, attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto, who took more moderate positions and was backed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

Feldstein Soto defended the anti-encampment law, saying she believed it would withstand a legal challenge if applied correctly. Bass, while running his own campaign, dealt a serious blow to Gill, withdrawing his endorsement of his candidacy for city attorney last summer, weeks after his first place finish in the June primaries.

A spokesperson for Bass said at the time that Bass “absolutely” disagrees with Gill’s plan to impose a 100-day moratorium on the prosecution of a series of misdemeanor charges.

Although the Los Angeles election provided mixed messages on specific city policies, voters were much clearer about their vision for the establishment of City Hall. Voters ousted two council members and defeated four city officials who hoped to win higher positions — a clear sign of public discontent, said Guerra, a professor at Loyola Marymount University.

Los Angeles City Council member-elect Traci Park chats at the Cow's End Cafe in Venice in August.

Los Angeles City Council member Traci Park chats with people at the Cow’s End Cafe in Venice in August. She says voters delivered a “clear mandate for change.”

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Guerra said Park’s election to a vacant Westside Los Angeles board seat also reflected a desire for change, as she campaigned as a fierce critic of board member Mike Bonin, who is stepping down next month. .

Bonin had called for fewer police officers, presiding over a decrease of about 800 LAPD officers, and opposed legislation banning homeless encampments around schools and daycares. Throughout the campaign, Park has promised to chart a different course.

“All voters wanted change,” Guerra said. “But their version of the change was different depending on the neighborhood.”

Park described herself as a “moderate, pragmatic, common-sense Democrat” and said she supports the idea of ​​supplementing the police with social workers and mental health counselors. But she argues that shouldn’t be an “either/or” proposition with the LAPD. She also said that the vast majority of council members “agree on most things.”

“If we look at the areas where we agree and stay civil in our areas of disagreement, we can really come together as a city,” said Venice resident Park.

Soto-Martinez, for his part, said he intends to pursue a number of big initiatives. He wants to increase the size of the council, saying it should initially grow to 31 members and eventually 51. He also promised to strengthen tenant protections and more bike lanes in the district, which includes neighborhoods such as Echo Park , Silver Lake and Historic Filipinotown. .

An organizer for the hotel and restaurant workers’ union, Soto-Martinez said he too expects to work collaboratively with his colleagues. He praised McOsker, who will represent a district from San Pedro to Watts, saying he “understands the city and is very passionate about the environment and worker issues.”

Los Angeles City Councilman-elect Tim McOsker, who will represent neighborhoods from San Pedro to Watts.

Los Angeles City Councilman-elect Tim McOsker, who will represent neighborhoods from San Pedro to Watts, says he’s “very centrist.”

(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

“Yeah, he worked for the police union,” Soto-Martinez said. “But I don’t think that describes the totality of who he is. He is a very good person, very experienced in construction.

McOsker, a former aide to Mayor James Hahn, said he expects to be politically in the middle of the council, not on its right flank.

“I feel like I’m very centrist,” he says. “I’m going to be better on police reform than most, because I get it.”

Another newcomer elected to the city council this year is Katy Young Yaroslavsky, daughter-in-law of County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and former assistant to County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Yaroslavsky ran slightly to the left of attorney Sam Yebri in her race to replace council member Paul Koretz, but she expects to be politically at the center of the council.

This year’s elections will give mayoralty the chance for a fresh start, she said.

“There’s a lot of opportunity for us to make tangible progress in LA in a bunch of different areas, to shake things up,” she said. “And I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

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