Who is Reelecting Mitch O’Farrell? New GIS Map Shows Contributions by Zip to Reelection Campaign for 2022

An analysis of data from the L.A. Ethics Commission shows that at least 75% of funds for Mitch O’Farrell’s reelection campaign for Council District 13 (CD-13) in 2022 are from outside of District 13. At the end of 2020, O’Farrell’s office reported a total of just under $110,000 in funds for his reelection campaign. CD-13, made up of Atwater Village, East Hollywood, Echo Park, Elysian Valley, Glassell Park, Historic Filipinotown, Hollywood, Little Armenia, parts of Koreatown, Thai Town and Silver Lake, is up for an election on June 7, 2022.

The choropleth map below, shaded from light to dark-red to highlight least to largest quantities, shows which zip codes have contributed the most dollar sums to Mitch O’Farrell’s reelection campaign in 2022 as of December 31st, 2020.

Zip codes on the choropleth map represent donations in aggregated sums, meaning that zip codes do not represent individual households, but the total sum of donations from different households within the given zip code.

Council District 13 is roughly contained on the map by the red 90068 and medium red 90028 segments to the west, the dark-red 90026 segment to the south-east, the red 90065 segment to the north-east, and the medium red 90039 and 90027 segments in the center. All other segments highlighted on the map around these “flank” segments are not a part of CD-13 but are segments containing donors to the 2022 campaign.

Donors within Council District 13 and donors not within the district marked and separated by a yellow line.

Zip codes for Council District 13 are: 90004, ranging from Rampart Village to Hancock Park; 90026, where Silver Lake and Elysian Valley are based; 90027, including Little Armenia and parts of Los Feliz; 90028, or the Hollywood area; 90029, where East Hollywood and Thai Town are located; 90038, representing Melrose Hill through Hollywood up to La Brea; 90039, spanning from north of Elysian Heights through Atwater Village; 90057, including Historic Filipinotown; 90065, for Glassell Park; and 90068, for the Hollywood Hills.

While households in zip codes for Echo Park, Glassell Park, and Hollywood form the top three areas for donations to Mitch O’Farrell’s reelection campaign with nearly $17,000 between them, fourth in contributions are households from 90210 ($4,200), where Beverly Hills is based. The only zip code in the 13th district not listed for donations to the reelection campaign was 90029 (let’s keep it this way, East Hollywood).

Households in area 90210, or Beverly Hills, donated at least $4,200 to Mitch O’Farrell’s reelection campaign for CD-13 in 2022.

To the west of Hollywood, only ten zip codes, not including 90210, contributed nearly $15,000 to O’Farrell’s reelection campaign in the roughly two months since the Council Member announced his intention to run for his third term as CD-13’s representative. O’Farrell publicized his intention to run for a third term at the helm of the 13th district in an email to constituents as early as November 2020.

Only 10 of roughly 20 zip codes west of Hollywood donated $15,000 for Mitch O’Farrell’s 2022 reelection campaign for the office of CD-13.

A total of 83 zip codes reflecting just under 200 donations for O’Farrell’s reelection were included in the analysis, including zip codes from as far out as Westport, Connecticut ($250), West Bradford Township, Pennsylvania ($1,600), and even Washington D.C. ($500). Find the Excel sheet for donors listed from highest to lowest here.

O’Farrell’s pool of “outsider” funds for reelection in 2022 virtually mirrors the rate of “outside” donors for his campaign when he ran for his second term for the office from 2016 – 2017. The Los Feliz Ledger reported in 2016 that nearly 75% of donations in support of O’Farrell’s second bid for office came from outside of the district.

Challengers to O’Farrell’s incumbency in 2017
also called attention to the Council Member’s fealty for outside money. Local housing activist and Neighborhood Council aficionado, Doug Haines, was quoted as saying:

“It’s not just development or planning. Mitch has isolated himself from the people he is sworn to serve.”

Doug Haines, East Hollywood Neighborhood Council

A month after O’Farrell won his second term for CD-13 in 2017, an investigation of donations to O’Farrell’s first campaign for the 13th district in 2013 led to real estate investor Leeor Maciborski being fined $17,000 for a number of discreet donations to O’Farrell from limited liability companies (LLCs).

Maciborski exceeded the $700 limit at the time–now $800–for individual donors by at least $3,000. According to the L.A. Times, who originally uncovered the discreet donations, Maciborski was tied to several apartment buildings in both the East Hollywood and Los Feliz areas. He was not listed among O’Farrell’s donors list as of the end of 2020.

But accounting for just under $15,000 for O’Farrell’s 2022 campaign are at least 24 other donors identifying themselves as real estate developers or investors. Zip codes listed for these donors were as far north as Santa Clarita, and as close to the coast as Manhattan Beach.

