After years of swinging left, Los Angeles is in the midst of a transition.
The nation has been ruled by the right, but Los Angeles is redefining what it means to be progressive, as if Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had spawned a new breed of youthful resistance to old norms.
Take the ouster last month of Councilman Gil Cedillo, a former union leader and state legislator who authored California’s Dream Act and wrote legislation qualifying undocumented immigrants for driver’s licenses, both of which were controversial left-wing ventures.
Cedillo was defeated by community activist Eunisses Hernandez, who came at him from the left with a platform that included a call to get rid of the LA Police Department. Don’t scale back, but abolish it and put all that money into solving the social and economic problems that drive crime.
On the Westside, which was in turmoil over crime and homelessness in and around Venice, the most important voter for the city council was not a hardliner. It was attorney Erin Darling, who was joined by outgoing councilman Mike Bonin, one of the city’s most liberal politicians.
In another race, Councilor Mitch O’Farrell – who is gay, Native American and considered by some to be a liberal Democrat – was forced into a runoff with fewer votes than Labor leader Hugo Soto-Martinez. The challenger, dubbed a “comrade” by the LA chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, told me he believed O’Farrell grossly mishandled the police-backed eviction of the Echo Park Lake homeless camp and might as well be a Republican.
In the race for city controller, Kenneth Mejia, a former Green Party member who tweeted in the last presidential campaign that he would not waste his vote on Joe Biden, “a rapist and a racist,” is the leading voter going into the November runoff Mejia had almost twice as many votes in the primary as Councilman Paul Koretz, who as an old guard Democrat from LA is an endangered species.
Hernandez, Soto-Martinez and Mejia are in their 30s, which seems to have helped, and have never held office, which also seems to have helped.
In the mayoral race, shopping mogul Rick Caruso seemed timingly right to lead an anti-crime campaign, calling for more cops and cleaning the streets of homelessness, because much of LA was excited about both. But even though the former Republican invested $40 million in the cause, the former Republican trailed Democrat Rep. Karen Bass by 7 percentage points in the primary.
And yet, despite years of social justice and racial inclusion activism, Bass has been attacked by the left. Gina Viola, a police abolitionist who received 7% of the vote in her run for mayor, told The Times’ Julia Wick that Bass will not gain the support of her supporters without moving further to the left on policing and homelessness.
So what’s going on here?
There is no short answer, and appearances can be deceiving, especially in a primary. The results could tip in November.
It’s also worth noting that George Gascón, LA County’s very permissive district attorney, may be recalled. And let’s not forget that in the city of Los Angeles, 7 out of 10 voters didn’t bother to cast a vote, so we’re working with a small sample. I should also mention that for some who voted against Cedillo or O’Farrell, the motive was performance rather than politics.
Local left-wing icon Jackie Goldberg, an LA Unified School Board member and longtime official, believes a left-fracture wave is rolling over the city, but not a tsunami.
“There’s a group of young people who, like young people in the ’60s, say, ‘You call yourselves progressives?'” Goldberg said. “They’re pushing to the left, but that’s by no means the majority of Democrats.”
But there’s no denying that many dedicated young voters are fed up with decades of problems left unsolved by seasoned politicians. And undoubtedly, with much groundwork and the advantages of social media, the new left is taking on the old left and the establishment.
Soto-Martinez, an admirer of Sanders, told me that young people have united around income inequality, racism, climate change, homelessness and police brutality that led to Black Lives Matter.
“The coming together of all these movements is driving this,” Soto-Martinez said.
A fruit seller’s son told me when he was a Jordan High 10th-A class teacher laid out the essence of socialism and capitalism without using these labels and asked the students to choose one or the other.
“She described socialism as more equal, with roughly equal wages for everyone and less choice of consumer goods, but you are all treated equally, without meritocracy,” Soto-Martinez said.
He and all but two of the roughly 35 students lined up in the socialism corner, Soto-Martinez said. Under capitalism, he added, which worked for the eligible few, “people like us were screwed and it was good because we were poor.”
Twenty years later, he said, the same barriers to college, health care and economic opportunity still exist. And although years ago his parents were able to buy a house with their income as a seller, for many professionals of his generation, home ownership is unaffordable.
In fact, most LA residents are renters, and a map of mayoral votes suggests that Bass dominated in tenant-heavy neighborhoods, while Caruso dominated in San Fernando’s homeowner-dominated neighborhoods. With rents rising and wages stagnating for many, the financial strain makes political change more attractive, especially for young people.
“The situation that we were in as high school students is now being perceived by a broader group of people,” Soto-Martinez said.
The establishment is watching this awakening closely and is somewhat weary of what one observer has dubbed the absolutists.
For example, I know from experience that you will be attacked on social media if you consider the concerns of the accommodated as well as the needs of the non-accommodated, or suggest that it is better to try to provide safe transitional housing for the homeless than to stand by , as they suffer, die and become victims of crime while awaiting permanent housing.
In a recent speech to the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, Councilor Paul Krekorian was outspoken when he brought up the issue of homelessness, which has made him a punching bag for the far left.
“Like so many other issues, this one has become so demagogic,” Krekorian said, as reported by LA Magazine’s Jon Regardie. “Everyone in public life now has to make a choice – either you support the homeless, which means everything is allowed and you can live where you want and there will never be any restrictions on what you can do. Or if you don’t have that position, you just seem to believe in criminalizing homelessness. This is an absurd, wrong choice.”
Krekorian told me that his speech was mostly about national and local politics, which is more driven by the extreme right and extreme left, and that too many people are on the fringes.
“Abolishing the police is something most people in Los Angeles don’t agree with,” he told me.
Probably not, although most people probably wouldn’t mind seeing fresh blood and new ideas on the city council. And building a bigger tent is fine, said Mark Gonzalez, leader of the LA County Democratic Party — which supported Cedillo and O’Farrell. But he, too, feels the sting of young critics on his left flank, who “like to portray me as an establishment because I’m in that role.”
Gonzalez, himself a youngster at 37, says he’s been working on numerous progressive reforms since he was 16. He said he was ready to ally with the new activist-turned-politician for common goals. But he said there had been a tendency among some members of the socialist movement to be disruptive rather than constructive.
Goldberg said she reveres the spirit of the Socialist local and considers herself a comrade, but hopes they don’t go too far. Abolishing the police is not the right message right now, she said. Better to stick with police reform and invest more in all issues that lead to crime, which is why Bass wholeheartedly supports it.
“If they chose not to support Karen in the runoff, it would be catastrophic — a complete disaster — and we will never forgive them if they cause her to lose,” Goldberg said. “Second, if they do that, they’re going to take themselves out of the game in Los Angeles.”
Wise advice, from one generation to the next.
But when have hurt, idealistic youth, fueled by the spirit of rebellion and the smell of victory, ever listened to their elders?
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-07-09/lopez-column-new-left-rattled-old-left-la-primary Lopez: Activists push L.A. to the left, targeting old guard