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Race to replace Ridley-Thomas draws large field

LOS ANGELES — A race that could alter the political power base of South Los Angeles for many years to come will take place next year when county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas gives up his 2nd District seat on the Board of Supervisors because of term limits.

Although actual filing for the race won’t begin until November and the primary is still six months away, three seasoned politicians have already begun raising money for the campaign and five other people also have filed paperwork to begin raising campaign funds for the position.

The county Board of Supervisors is one of the most powerful positions in California politics. Each of the five members on the board represents a district that has more than two million people.

Ridley-Thomas, a former Los Angeles City Councilman, who also served in both house of the state Legislature, is one of the most powerful black politicians in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, state Sen. Holly Mitchell and former Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry are already raising money and seeking endorsements for the race.

The primary election will be held March 3, 2020. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in the primary, the top two vote-getters will face off in the general election Nov. 3, 2020.

The 2nd District has the highest poverty rate, the highest unemployment rate and the lowest median income rate in the county’s five districts.

Besides Wesson, Mitchell and Perry, political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson, community activist Sharis Rhodes, community health worker Marisol Cruz, local attorney Chan Yon “Jake” Yeong and Fred Wimberley have also announced their candidacy.

Mitchell, Perry and Wesson have the highest chance of winning the election, said Zev Yaroslavsky, a former supervisor for the 3rd District.

“I think it’s going to be a horse race,” said Yaroslavsky, now the director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.

Wesson served as speaker of the state Assembly before he joined the City Council. 

Mitchell serves as the chair of the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, which means — in her words —she has direct experience of managing a budget of “the fifth largest economy in the world.”

Perry represented the Ninth District on the City Council for 12 years. In 2013, she ran for mayor in a race won by Eric Garcetti.

Perry has already raised more than $500,000 for the campaign. 

“She’s surprised some people with the amount of money she’s raised,” Yaroslavsky said.

Housing and homelessness figure to be major issues as the campaign heats up.

Mitchell hopes to adapt the housing first approach, a strategy first developed in Utah that prioritizes shelter over proving homeless individuals are sober.

Perry wants to ensure protections for tenants beyond rent control, such as due process and relocation assistance.

Rhodes, who has emphasized her own experiences with homelessness in her campaign, aims to develop rehabilitation programs for homeless persons who experience physical or mental abuse. 

Yeong wants to decrease the cost of building affordable housing through the use of “modular models.” His aim is to decrease the cost of individual units and the time taken to build them.

For most candidates, issues of affordable housing and homelessness are multi-pronged.

Rent increases are commonplace in Los Angeles, while wages do not increase at the same rate.

At a time when college degrees are increasingly necessary to secure work, more than 52% of 2nd District residents do not have a college education of any kind, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

When youth programs, quality education and job opportunities are lacking, a community facing increased economic desperation will see an increase in crime.

To address economic opportunity, Perry and Mitchell want to connect residents to job opportunities in growing industries, such as manufacturing, bioscience, logistics and technology. Similarly, Wesson wants to create a county level program that seeks out entry-level jobs for the disadvantaged and develop technical job training opportunities for those without college degrees.

Most of the candidates aim to tackle domestic violence. Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro, 

professor of political science at USC, said that domestic violence is often a push factor for homelessness.

“Women are often pushed into homelessness when they don’t have any other alternative in leaving an abusive relationship,” Hancock Alfaro said.

“Women are more likely to stay in abusive relationships if they don’t have someplace else to go. When you add the housing crunch on top of that, there are far fewer beds, and there are particularly far fewer beds for women with children.”

Hancock Alfaro, who concluded research on women of color and affordable housing, said that public policy must address three things in concert with each other — child care, affordable housing, and race-gender pay equity.

Resolving equity alone means that women of color may get extra income to put toward rent, or toward child care, but not both.

Long a bastion of male political power, there is a possibility the election could result in the first all-women county board of supervisors in American history. Currently, the other four board members are women.

Hancock-Alfaro stated that with an elected female supervisor in the 2nd District seat, let alone an all-female board, Los Angeles County could see a change in governmental approaches to such problems.

An end to political corruption became a campaign call among some candidates. In a February announcement of Perry’s entrance in the race, former Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks announced his endorsement of Perry, citing her integrity as a means to “combat the criminal element” present in public service and their shared attempts to “cut out City Hall corruption at its root.”

For some first time candidates, this call is a larger factor of their campaign.

Rhodes states on her website that she aims to end political corruption. 

Jeong wants information about government spending broken down and made available to the public.

Hutchinson, who is running a grassroots campaign, aims to have complete transparency in both spending records and meetings held by public officials.

Hutchinson said that a desire to end political corruption, whether it be on the local level or the national stage, is precisely what gives political outsiders their appeal.

“One of the major things I’m running on is very simple — open books, open meetings, open doors,” Hutchinson said. “There will be no contracts that nobody knows about with taxpayer money to friends, relatives and political acquaintances, cronies and developers. There will be no secrecy whatsoever. Everything will be open and accountable.”

Ridley-Thomas has not announced his endorsement of any candidate and did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.

By Aryn Plax

Contributing Writer