Households in area 90266, or Manhattan Beach, donated at least $2050 to Mitch O’Farrell’s reelection campaign for CD-13 in 2022.

In 2019, after FBI agents raided former Council Member Jose Huizar’s home in a bribery scheme between him and a downtown real estate mogul, L.A. City Council voted to ban real estate developers from donating to candidates for political office while their projects are pending approval from the council. However, the ordinance was called a “skeleton” of what was originally proposed by groups focused on getting money out of politics, and does not actually go into effect until after the 2022 elections.

This “late start” for the light restrictions on donations from realtors is a major part of why virtually all of the incumbents at L.A. City Hall for elections in 2022 are enjoying major head starts in finance against their challengers, ranging from tens of thousands more to hundreds of thousands of more dollars to spend on ads, mailing campaigns, and staff. At the end of 2020, the only other candidate in the race for CD-13 who reported raising funds, Albert Corado, listed just slightly over $11,000 for his upstart campaign against O’Farrell. As Rob Quan, of the Unrig L.A. organization once put it:

“Developer money tends to follow the people holding power, not the people challenging power.”

Rob Quan, Unrig L.A.

It’s for this reason that conspicuously absent from the O’Farrell reelection campaign’s donation list are people who actually live in the 13th district but are exceedingly priced out of its boundaries and Los Angeles altogether, including bus-drivers, cooks, nannies, hotel maintenance workers, people representing street-vendors, tenants unions, teachers, food and retail workers, immigrant rights coalitions, advocacy groups for the unhoused, and more; or the kinds of people police officers didn’t hesitate to forcibly remove from Echo Park at Mitch O’Farrell’s direction this past March 25th.

Mitch O’Farrell has held the office for CD-13 since 2013, and is now seeking his third and final term as the district’s representative for L.A. City Hall. The previous Council Member for the seat, Eric Garcetti, held the office from 2001 – 2013. Support for our map was provided by friends at the Institute of Digital Education and Research at UCLA.

J.T.

EPISODE 51 – ECHO PARK SUN RISING

For the 51st episode of our podcast, notes on the recent spate of attacks against Asian American & Pacific Islander communities, the assault on Echo Park by L.A. City Council Member Mitch O’Farrell’s office, and the importance of events at Echo Park this month for City Council District 13 going into the district’s biggest election ever in 2022.

J.T.

Crash Course: L.A.’s Neighborhood Councils and the 2021 NC Elections

We are officially one week away from the first candidate filing deadline of the 2021 Neighborhood Council (NC) elections. To coincide with my interview on J.T. The L.A. Storyteller Podcast, I’d like to share some additional information for people interested in getting involved with L.A.’s unique Neighborhood Council system.

In the East Hollywood area, which is a part of Region 5, their candidate filing deadline is on December 28th, 2020.

Each week after, there’ll be another regional candidate filing deadline. I’ll explain more about all of this later, but just know these deadlines are coming fast! You can find them all by region HERE.

I plan to update my Twitter thread on the Neighborhood Council system regularly and I encourage readers to drop questions, resources, and updates of their own there. I’ll do my best to answer questions and ensure accuracy, but we should always double check with the election admins on the technical stuff. But here is the low-down.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: WHAT IS AN NC?


There have been countless ways people have described and explained NCs. Here’s a great one from a community source @LAPaysAttention. And if you want the “official” description of NCs, you can find it here from the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE).

With that said, as someone who once served as an Independent Election Administrator for NC elections and recently as a Neighborhood Council Advocate at DONE, here’s my best, relatively brief of the who, what, why, and how of NCs.

WHY DO NCs EXIST?


Neighborhood Councils exist, in large part, because L.A. City is huge and governed by only 15 City Council Members who have historically refused to share their power equitably with the community groups and residents who have been demanding it for decades. L.A. has arguably the most powerful City Council in the nation (maybe not pound-for-pound; Vernon comes to mind).

“When it comes to having a say over what happens in their districts and in the lives of LA’s four million residents, they have a huge impact.”


NCs were created, in part, as a response to specific demands to actually change the power structure, for example, by adding more City Council members, or curbing formal powers like the ability to approve land-use exemptions, and so on. But over time, the way NCs have generally operated (along with the fact that NCs were created while more systemic changes were not dealt with) has led many to believe that NCs do no more than placate a large swath of people who don’t know what type of change is really needed. This would have been a fair critique even at the inception of NCs, but it did not have to play out as it has, and opportunities to make them better for the future remain available.

So to recap, NCs were created (and now exist), in theory, to flatten the power structure in L.A. City government and make it more accessible for everyday people. For many reasons, NCs very clearly have not helped us get closer to achieving this goal. But, as I said, this does not mean they cannot be improved to this going forward. 

WHAT ARE NCs?

