Battle over who is a true progressive defines L.A. House race

When the recording of a racist conversation between workers and politicians in Los Angeles plunged the city into an unparalleled political crisis, David Kim and Jimmy Gomez took different paths.

Gomez, an incumbent congressman, sat next to mayoral candidate Rep. Karen Bass and former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in a room at Los Angeles’ Trade-Technical College calling for unity.

Rep. Jimmy Gomez and mayoral candidate Rep. Karen Bass are urging citizen leaders to initiate a plan of action.

Rep. Jimmy Gomez, center, and mayoral candidate Rep. Karen Bass, second from right, are urging LA civic leaders to initiate an action plan to address the recent racist recordings that have roiled city politics.

(Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Kim, an immigration and child addiction attorney running against Gomez, stood in a crowd of protesters outside City Hall. He profanely bemoaned how special interests were corrupting the city and called for continued demonstrations.

“We need a moral revolution in Los Angeles,” Kim yelled, holding a microphone. In the leaked conversation, the Latino leaders mocked the people using racist terms and plotted to undermine black political power.

Regardless of whether Gomez or Kim prevail in the midterm elections, California’s 34th congressional district, which includes Koreatown, downtown LA, Eagle Rock and Boyle Heights, will have a Democratic congressman.

David Kim, challenging incumbent Congressman Jimmy Gomez, attends a town hall.

David Kim attends a town hall at Glassell Park Center last month.

(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

What the election — a repeat of the 2020 race that Gomez won by a 6% margin — boils down to is a battle over what it means to be a progressive and what style of politics voters prefer.

Voters “are further to the left than the collective political establishment. It’s all about having the right candidates and the right mobilization,” said Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University.

Both Gomez and Kim have emerged from the state primary where the top two voters, regardless of party affiliation, advance to the general election. This year’s midterm in California features six congressional races between two Democrats.

To avoid being the first incumbent Democratic member of Congress lose against a challenger of the same party Southern California in 10 years Gomez, 47, needs to convince enough voters that work within the party is still effective. To achieve victory, his rival Kim, 38, must sell enough cross-racial voters to “co-government” with activists.

Last month, Kim was joined by Euniss Hernandez, a community activist who called for the abolition of the police and ousted council member Gil Cedillo in June. Kim has put up billboards showing him with Hernandez.

“We’re in a moment where we can either move in the same direction with the status quo, or we can start making decisions and supporting people who are making a difference,” Hernandez said when addressing the new billboard near Occidental College in Eagle looked up rocks.

The precinct, as political data expert Paul Mitchell calls it, is “where the different parts of LA politics meet.”

From high-rises and nightclubs in Koreatown to tiny homes and taquerias in Boyle Heights, 34th is a diverse, urban, and gentrifying neighborhood is among the poorest in the nation.

The borough is majority Hispanic — once home to Edward R. Roybal and Xavier Becerra, two prominent Latino politicians — but has a sizeable and influential Asian American and white population. Approximately 80% of the district’s homes are valued at more than $500,000 and approximately 20% are valued at more than $1 million.

Almost 80% of the district’s residents are renters. About 20% live in poverty.

“It’s gone from a place where anyone can live here to a place where it’s very difficult for people to get through,” said Donald Nollar, a 58-year-old resident of Glassell Park who has been a resident for 20 years lives in the area.

Gomez and Kim both say they’ve been through hardships that help them relate to the struggles of the district’s residents.

The child of a pastor and a second-generation Korean American raised near Seattle and in the Bay Area, Kim graduated from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York during the Great Recession. When he couldn’t find well-paying legal work, he said he juggled multiple jobs, including driving for Uber and Lyft until 4 a.m

Gomez, who grew up in Southern California, said his family nearly went bankrupt when he was 7 paying for medical care when he contracted pneumonia. They didn’t have health insurance.

However, Gomez and Kim prescribe differently strategies.

Gomez said he pushed both as a union organizer and as a member of the state assembly for measures such as expanding paid family leave. He said he fought to extend the federal moratorium on evictions in 2021 and secured more than $11 million in federal funding for affordable housing in the district.

