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The political landscape of Los Angeles might go through a dramatic shift in 2022. California’s largest municipality will be voting on half of its 15 City Council districts as well as positions like the City’s controller, attorney, and mayor. Despite the ongoing pandemic, progressive candidates throughout LA see this as an obvious opportunity to push their city decidedly to the left.
Albert Corado, an LA native and full-time community organizer, is one such candidate. Corado was pushed into activism after the death of his sister Melyda in 2018. A man had led police on a chase that ended at the Trader Joe’s where Melyda worked. She was killed by a stray LAPD bullet, but the department claims the two officers involved in the gunfight acted lawfully, and instead the suspect they were chasing was charged with Melyda’s death.
Though Corado had been living in Minneapolis at the time, he moved back to LA with the intention of suing the LAPD over Melyda’s death. Over time, he says, the despair of losing his sister and the frustration with trying to find justice for her began to develop into a willingness to do more. “I was beginning to think about the grander picture of all this, and where Mely was part of this group of many, many people who were killed by police, and…who police were never held accountable for,” said Corado. “I wanted to be a part of something bigger, and I wanted to somehow keep Mely’s story in peoples’ minds.”
Eventually he began working with several community organizations, including NOlympics LA, Street Watch LA, and People’s City Council LA. He also helped organize the March for Mely, a demonstration in his sister’s honor, now in its second year. In September of 2020, Albert launched his campaign for City Council, with a platform that includes police abolition, prioritizing tenants’ rights and public housing, and a Green New Deal for Los Angeles.
To an outsider, it might seem like an ambitious slate of positions to run on, but not for many of the LA progressives running in 2022. Candidates might have slight disagreements, but overall, they are remarkably similar. Not every candidate may sign on to Albert Corado’s concept of police abolition, but nearly all of them believe in some reallocation of funds away from police and toward public programs.
Dulce Vasquez, an educator running in CD-9, states on her website: “The safety of our neighborhoods requires deep investments, but we need to reevaluate where we are making those investments.” Hugo Soto-Martinez, a union organizer also running in CD-13, similarly impresses the need to forgo police in favor of “new roles: unarmed social workers, mental health crisis response, traffic enforcement, and community mediators.”
Kenneth Mejia, a progressive running for the nonpartisan office of controller, makes the same case in a different way. Mejia, who is a Certified Public Accountant and former candidate for Congress, advertises his campaign with a billboard at the corner of Olympic and Crenshaw Boulevard that features a graph of how public money would be spent under this year’s proposed budget for the city. The funding for police significantly dwarfs that of homelessness and housing at more than $3 billion. The tagline for the billboard asks, “Is Mayor Garcetti’s Budget Good For You?”
Along with the police budget, housing and environmental policy also feature prominently in these campaigns. “I fall under the affordable housing bracket because I’m an educator, and more than 30 percent of my income goes to my rent or my mortgage,” said Yasmine Pomeroy, a high school English teacher running in CD-3. She got politically involved through the California Teachers Association, which pushed her into local organizing and eventually electoral politics.
“The City could have implemented better renter protections years ago, when we started seeing this egregious increase in rent in Los Angeles. The City could have worked harder to amend their zoning laws to put in affordable housing, and educate our voters about who supportive and affordable housing would go to,” said Pomeroy. When she called to inquire about the singular available unit nearby, she found it carried a wait list of 10 to 15 years. “How is someone supposed to navigate a system like that?” she asks.
Bryant Odega, a 23-year-old recent University of California–Los Angeles graduate, is running in CD-15. Odega has a background in environmental organizing and readily identifies the ways pollution has shaped the community. “My district…has 2,347 oil wells, the highest amount of oil activity in all of the city of LA,” he said. “We also have a lot of warehouses—I live next door to a warehouse. We have folks who live next door to freeways, industrial waste. In Watts, in particular, the water there is contaminated with lead that still hasn’t been addressed. A lot of these issues relate to the climate crisis. That’s what’s fueling it.”
Progressive campaigns like the many being waged in LA right now are notoriously difficult, with fundraising the biggest obstacle. They often refuse money from corporations, PACs, police associations, and real estate developers, opting instead for small-dollar donations.
It’s not an impossible task, but it’s a challenge, according to Pomeroy. She is grateful that her job allowed her time to fundraise over the summer break, but she can feel the pressure that will come with running a grassroots campaign while also working full-time. “I think I was sitting in the same spot in my kitchen for two days straight just cranking out fundraising calls to make sure that we got to our threshold,” Pomeroy says. “I was lucky that I had the summer to fundraise, but I’m back in the classroom on Monday.”
Odega agrees that being competitive financially is taxing, but considers it an opportunity. “I think it’s also very beneficial because it means I get to speak to more people, more real people who are actually from the district,” he says. “A lot of [my] donors are working class, middle class donors, so I learn a lot each time I call someone.” Grassroots challengers, lacking the connections or funding of a well-established incumbent, must make themselves known constantly through persistent community outreach.
The pandemic has only made progressive campaigning more difficult. Events are largely conducted online, with livestreams replacing town halls, and in-person canvassing giving way to text or phone banking. They’re not ideal substitutes, and some candidates are slowly moving back toward in-person organizing in the hope of getting a better foothold. Bryant mentioned that he will be pursuing door-to-door canvassing soon, but his voice still sounded uncertain.
Yasmine also hoped to transition back to in-person events soon. “I think people are still hungry to participate,” she said. “We’re hoping that we’ll have an in-person fundraiser at the end of the month, or at the beginning of September. Fingers crossed that cases don’t continue to skyrocket.”
Their wariness is justified. In late July, the Los Angeles Times reported that the county was seeing more than 10,000 cases of Covid-19 each week, with the CDC placing the county in the highest tier of community transmission. However, some candidates think that the pandemic may be the whole reason LA is seeing such a wave of progressives this election cycle.
“Without the pandemic, I don’t think we would have seen this influx of people, just regular people stepping up for the community,” said Pomeroy. “Whether it was creating an organization with mutual aid resources, joining organizations that had already been created, finding ways to help, or stepping up and running for office.”
“We have seen all of our city’s failed policy choices come to a head,” Pomeroy said. “Past decades of policy choices that they’ve put out there, that have not been proactive but rather reactive. So much could have been avoided.”
Odega puts it a different way. “I think a lot of people are starting to wake up.”