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|Photos by Ted Soqui|
Big John Ferraro ruled the 4th City Council District for 35 years, from 1966 until his death in April, the longest council reign in L.A. history. Term limits will hold his successor to eight years at most. But that’s not the only change afoot. Today, Ferraro might not win in the 4th District, which has undergone a transformation in the last three decades. It’s now mostly renters, and it’s left-leaning compared to Ferraro, an affable USC football hero who was an insider’s insider, with a careerlong affinity for the downtown business and development elite. Voters in this diverse swath of L.A. have an opportunity, come September 11, to choose a successor who is considerably more progressive. And a progressive swing here could help define the City Council for the better in a way that the mixed and mixed-up results of this year’s city elections did not.
In this spirit, the Weekly endorses Denise Munro Robb, a resourceful, committed activist who successfully spearheaded a yearslong fight to halt the destruction of historic apartment buildings, many of which offer decent affordable housing, in her Wilshire-area neighborhood. She’s also been active in the Green Party and local environmental causes — as a candidate, she’s earned the Sierra Club’s highest possible rating. She was practically weaned on antinuclear protests, and would push hard to get as much open space as possible in the Ballona Wetlands on the Westside and in Taylor Yards downtown. Like most residents of the 4th, Robb herself is a renter, and she’s attuned to the issues of renters, including the pressing and long-overlooked need to crack down on slumlords while also building more affordable housing.
Tellingly, she was rebuffed the first time she pigeonholed Ferraro years ago over these matters. “Tenants don’t vote,” she recalled him saying. Robb, who left her job as a paralegal at the Immigration Law Center to make this run, offers a more inclusive political calculus. “Even if people aren’t citizens, they deserve to have a voice,” she told the Weekly. “I want to be that voice.”
The hitch is that the 39-year-old Robb has little chance of winning. Conventional wisdom dooms her candidacy, in large measure because her campaign embodies the very attributes that make her appealing, including her refusing to accept donations from developers and lobbyists. She’s going to raise about $25,000 in a race where the top spenders could blow half a million. So while urging voters to support her, we also have to note distinctions between the moneyed candidates. Among these, the Weeklyclearly prefers former state Senate President David Roberti, a talented, accomplished legislator.
Ready to stick it to landlords
The center of District 4 is Griffith Park, the city’s largest green space. The district’s voters reside in offshoots from this focal point — to the northwest, a slice of the San Fernando Valley; to the south and east, Los Feliz and part of Silver Lake; and to the south and west, portions of Hollywood, Koreatown, the Wilshire district and the Fairfax/Farmers Market area.
Large sections of the flats are filled with left-leaning minorities and renters, many of whom can’t or don’t vote. Other parts, such as Studio City and Hancock Park, are more centrist and more likely to vote. The hillsides include pockets of prosperous homeowners, who also are higher-propensity voters. But many of them, despite their prosperity, are easily to the left of Ferraro. In this summer’s race for mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, the darling of L.A. progressives, carried the 4th, even though he lost the city as a whole to middle-of-the-road Democrat Jim Hahn. A lower turnout is expected in the special election, which would result in a somewhat more conservative electorate. ä
Philosophically, Robb is reminiscent of council newcomer Eric Garcetti and the departed Jackie Goldberg, though she can’t match Goldberg’s experience and accomplishment or Garcetti’s intellectual tour de force. Former state Senate leader David Roberti is likely to run stronger in the primary, in part because he’ll raise perhaps 10 times as much money — $300,000 by his estimate. But even that war chest — and his solid record — doesn’t make Roberti a clear favorite. Two candidates who could fare as well or better are former Ferraro field deputy Tom LaBonge and Los Angeles Community College trustee Beth Garfield, though neither is as committed to progressive solutions on issues that will or ought to come before the council.
LaBonge, 47, is a rarity in L.A. politics, a candidate favored by entrenched business interests as well as a handful of nameplate progressives. He expects to raise about $300,000, most of it from the usual suspects, the same developers, downtown law firms and Chamber of Commerce types who made sure that Ferraro was never seriously threatened. If you judge a man by whom he works for, then keep in mind that LeBonge, a registered Democrat, spent the last quarter-century of his city career as field deputy for good-old-boy Ferraro or moderate republican Mayor Richard Riordan. He nonetheless rates a thumbs-up from Riordan antagonist David Abel, a local publisher.