If re-elected, Gomez said he would support a bill to create a tax credit to convert unused offices into apartments and give tenants money to pay no more than 30% of their income for rent and utilities.

“If you watch Cori Bush, watch [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]You look at Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, they all have something in common that I have,” Gomez said, referring to five progressive members of the House of Representatives. “We have records.”

Kim argues that Gomez’s approach is not effective. Getting federal funding, he said, doesn’t work if the city doesn’t use it well. He pointed out that Los Angeles has used only about 15% of its federal emergency shelter vouchers to get people off the streets.

Kim’s platform includes ban on no-fault evictions and ‘Homes Guarantee’ Construction of 12 million publicly funded housing units over the next 10 years – and pay reparations for racist measures like redlining. He has championed giving every adult $1,000 a month, a guaranteed income program embraced by the likes of former Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

When he sees a need for it, as he did at City Hall a few weeks ago, Kim says he’s not afraid to face people. him once protested in front of Gomez’s housethe congressman for calling Receive money from interest groups.

“I don’t think he understands the urgency,” Kim said of Gomez at a Glassell Park town hall recently.

Ruben Vasquez, a 45-year-old urban planner from Glassell Park, voted for Kim in the primary. Vasquez said he was frustrated with the city’s priorities, such as the Los Angeles police budget, and that adding more funds “won’t prevent crime.”

“Jimmy is like a good old boy network. He’s not going to rock the boat too much,” Vasquez said. “He will still stick to the company line.”

The LA chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America recommends a vote for Kim, as was the case in 2020 when it said He’s “a progressive in 2020 form.”

But Mark Gonzalez, a longtime resident and leader of the LA County Democratic Party, which has backed Gomez, calls Kim a “disruptor” and says people like him are “not here to govern.”

“They’re here to attack,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t think there’s a way for us to work together and they’re not willing to work together.”

Glassell Park’s Nollar, a patient advocate, said he saw some strength in Gomez’s history as an elected official.

“I see two good, honorable candidates, and the benefit of having a new person coming in is new ideas,” said Nollar, who voted for Gomez in 2020 but is undecided this year. “But having someone who’s been there means they know how things work.”

After Gomez finished speaking at an abortion rights rally in Mariachi Plaza on a Saturday morning — introduced by organizers as a “people’s congressman” — several local residents rushed out to greet him.

One of them was Paula, a 69-year-old retired social worker and local educator. With a steady income and rent, she struggles with rising housing costs and speaks of her friends and others living in overcrowded conditions — up to 11 people in a single house.

Paula, who didn’t want her last name used because she was a witness in a recent criminal case and feared reprisals, shared how Gomez and MP Miguel Santiago helped bring protective gear, like masks, to the community as the pandemic hit started. She said she sees Gomez as someone who champions affordable housing.

She also called him a role model for other Latinos. For them, building a coalition is important to address the region’s problems.

“He’s our voice out there, and I think that’s just so important,” Paula said.

The race could ultimately come down to Korean Americans.

In the early mail-in ballot, 2017 returns in a special open ballot between Gomez and Korean-American attorney Robert Lee Ahn, Korean-American Americans almost a quarter of the votes although they made up only 6% of the district.

Kim – who is openly gay – has at times struggled to garner support from Korean Americans, particularly from churches. Ahn said his campaign visited every major Korean-American church in 2017 and boosted congregational turnout.

Mira Kim, a 52-year-old volunteer, said Kim’s campaign received “a lot of rejection” from the churches.

“It’s heartbreaking that people judge him on one trait,” Kim said. “But breaking that barrier is hard.”

At David Kim’s fundraiser at a Koreatown restaurant, Grace Eun Yung Oh, a 74-year-old community leader, was concerned about Kim’s LGBTQ identity but eventually came out and said she ultimately understood it as “something God created.”

Byungsun So, a 53-year-old CEO of an education company, has rented part of his office to Kim’s campaign and has rallied Korean-Americans to support Kim. For So, Kim’s candidacy alone speaks volumes, he said.

“The Korean-American community is traditionally conservative,” So said, “but when it’s progressive [Korean American] Being able to win over the community is a big change.” Battle over who is a true progressive defines L.A. House race

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