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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Is The Price Right In L.A.'s 9th District?

Danielle Tarasiuk |
March 13, 2013 | 1:44 a.m. PDT

Executive Producer


Danielle Tarasiuk/ Neon Tommy
Danielle Tarasiuk/ Neon Tommy
“I say Curren, you say Price!” shouted Mark Ridley-Thomas, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, to a crowd spilling out of a cramped office in a strip mall in South L.A. 

“Curren!” Ridley-Thomas shouted again.

“Price!” the crowd chanted back. 



As the shouting continued, Curren Price appeared from a back corner of the room and walked up next to Ridley-Thomas. With a smile on his face, he moved his gaze from the floor to the crowd. 

“Well, if the Price is right,” Price jokingly said.  

The crowd celebrating the opening of Price’s campaign headquarters, cheered and clapped. 

Price is a California state senator who is in the run-off for the Los Angeles City Council seat for District 9, which covers most of South L.A. and parts of downtown. 

He is a career politician who belongs to an African-American political class that has dominated South L.A. for decades, said Fernando Guerra, director of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University. 

“For over 50 years there has been an African-American political class that has won elections in that area,” Guerra said. 

Price’s high-profile supporters reflect his roots within that African-American political class. At the opening for his campaign headquarters, attendees included U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson and Ridley-Thomas.

Price, who was born and raised in South L.A., has been a city councilman in Inglewood, a California State Assembly member, and a member of the California State Senate. But his political career started long before his first term as a government official.

When Price was 14 years old, his parents divorced and he moved from South L.A. to Inglewood with his mother and older brother. There he enrolled at Morningside High School, where he received high grades. 

His first brush with politics came in 1967 when he became the first African-American in his school’s history to be voted as junior class president and student body president. 

Inglewood—predominantly African American and Latino today—was then, in the 60s, mostly white, Price said. 

“African Americans started moving into (Inglewood) and there was some resistance,” Price said. “There was a white flight phenomena occurring. Real estate agents would go into an area and say ‘Hey, a black family is going to move in here—you better sell while the property values are still good.’”

Curren Price with long time South L.A. resident, Ophelia Hill, 97/ Danielle Tarasiuk
Curren Price with long time South L.A. resident, Ophelia Hill, 97/ Danielle Tarasiuk
Upon graduating from high school, Price was offered a scholarship to attend Stanford University. He graduated in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He then went on to law school at Santa Clara University. After law school, Price had a relatively brief stint working in the telecommunications industry before his move to politics.

Throughout Price’s political career he has consistently stressed the importance of job creation and economic development. In Inglewood he was the chair of the City Council Community Economic Development Committee. Today he continues to focus on jobs as well as manufacturing opportunities and factory spaces already available in the 9th District. 

“For several years I worked for the small business administration,” Price said. “I have lots of experience providing technical assistance to business, helping them to grow.”

During his campaign for city council, Price benefited from nearly half a million dollars in independent expenditures—about 20 times more than his opponent, Ana Cubas, and more than any other candidate running for a city council position. Cubas finished just three percentage points behind Price in the primaries. 

“It’s typical American politics,” Guerra said. “Money is important, so he is going to raise money. There were independent expenditure committees created on his behalf. He’s very well known, liked—he’s been around for a long time, so he is going to get that support.” 

Guerra noted that special interests groups were supporting Price’s campaign, such as The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and Working Californians, which is supported by labor unions and business. 

“Will they have access to him after the election? Yes,” Guerra said. “Will they determine his vote? Well, I think they will influence his vote. But if you take a look at his time in Inglewood he was pretty independent.”

District 9 is one of the most impoverished areas in Los Angeles, historically underfunded and underserved. Price said he saw the large amount of donations as a positive sign. 

“People see South L.A. as a battle ground for real change,” Price said about the large sum of money his campaign received. “And they have confidence to bring that change about.”

Cubas said that she did not see the half a million dollars in independent expenditures as a sign of hope, rather she said it was a sign of potential trouble.

“Curren Price is the biggest beneficiary of independent expenditures,” Cubas said. “And I’m concerned that special interests are trying to buy this election.” 

Despite Price’s financial advantage, one of his greatest obstacles will be reconnecting with a community that has changed drastically since he was a teenager. South L.A. has traditionally had a majority African American population, but in recent years the demographics have shifted. South L.A. is now 56 percent Latino and 38 percent African American. 

Jon Healey from The Los Angeles Times wrote that the final vote that will decide between Price and Cubas will come down to race and politics—issues that Price is familiar with.

As Price goes door-to-door asking for the community’s support on the day of the primary elections, he makes sure to take a Spanish-speaking campaign worker. 

Price, after knocking several times, was about to give up on a little yellow home next to the freeway, when a man opened the door just enough to peek out. Speaking in broken English, the man tried to ask Price what he wanted. 

The Spanish-speaking campaign worker came rushing up the block after parking the car. Slightly out of breath the campaign worker spoke with the man in Spanish, while Price smiled and stood towering over the two. 

The man looking at Price and then back to the campaign worker, promised to vote later in the afternoon when his wife returned from work. But he never promised to vote for Price. 

Price then shook his hand and thanked him with the few Spanish words he knew. 


Email Danielle Tarasiuk here or follow her on Twitter. 



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