NCs are quasi-government bodies made up entirely of volunteers. Some volunteers serve as formal board members, either elected by voters or appointed by other board members. Others serve as committee members, liaisons, or representatives, all of whom are only ever appointed by board members. Committee members, liaisons, and representatives generally also have less of a time commitment. 

There are 99 NCs throughout L.A. City proper and they do not cover independent cities like Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and others nearby. Each NC has slightly different rules, structures, and board seats, but they are all bound by a “hierarchy of laws,” from the U.S. Constitution at the top, all the way down to NC bylaws, which are the rules set by the NCs themselves.

Contrary to popular belief, they do not report to, and are not subordinate to any City entity, including the Mayor’s office, the L.A. City Council, or even DONE.

“They are, like the L.A. City Council, beholden only to the stakeholders/voters they serve.”


Like the L.A. City Council, their actions and goals are constrained by an L.A. City bureaucracy (most notably, DONE) and the Office of the City Attorney, each of which have the ability to stifle NC actions if they don’t comport with the aforementioned hierarchy of laws.

Unlike the L.A. City Council, NCs do not have their own staff (at least in any meaningful sense) and, except for their own very modest budgets (recently as little as $32K/year), they cannot command or direct city resources, including employees. As a result, in order for them to do any work, they have to rely almost entirely on themselves and other volunteers.

HOW DO NCs WORK? 

NCs are all about “soft” power, and the people who believe in soft power. For example, if someone asked you if the Vice President of the US is powerful, and you answer that they are not, then the NC system is probably not your type of governing tool. In other words, if you’re the kind of person who thinks that formal or “hard” power is the be-all and end-all, then you will find NCs endlessly frustrating and unworthy of your time.

Examples of soft power in the NC system are credibility, networks, and public pressure through convening power granted to NCs by the Brown Act (more on this specific facet later). 

If you’re familiar with NCs, you’ve probably heard they don’t make final decisions on City policy or actions, or they are just advisory. This is correct. It’s easy to lament how unfortunate that is for NCs, but it’s better, in my opinion, to recognize the fact that there are still many opportunities to influence the key processes in City government if you’re willing to create and use your power.

Per the L.A. City Charter, NCs have been tasked with the following mandate:

“[to] promote more citizen participation in government and make government more responsive to local needs.”


So, what dynamic does this create for NCs? The view that I hold, along with many others (including many of the founders of this system), is that NCs are supposed to be a counterbalance to the all-powerful L.A. City Council, or that they are supposed to be their adversaries. 

But this is generally not how NCs have functioned over the last two decades. On the contrary, many NCs have consistently supported their L.A. City Council members wholesale, and some have even carried water for L.A. City Council members’ agendas. 

Sure, NCs can partner with L.A. City Council Members and align with them from time to time, depending on the situation. But it’s certainly not supposed to be a system where NCs are subservient to City Council or government agencies biased towards the L.A. City Council which determines the NC budgets.

So, the short answer to the question of how NCs effect change is that they have to be willing to challenge the existing power structures. If they’re not doing that, then they’re perpetuating a very precarious and even immoral status quo. This is also because–if it fits neatly under the “how” of NCs–of something known as the Brown Act.

Because it’s so important to how NCs work, here’s a quick note on the Brown Act. The Brown Act is a California law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies, including NC meetings. It has other provisions that govern communications between local elected officials, but the open meetings facet is the most relevant here. 

If you ask an NC board member what they think of the Brown Act, 99% of them will tell you 99% of the time (when they aren’t feeling particularly enthusiastic) that they view it as an onerous obligation they simply have to put up with. 

They are mostly right that abiding by the Brown Act is tedious (especially the ways in which the City Attorney tends to rigidly interpret it–at least for NCs). However, the Brown Act actually endows NCs with one of their most important powers: their public convening power.

“In fact, the Brown Act is what separates NCs from Homeowners Associations (HOAs).”


Whereas HOAs provide no guarantee that the public is welcome to attend their meetings or that, once they attend, they will be heard, the Brown Act explicitly guarantees that NCs must provide such opportunities.  Again, for many, this seems like a burden. But it’s actually a very good thing. When the NC calls a meeting, it’s inviting the whole community. That implicit invitation is one of the few advantages NCs have over non-government organizations.

WHO ARE THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE UP THE NC SYSTEM? 


Okay, so now that you know that NCs are made up entirely of volunteers, it’s useful to note that the NC system also offers what is arguably the most inclusive form of democracy this side of the galaxy. Their rules are as such that they allow for people to serve and vote regardless of their citizenship status or felony conviction status. And most NCs allow people to serve as young as 14 years old! 

