By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
The kid in the Che T-shirt nods his head. We are light-years from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- and in quite a different place from Richard Riordan’s L.A. It is unimaginable that the outgoing mayor of Los Angeles would have interceded in tonight‘s commotion. To the tribunes of the new L.A., a vast polyglot metropolis with a vast number of poverty-wage workers and home to the most dynamic social-change movements in the nation, Richard Riordan is an irrelevancy. And tonight, as Becerra and Villaraigosa extol those movements, as Wachs burbles on to the Guevara-clad kids, Los Angeles seems, if only for a moment, a city of strange and infinite possibilities.
II. On New Terrain
But is it? To be sure, Los Angeles is a city that has undergone a great transformation over the past decade, in its demographics, its economy, its politics. It is the epicenter of the great third wave of immigrants to America -- the migrants from Latin America and Asia who are transforming the face of the nation, so much so that earlier this month the Census Bureau told us that America is now home to as many Hispanics as it is to African-Americans. It is also the city in which the middle fell out of the economy. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the local aerospace industry, hundreds of thousands of middle-income whites, failing to find work at comparable pay, up and left, to be replaced by millions of immigrants in low-wage, nonunion, service-sector, construction and manufacturing jobs.
And L.A. is the one American city where these two great transformations have produced a progressive political response: the emergence of a Latino-labor alliance that is changing the city’s politics a much as an immigrant-labor alliance transformed New York‘s 100 years ago. The change is visible in the level of union organizing in L.A., which is now home to far more newly unionized workers than any other American city; in the city’s living-wage ordinances, which go further than those in other cities. The change is visible in L.A.‘s voting patterns -- which, in last November’s presidential vote, saw L.A. vote Democratic on the presidential and senatorial lines in the identical percentages as the perennially left Bay Area.
Indeed, look at the past decade‘s election statistics and you can actually see L.A. moving leftward (albeit by the admittedly not-hugely-progressive measure of Democratic presidential voting). In 1988, L.A. County gave 51.9 percent of its vote to Michael Dukakis -- 4.3 percent more than his statewide percentage. In 1992, it voted at a 52.5 percent rate for Bill Clinton -- 6.5 percent over his California total. In 1996, it was Clinton again, at a 59.3 percent clip -- 8.2 percent over his statewide figures. And last November, Al Gore pulled down 64 percent of the L.A. County vote -- 10.4 percent higher than his overall statewide share. Plainly, the Los Angeles that over the past half-century inflicted Richard Nixon, Howard Jarvis and Ronald Reagan on an unsuspecting nation is no more.
But has that change trickled down to the level of city politics, too? By some measures, it clearly has. The kind of white-backlash campaign that the demagogic Sam Yorty waged against Tom Bradley in the mayoral elections of 1969 and 1973 could not fly here today; the stratum of the electorate that might respond to such a campaign has diminished dramatically. In 1993, Richard Riordan ran a campaign that oh-so-genteelly tugged on some backlash heartstrings, but that was one year after a convulsive riot and in the midst of a massive economic downturn. Riordan ran, and won, on the promise of 3,000 more cops. Today, that kind of law-’n‘-order anxiety has subsided, though not vanished; candidates today are pledging to create a fleet of 3,000 city buses.
And yet -- turnout in city elections is, historically and invariably, far lower than that in presidential or gubernatorial contests. It’s working-class voting that particularly subsides, while middle-class turnout also declines, but in no way so precipitously. Which is to say, it‘s still possible that Steve Soboroff -- the Riordan-backed Republican businessman, the sole opponent in the mayoral field of the LAPD’s consent decree with the feds, this year‘s law-’n‘-order lulu -- could win this race.
But first, Soboroff, like his five fellow candidates, has to navigate through the subcontests, the races-within-races, that will determine who makes it past the April 10 primary into the June 5 runoff. By the terms of California’s nonpartisan municipal election code, unless one candidate manages to get 50-percent-plus-1 of the primary vote, the top two finishers in the primary, regardless of party, will advance to the runoff. With the estimated primary turnout set at roughly 600,000, the election bean counters predict that it will take about 125,000 votes to make it into the runoff.
Each candidate, of course, has his or her own way of counting to 125,000. City Attorney James Hahn has the advantage of having one distinct electoral base largely to himself -- L.A.‘s African-American community. Hahn, of course, is not himself African-American, but he is the Only Son of the Favorite Son of L.A.’s African-American oldsters (who make up a disproportionate share of the city‘s black electorate): legendary county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who represented South-Central on the Board of Supes for a full 40 years. The younger Hahn has been elected to citywide office five times himself (once as controller, four times as city attorney), so he starts with a formidable base -- even if the black share of the L.A. electorate, like the black share of the L.A. population, is shrinking.