Mayoral candidates Karen Bass and Rick Caruso will meet on stage Tuesday night for a televised debate one last time before ballots arrive in mailboxes for November’s election.
I hope you are prepared. Like, really and really prepared. Because Angelenos hasn’t looked so desperately for fair, moral, and trustworthy leadership in decades.
We can blame Los Angeles City Council members Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, and LA County Federation of Labor President Ron Herrera for much of this.
Secretly recorded audio of a conversation they had last year, uploaded to Reddit and revealed over the weekend by my Times colleagues, is full of bigoted “jokes” and half-baked plans to take black political power and give it to Latinos.
Of course, her racist words landed like a bombshell in diverse Los Angeles, widening existing rifts about race and power, particularly among Black Angelenos.
Whichever candidate becomes mayor will have no choice but to navigate this very polarized but still very delicate environment. To fix what’s broken inside and outside of City Hall, he or she needs both the patience of a pastor and the conflict resolution skills of a diversity, justice and inclusion specialist.
In many ways, Bass has a resume that seems built for this moment.
Long before she joined Congress, she founded the Community Coalition, or CoCo, which would bring more investment to South LA to help reverse decades of structural racism that has ravaged Black and Latino Angelenos alike. Solidarity among people of color is still the core of the mission of the non-profit organization.
That’s why every statement her campaign has released about the leaked audio — including one on Monday calling for Martinez, Cedillo, De León and Herrera to resign — read a version of the following: “For more than 30 years I have built alliances between the Black and Hispanic communities of Los Angeles to improve the health, safety and prosperity of our people.”
And: “We must overcome the politics of divide and conquer. Los Angeles has no place for division and hatred. The challenges we face in our city affect us all – and we must unite around our common values.”
However, Caruso thinks he knows what to do because he is an outsider at City Hall.
“This weekend’s news has confirmed that our city’s problems will not be solved as long as City Hall corruption persists,” he tweeted Montag, repeating Bass’ resignation calls. “To take a new direction, we need new leadership.”
Let’s just say I’m not convinced that a white billionaire is the right person to bring down the temperature of racial tensions between Black and Latino Angelenos and help us heal, but I’m willing to listen.
And both Caruso and Bass better have good answers. Because as inclusive as Los Angeles wants to be, racial injustices pervade every aspect of public policy in this city.
As for homelessness, Black people continue to be disproportionately represented in shelters and on the streets. Decades of housing discrimination continue to take its toll. For other reasons likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic, there has also been an increase in the number of Latinos without shelter, according to the latest Los Angeles County Homelessness Survey.
All political solutions must take these factors into account. It’s not one size fits all.
It’s the same with public safety. Blacks – closely followed by Latinos – continue to be disproportionately represented among both perpetrators and victims of violent crime and among victims of police shootings.
Now that trust has been broken. We have a sheriff running for re-election who has made comments against black people. And now we have three Latino members on the city council who have done the same thing.
“It’s not just that these people are members of the Council. They have the council chair, the head of the homelessness committee, who was so hostile to black people,” said council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who represents the last black-majority district in South LA. “Forty percent of the homeless are black.”
Then there is the city council itself.
On Monday, Martinez apologized again and then resigned as president. She seems to prefer to prolong the inevitable, as the list of people and institutions demanding her complete resignation from the Council grows by the hour. It’s only a matter of time.
Herrera has offered his resignation to the board of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and has received applause from Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, a Latina who heads the California Labor Federation.
“Ultimately, we prioritize working-class solidarity across all races above all else,” she said tweeted on Monday evening.
Cedillo and De León have done nothing but apologize.
“We can’t have a city council that we go into every day and there’s someone sitting there who called a black kid a ‘monkey.’ That’s not sustainable,” Harris-Dawson said. “It doesn’t fit the city of Los Angeles. It’s not who we want to be.”
I should mention that he was speaking at a press conference along with Representatives Issac Bryan and Tina McKinnor to support Erin Darling in his race for an open Westside seat on the city council.
But it served the dual function of crushing Darling’s opponent, Traci Park, for defending the city of Anaheim in her job as an attorney against allegations by a black employee that a white employee had used the N-word “numerous.”
Harris-Dawson said Park “forfeited” her right to run for office. The voters have to decide. But that speaks volumes about the state of race relations in LA right now.
In addition, Caruso or Bass will also come into office with a mostly new city council. At least four members are leaving the company, including Cedillo. A fifth, Councilor Mitch O’Farrell, could lose re-election. I wouldn’t bet on Martinez or De León standing on the City Hall podium either.
And not even the situation with suspended council member Mark Ridley-Thomas, who faces federal bribery charges in the coming months. He has pleaded not guilty.
Meanwhile, his temporary replacement, Heather Hutt, has been drawn into the drama by Martinez, De León, Cedillo and Herrera. They were recorded talking about her as someone who would “support us”. Hutt also called on council members to step down on Monday.
“I am a black woman, not a farmer,” she said in a statement. “I had no prior knowledge of the conversation.”
All of this makes it abundantly clear that neither Bass nor Caruso will be able to truly address the city’s problems without cleaning up the emotional and psychological mess left behind by these Latino “leaders.” Rebuilding the solidarity alliances will be difficult, but I have to believe that it is possible.
Tanya Kateri Hernandez, an Afro-Latina and Fordham University professor who has researched Latino anti-Black racism, told me the number one thing the next mayor can do to help us heal is to avoid treating what happened as an isolated incident.
“What we’re missing is the way this is – unfortunately – Latino racial pathologies,” said Hernandez, author of Racial Innocence: Unmasking Latino Anti-Black Bias and the Struggle for Equality, “these people are stepping back, but then the bottom line is that problematic dynamics go unaddressed and unspoken. You cannot intervene in something you are trying to be blind to.”
On Tuesday night, perhaps we’ll see which candidate — Bass or Caruso — really has the eyes open.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-10-11/la-council-leaked-audio-nury-martinez-divide-racism-mayor-bass-caruso-debate L.A. is again divided by racism. Are Bass and Caruso ready?