Traditionally, NCs have been dominated by residents of a given neighborhood, many of whom are, disproportionately, the well-to-do, home-owning residents. This makes a lot of sense at first. The people who are most interested in affecting (and let’s be honest, it’s often “protecting”) their neighborhood are usually people who have a significant stake in it, as well as people who have the time and the means to do so. That wealthy people want to protect their neighborhoods is not surprising. This dominance by homeowners is one of many reasons why people have accused NCs of being glorified HOAs.

Ultimately, though, what’s the difference between someone who’s lived in a community for 25 years as a homeowner or 25 years as a renter? The short answer is wealth. Both groups have significant stakes in their communities and both care about them, but wealth affords homeowners the opportunity and capacity to participate in NCs at much higher rates. 

This doesn’t make it right. And it doesn’t have to be this way. Renters and unhoused residents often can serve in most of the same seats occupied by homeowners. And I’d argue we have a democratic imperative to demand they serve at rates at least commensurate with their numbers in the NC area more generally, which could help ensure that perspectives of those most often marginalized are better heard in this system and at L.A. City Hall than they have been historically. 

NCs also have significant numbers of seats open to people who have other, non-resident stakes in their communities, including seats for employees in a given area, business owners, students, and other folks. All NCs are required to have at least one seat that is open to all stakeholder types, which is usually called the “community interest” seat, but it can also be an “at-large” seat.

The existence and number of seats on a given NC have created some interesting NC elections, sometimes resulting in “takeovers” by those who organized specifically on behalf of special interests like a business or a charter school.  

NC ELECTIONS


NC elections are administered by LA City Clerk. This means they’re the ones you’re working with to file as a candidate for, or vote in, NC elections. They also have the final decision-making authority over election disputes. 

However, DONE and the City Attorney play important roles as well, including, but not limited to:

  1. Helping L.A. City Clerk sort out inconsistencies in bylaws, which affect who is eligible to run for certain seats, among other things.
  2. Recruiting panel members to hear and decide election disputes.
  3. Promoting NC elections so people actually know they’re happening. 

But the L.A. City Clerk does not really have a dedicated outreach effort for NC elections so most of the work falls on DONE and individual NCs to do this. 

ELIGIBILITY TO RUN AS AN NC CANDIDATE

  1. If you want to run as a candidate, first things first, you have to find your NC. You can do that HERE.
  2. You should research your NC’s bylaws, which you can find HERE.

Your NC’s bylaws will describe what qualifications you need for a given seat. This information is found in each bylaws’ “Attachment B,” but descriptions and qualifications aren’t always clear. However, L.A. City Clerk does a good job of prompting you throughout the candidate filing process for what you need to satisfy the given requirements. You can find the various City Clerk Election Administrators HERE. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them with any questions.

REMEMBER

  1. Your residence is just one way to establish stakeholder status. Depending on the seat type, you may also qualify based on where you work, where you go to school, even where you volunteer, among other things.
  2. Some NCs have sub-districts, so if you want to run for one of those seats, you’ll have to do more research about which one you qualify for.
  3.  ALL NCs are required to have at least one seat that is open to all stakeholder types.
  4. Find the seat that best suits your vision, both as an area of focus (e.g. as a “Business Rep”, if applicable to your NC) and who you may want to run with (e.g. as a slate). 

SOME NOTES ON YOUR CAMPAIGN AND GETTING OUT THE VOTE


Being registered to vote with L.A. County, that is, for regular elections, does not automatically prove you are eligible to run for a seat or even vote in your NC’s elections.

“And unfortunately, the NC voting systems run by the L.A. City Clerk don’t communicate with the voting systems at the L.A. County’s office, so you now have to submit qualifications to the L.A. City Clerk to prove your eligibility to vote or run for a seat.”


In past NC elections, voter registration was almost always done in-person, on election day and at polling sites (online voting and the very rare vote-by-mail elections excepted). Pre-registration has rarely been used. However, due to the health crisis this year, the NCs 2021 elections will be done entirely through vote-by-mail.

“Everyone will have to pre-register and prove their voter eligibility (which varies by NC and by ballot type–not all voters get the same ballots, depending on your stakeholder status) to receive a VBM ballot. “


Another important note about NC voting: Voter registration does not carry over from election to election. This means even if you’ve voted for NC elections before, you have to re-register every election. This is a huge pain for voters who have to prove their eligibility every election cycle, but, for better or worse, there are legitimate reasons they have to do this. I also have many thoughts on how to improve this, with small compromises, but that’s a conversation for another day.

KEY DATES


NC election dates are separated by region. This means there are different dates in each region for voting deadlines, candidate filing windows, results certifications, etc. Remember, in an all vote-by-mail election, the election date is really an election window with a final deadline. There is no one day that people vote.

The L.A. City Clerk’s office presents info in a way to focus people on their regional deadlines, but that also makes it hard to find info in one place. You can find your respective region HERE.

