L.A.’s Mayoral Candidates Vie For African American Votes
Chrystal Lee wasn’t shy about asking L.A. City Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Jan Perry and L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to pose for a photo with her two daughters, Sarah, 16 and Love, 5 months.
“It’s Martin Luther King’s birthday, and we have the Presidential inauguration,” Lee said. “Not only that, but we have Jan Perry and Jackie Lacey here. So that’s history on top of history on top of history. This is something I had to do to create a memory for my girls.”
Lee was one of about 400 attendees at the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast hosted by the San Fernando Valley African American Leadership Organization in the gym of the Pacoima Boys and Girls Club.
Lacey, the first woman and first African American to serve as D.A., was the keynote speaker at this morning’s event and as San Fernando Valley African American Leadership Organization president Robert Winn introduced her, he described how proud Martin Luther King Jr. might be today to see the diversity of local elected officials. He highlighted the important role African Americans play in L.A. politics.
He’s right. According to Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at California State University, Los Angeles and author of "Politics in Black and White: Race and Power in Los Angeles,” African Americans have played a significant role in Los Angeles politics in recent decades.
“The African American vote was the core of the rise of liberal politics in Los Angeles,” Sonenshein said.
In mayoral elections, like the one that will decide Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s successor this spring, the African American vote is especially important. Though only about one in ten Angelenos is African American, Sonenshein said, “After [Mayor Tom Bradley’s] five terms, the candidate who wins a majority of the black vote—with one exception, Richard Riordan—has won the election.”
For Chrystal Lee the choice in the upcoming mayoral election is obvious.
“When I heard that [Jan Perry] was running for mayor—oh my god—that just made my heart happy,” she said.
Lee dislikes Villaraigosa as a mayor because, as she sees it, “He only has his political interests at heart, he’s not really concerned about what’s going on.”
By contrast, Lee said, “Any time the community is having any [event] I always see [Jan Perry] there and I like that. I like that she’s an easily accessible person. She’s really down-to-earth. She’s a likable person.”
If Jan Perry is elected, she will be the second African American and the first woman to serve as the city’s mayor. Perry emphasizes that she is campaigning to all Angelenos though, saying she wants votes based on her track record as a City Councilwoman and that she wants black voters to know, “Your voices will be heard, as will everyone’s voice.”
Robert Winn supports Jan Perry for mayor too. However, he said members of his organization, which represents black churches, businesses, and community organizations in the Valley, have varying opinions on the election.
“We’re trying to elect the best person—if they’re not African American, so be it. As long as they’re representing the diversity of the community, that’s what we’re mostly concerned about,” Winn said, adding that he doesn’t want only black politicians in office, but a group of leaders that represents L.A.’s entire population.
If Jan Perry doesn’t make the final run off for mayor following the March 5 primary, Winn said he will support City Councilman Eric Garcetti. “Eric represents every diverse corner of the city,” he said.
Sonenshein said Garcetti is leading among Latino voters and tends to appeal to a multiracial constituency. Garcetti made nods to both African American and Latino communities when he spoke at the Empowerment Congress Summit Mayoral Candidates Forum at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Saturday, taking time to acknowledge Martin Luther King Day and President Obama’s inauguration during his opening remarks then sending out a “thank you” in Spanish during his closing statement. He also marched in the annual Kingdom Day Parade in South L.A. on Saturday morning.
City Controller and mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel did not attend any local Martin Luther King Day events today because she had to go out of town for family reasons. However, her campaign has not lost sight of reaching out to African Americans. She recently opened a field office on Crenshaw Blvd. in South L.A. and lists over 70 African American endorsements on the “African Americans with Wendy” section of her campaign website.
Sonenshein pointed out that Greuel often refers to her early political career working for Tom Bradley, the first, and to-date only, African American mayor of Los Angeles, when campaigning in South L.A.
As of now, Garcetti and Greuel lead the race in terms of fund raising and poll numbers. After the March 5 primary, if no candidate has a clear majority of votes, the top two candidates will participate in a run off election on May 21.
Perry currently leads among African American voters, but if she doesn’t make the run off, Sonenshein said whoever gets the endorsements from African American elected officials like City Councilman Bernard Parks, County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, or Congresswoman Maxine Waters will have a better shot at L.A.’s African American votes.
Reach Staff Reporter Katherine Davis here.