Also, the L.A. City Clerk’s reasoning for separating the elections by region rather than holding everything on the same dates is ultimately administrative, claiming they need to extend out the dates to make the elections easier to manage. But one could argue that if the clerk’s office had the resources, they could easily manage this process with one set of dates; so it’s ultimately about whether or not they ask for, and then receive those resources. 

As mentioned, these dates are coming up fast, so if you’re considering running, get started now. 

SOME FINAL NOTES ON RUNNING FOR A SEAT

While the filing deadlines are hard deadlines–meaning if it occurs to you on December 29th that you want to run for the East Hollywood NC, you’ll be out of luck since their region’s candidate filing deadline is on the 28th. 

However, the L.A. City Clerk is extremely accommodating when it comes to extenuating circumstances and will work with you if you’re having issues. Their technology is not foolproof and they recognize that. They also offer paper candidate filing apps, but, in my opinion, those leave too much room for error and you should opt for online whenever possible.

For example, if it’s close to the deadline and you lose access to the internet, you can reliably call the L.A. City Clerk during business hours and tell them you want to start the process and they will help you, even if you can’t file yourself through the portal. Also, sometimes, just an email explaining your circumstances can go a long way in providing the leeway you need. 

The most important thing to note about this deadline is that it represents the date at which you must signal your intention to run. After you inform the office of your candidacy, they give you three days to produce the actual qualifying documents to prove you’re eligible to run. So you have a window to get stuff together. They’ll work with you here as well. 

A list of “acceptable documentation” can be found here in the 2021 NC Elections Documentation Guide.

Also, when the L.A. City Clerk states that they “reserve the right to accept identification or documents not included in this guide,” know that they mean it. They are not trying to be vague. They will genuinely work with you to find a way to prove what you’re saying is true. That’s it. 

Finally, if you later realize you don’t actually want to run, you can withdraw your name any time during an approximately two-week window after candidate filing closes. If you miss that deadline, it’s honestly no big deal. This is one of those rare instances when the NC system maintaining such a low profile is actually not such a bad thing!

Last thing: even with all its shortcomings, I genuinely want you to consider running for your NC, especially if any of the following describes you:

  1. You are genuinely looking to promote policies that shift power towards the people who desperately need it right now. There is definitely not enough of this in NCs, so we need more people who are looking to create real change.
  2. You can navigate existing power structures with some confidence. These environments can be intimidating, so the more familiar you are with them, the more likely you’ll be able to achieve #1. However, this quality doesn’t only apply to people with tons of experience. This CAN be learned, whether very quickly on the job or even before you take your seat (Shout out to Los Angeles Forward and others for their NC education!)
  3. You can confidently assert your power against those trying desperately to preserve the status quo, which is obviously not working for the vast majority. However, the big but about this one: Remember, we’re talking almost exclusively about soft power, so you must recognize that limitation/opportunity. In other words, remember one more time that if you expect to use L.A.’s formal power structures to change things–and quickly, at that–then you’re going to get disillusioned quickly.  

If those qualities describe you, then don’t hesitate for a second to hit me up with any questions or for advice; I would be more than happy to help. And if they don’t describe you, please consider looking elsewhere for support. We need real change in Los Angeles and I plan to dedicate my limited resources to those who are seeking it. Thanks for reading!

B.S.

Brett Shears is the founder of Vote Allies, an advocacy organization working to grant voting rights to historically disenfranchised communities, and a recent staffer for the successful Prop 17 campaign during this year’s elections. Brett can be reached via Twitter: @brettshears, or by email.

EPISODE 39 – TO JOIN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD COUNCIL, OR NOT

In our 39th episode, we chat with Brett Shears, the founder of Vote Allies, an advocacy organization working to grant voting rights to historically disenfranchised communities, and a recent staffer for the successful Prop 17 campaign during this year’s elections. Brett and I have an extensive conversation on L.A.’s Neighborhood Council (NC) system, which is holding its own elections through early 2021. We touch on the origins of the NCs in the pre 2000s era, their strengths and weaknesses given the wealth gap between different communities in Los Angeles, and how a lack of support for NCs from L.A. City Hall continually strains their potential to keep the actual L.A. City Council “in check,” which is what they’re supposed to do! For listeners interested in more insights regarding L.A.’s neighborhood council system, Brett is happy to chat with you. Find him on Twitter at: @brettshears

J.T.

EPISODE 30 – PROPOSITION THEY WANT TO DO WHAT

For our thirtieth episode, listeners are treated to a simple, yet succinct analysis of the various propositions on the ballot for California this upcoming November 3rd, 2020. Listen to the episode while you sit down to fill out your ballot, or while on your way to your local polling station. If you live in California, this October 19th is the final day to register to vote in the U.S. Presidential Election this year. And for a deeper dive, check out a special analysis of local elections in L.A. with yours truly at jimbotimes.com: “What’s in a Vote? How Low Voter Turnout Rewarded Garcetti, O’Farrell.

J.T.

How Low Voter Turnout in L.A. Rewarded Garcetti, O’Farrell

In a not so distant future, beyond the year of the pandemic, one might hope that the politics just before this extraordinary year won’t be easily forgotten by our cities and their leadership, in order for us to avoid a simple repetition of the past. Here’s a brief look back at some of that recent past, then, analyzing a handful of numbers and some change.

On May 21st, 2013, in a runoff election with a former L.A. City Controller, Wendy Greuel, Eric Garcetti was elected to the Mayor’s office by 222,300 votes. Those votes were won out of nearly 1.8 million registered voters in the city of Los Angeles in 2013, making it so that he was originally elected by just 12.3% of L.A.’s electorate.

For Garcetti’s original election bid in the mayoral primary race, contributions or donations to his campaign amounted to more than $8.7 million dollars, making him the most expensive candidate in the race by a considerable margin. Wendy Greuel, on the other hand, came in second place for contributions with more than $7.3 million. The third-in-place candidate in the original primary race, Jan Perry, raised $1.6 million. The 2013 race was a battle of the millions then, where the most millions got the most hundreds of thousands of votes, or in Garcetti’s case, 34,691 more votes than Greuel in the runoff to place him over the top.

Four years later, on March 7th, 2017, Garcetti was reelected to the Mayor’s office by 331,310 votes. This was nearly 110,000 more votes than what he received when he first ran for the mayor’s office; but by 2017, the city of L.A.’s voter registration had grown by a few hundred thousand, from 1.8 million registered voters in 2013 to more than 2 million in 2017. Therefore, Garcetti’s 331,310 votes were won from a pool of over 2 million eligible voters, and so he was officially reelected to the mayor’s office by just 16.3% of L.A.’s electorate.

In contrast to Garcetti’s close runoff for the Mayor’s seat in 2013, reelection four years later was a quick and painless walk through hyper-policed Grand Park. While Garcetti raised less than half of what he did four years prior, with $3.8 million reported to the L.A. Ethics Commission, his reelection campaign had more than eight times the fundraising of the second-place candidate’s, Mitchell Schwartz, a first-time candidate for public office and former communications director who raised only $463,000 for his run. The third-in-place candidate for the 2017 Mayoral Election, Steve Barr, raised less than $21,000 for the race.

Even if Schwartz and Barr had combined their totals in 2017, they would still have needed to multiply their fundraising by almost eight times over to come close to the “screen time,” or media coverage, afforded by Garcetti’s $3.8 million. As the Times put it when Schwartz first launched his campaign:

“With no endorsements and lacking exposure, the question is whether Schwartz’s low-profile campaign can affect Garcetti, who unrolled his own campaign TV spots last week.”

Adding in low voter enthusiasm for the race, or even awareness that there was a race, reelection was a smooth, if inconspicuous operation. Garcetti defeated Schwartz, who became the mayor’s closest opponent, by a decisive 298,082 votes, or nine times what Schwartz garnered.

Garcetti’s rise to the Mayor’s office in L.A. also took place at the same time that another city “insider” decided to go for the big screen. As the Mayor-elect prepared to leave his old “Hollywood” district, or the vicinity of East Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park and more, a former staffer of his, Mitch O’Farrell, ran to replace him.

On May 21st, 2013, in a runoff election with union-backed John Choi, Mitch O’Farrell was originally elected to office for Council District 13 by 13,940 votes, defeating Choi by only 1,455 votes. This result was from a pool of 106,061 registered voters in District 13 in 2013, according to the L.A. City Clerk, making it so O’Farrell was originally elected by 27% of “The Hollywood District’s” electorate, which was still twice the rate of Garcetti’s vote percentage for 2013, not that anyone is keeping score.

In O’Farrell’s original bid for the 13th District, contributions to his campaign amounted to just over $490,000. But at that time, O’Farrell’s primary opponent, John Choi, raised over $700,748. In other words, as the Times pointed out, at that point, O’Farrell was more of the “underdog” for the win given his opponent’s larger fundraising. Nonetheless, O’Farrell took the seat despite being outmatched, even if by the slim margin of less than 1,500 votes. The third-in-place candidate for the race, Matt Szabo, raised slightly over $174,000. Had Szabo “lent” his fundraising totals to Choi back in 2013, then, it might be Choi dodging questions about the rise of homelessness in the 13th district right now, which has climbed to nearly 4,000 by last count, according to LAHSA.

Four years later, on March 7th, 2017, O’Farrell was reelected to office for Council District 13 with 17,053 votes. While this was over 3,100 more votes than what he garnered when he first ran, as it was the case for his predecessor, those votes were from an expanded pool of voters in the 13th district at 119,832 registered voters in 2017, according to the L.A. County Registrar. Thus, O’Farrell’s larger vote tally was actually smaller than it might seem at first, and so he was officially reelected as L.A. City Council member for District 13 by only 14.2% of the district’s electorate.

Similarly to Garcetti, in 2017, O’Farrell’s lackluster reelection percentage was just as indicative of low voter engagement as his election from four years prior.

O’Farrell’s reelection bid, like Garcetti’s, was also less costly than his original campaign, but far and away from the opposition in terms of fundraising.

In 2017, when O’Farrell sought his reelection for the 13th district, he raised slightly over $425,000, according to the L.A. Ethics Commission. While this sum was smaller than his original fundraising amounts back in 2013, by then O’Farrell’s name was literally and figuratively embedded in L.A. “officialdom” following four years in office; the simple fact was that his name was on the ballot, that it was recognizable, and that low voter engagement essentially acted like insurance policy against unrecognizable names; O’Farrell defeated his closest opponent in 2017, a local tenants rights activist and first time candidate, Silvie Shain, by 12,715 votes.

Shain raised up to $35,967 for her challenge to O’Farrell’s incumbency in 2017, while the third-in-place candidate, Jessica Salans, raised only $15,197. As a result, even if Shain and Salans had combined their fundraising totals, they would still have needed to multiply their amount more than eight times to come close to O’Farrell’s screen-time or media coverage, an order that would prove massive to most L.A. City Hall “outsiders,” or the majority of working-class people in Los Angeles, especially considering that much of the early year in 2017 was spent processing the election of a talk show host into the white house.

But what if these are just anomalies? What about other districts in L.A., one might say?

Consider that in the same year that Garcetti and O’Farrell won their current seats, Nury Martinez, a former LAUSD Board Representative out of the East San Fernando Valley district, also fended off a larger fundraising pool belonging to her opponent at the time, Cindy Montañez, a former Assembly member and adviser to the LADWP.

In a June 2013 special election for District 6, Martinez won by 4,917 votes compared to Montañez’s 4,093 votes, even while Montañez had almost twice Martinez’s sum in campaign contributions at nearly $600,000. This tally was drawn from a pool of about 89,118 eligible voters in District 6, meaning that Martinez was elected to the seat in 2013 by just 10.2% of her district’s electorate.

Two years later, when Martinez ran for the seat again in a primary election on March 3rd, 2015, it was her turn to play the favorite. In a rematch with Montañez, Martinez’s fundraising amount was almost triple that of her opponent’s at just under $300,000. Martinez’s name recognition as the incumbent and her larger fundraising pool acted as buffers. She won the seat by 6,625 votes, compared to Montañez’s 4,219 in an election where just 8.6% of L.A.’s registered voters participated.

And five years later, by March 03, 2020, in the Presidential Primary Election, Martinez sought her second full term for the 6th district seat, and once again raised just under $300,000 for her bid; by then, however, this amount was over 48 times the sum of that of the second-in-place challenger, Benito B Bernal. Martinez catapulted through the primary with 21,126 votes to Bernal’s 4,580, while a third-in-place candidate, Bill Haler, accrued only 3,698 votes and did not register any fundraising amount with the L.A. Ethics Commission.

Clearly, cases like these suggest that “money in politics” in terms of campaign contributions, combined with low voter engagement in L.A., at least during the last 10 years, have worked well for Garcetti, O’Farrell, and even Martinez. And while theirs make for just a few seats at L.A. City Hall out of 15 council seats and various other offices to which figures are elected, it’s unlikely that any other seats or offices fared better in terms of voter engagement and “outsider” candidates’ fundraising given the city of L.A.’s generally low voter enthusiasm for elections since at least 2013.

What’s also true is that while in O’Farrell’s and Martinez’s original elections their opponents had the larger war chests, it would be difficult for either of their offices to argue that low voter engagement in their districts did not create a fine line for their opponents to walk in their discretion of those larger funds. Somewhere along the way, both Choi’s and Montañez’s campaigns in 2013 mismanaged their larger fundraising pools and lost a couple of hundred to a thousand votes, tipping the scales in their opponents’ favor. But neither Choi nor Montañez were complete outsiders, either. Choi was a former L.A. City Commissioner and had the backing of the L.A. Federation of Labor; Montañez was a formerly elected official in the SFV who also had the backing of the notorious LADWP.

The data also suggests that once certain names or figures, perhaps especially those of “insiders,” break through to claim seats at City Hall, campaign contributors tend to fall right in line to keep them there during the next election cycle. Consider for example that at start of the races, during the primaries, it was generally long-time L.A. City Hall insiders like Garcetti, Greuel, O’Farell, Choi and Montañez who benefited the most in terms of donations to their campaigns. This was likely due to their “experience” in public office, while “outsiders” or activists definitely struggled to so much as consider matching insider fundraising rates to pose a serious challenge to “establishment” candidacies.

Moreover, because donors to insiders’ campaigns tend to include real estate agencies, developer corporations, and groups such as the Los Angeles Police Protective League, it’s not hard to see how such donations–at a minimum–place the concerns of these groups ahead of those in the electorate who are unable to curry such favors. In L.A., there are not many bus drivers, nannies, cooks, teachers, and/or long-time small business owners such as Don Pedro Avila of the historic El Gran Burrito in East Hollywood, who can make campaign contributions to the tune of hundreds of dollars, if not hundreds of thousands, for local elected officials during election cycles.

Given this model, it’s of little surprise that in the decade before the pandemic, L.A.’s political engagement was growing exceedingly more disaffected, with less and less registered voters participating in elections each year. The city’s professionals, including at The L.A. Times and other media outlets pointed this out, though to generally little fanfare. Less discussed, however, has been the way in which races like these suggest that working class people, or “outsiders” tend generally not to stand even a chance against insiders for L.A.’s political seats.

This is what makes the sudden, record-breaking engagement with elections all over the U.S. after widespread upheaval against police violence this summer all the more extraordinary. Just next door to East Hollywood, in the Los Feliz neighborhood, there’s suddenly a very tight race for the 4th district seat between Nythia Raman, an Urban Planner and activist running for the first time for public office, and first-term incumbent David Ryu. Turnout of the vote for the 4th district seat, along with turnout for the presidential election itself in L.A. county, has already beaten records this 2020.

A key question then is: How long does a surge in voter engagement with the electoral process last after November 3rd, 2020?

And more specifically, just who is it that will have the time to remain more engaged once the pandemic levels out and it’s time for people to return to work?

But if the sudden engagement from previously uninterested voters holds for at least the next two years, it will be fascinating to watch how some of our officials, particularly those insiders, plan to hold out against a massive new well of citizens scrutinizing their roles in the city’s increasingly neglected conditions. And all the more so when the next generation of progressives look and sound like first-time candidate for public office Nythia Raman. There is only one way to find out, Los Angeles.

J.T.

An African-American male poses with his hands behind his back in front of a metal barrier

No More Names: ‘Reform’ Has Failed, Reconstructing American Society is the Only Viable Beginning

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 85)

In less than three months, cities and households across America have gone from discussing precautions for COVID-19 to discussing the racial inequality that still limits access to resources for millions of non-whites in the U.S. But the two have never been anything but linked: throughout this writing series, a number of stories and statistics have shone light on the barriers afforded to people by wealth, skin color, and their associated access to resources, as well as even to “an alternative truth” to America’s racial inequality and its staying power. Yet even these issues betray “older” roots.

In November 2016, the United States faced a choice between not one, but two denialist candidates, both of whom refused to confront racial politics in America as a matter of the nation’s core, or the bedrock on which its economy was built, including genocide, chattel slavery, dishonored treaties with Native American tribes, and more human rights violations on which it’s still sustained.

One doesn’t need to recall Trump’s denials, since he will likely be remembered as the most ahistorical candidate and president of all time. But one also needs to look at the alternative to Trump at the time.

In 2016, when Hillary Clinton and her husband were each confronted by Black Lives Matter activists, both denied calls for acknowledging their roles in jailing countless Black and Latino men, including youth, by means of President-Clinton’s Crime Bill in 1994, which paved the way for 14 years of increased incarceration for Black and Latino bodies, including with an increase of death penalty sentences.

In a meeting with Black Lives Matter leadership at the time, when Hillary Clinton was asked to admit her and her husband’s parts in this racist jail system, she told Black Lives Matter activists to ‘change policy, not hearts.


Four years later, it’s clear that “changing policies” did not prevent the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, or the countless other names that haven’t made their way to the mainstream conscience from another show of white supremacy rearing its deadly head in America. Reform policy has also largely not prevented the incarceration of Black men and women at nearly six times the rate of whites in the United States.

Is it still the job of communities of color, then, to change racist policies which betray racist hearts?


Now, it’s time to continue holding not just Biden accountable for his benefit at the expense of Black and more working-class communities, but also elected officials like Eric Garcetti, Michel Moore, and more. As Black Lives Matter and the growing calls to reduce the LAPD’s budget in Los Angeles demonstrate, the battle is long, but our communities have battled our whole lives for truth and reconciliation. In days forward, as the American economy teeters on the brink of another decade of depression and insolvency for another generation of too many families, it’s not just depression that is at stake; it’s the survival of our very society. The world is watching, Los Angeles. And the world is with us.

J.T.

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