Yes to Gentrification: Jose Huizar's Victory Is a Referendum on Development

Jose Huizar and Gloria Molina
Jose Huizar and Gloria Molina

In the end, it wasn't close. Councilman Jose Huizar, who had reason to fear for his political life a few months ago, cruised to re-election on Tuesday, beating back a challenge from former Supervisor Gloria Molina by a 42-point margin.

The outcome was by no means inevitable. Back in September, Parke Skelton, Huizar's strategist, did a poll that showed Huizar with a slim, two-point lead. Skelton was actually relieved that he wasn't in worse shape.

"I thought there was a good chance that he might be so far behind I'd have to tell Jose not to run," Skelton said Wednesday.

The poll offered Huizar a path to victory. Voters were asked whether things in their neighborhood were going in the right direction, and 63 percent said yes. Skelton's strategy was to barrage voters with mailers to remind them of tangible improvements in their neighborhoods.

"Jose got a lot of credit for that," Skelton said.

The 14th Council District is gentrifying fast. Neighborhoods such as Highland Park and downtown L.A. are seeing an influx of young urbanites in search of cheaper housing. Boyle Heights is starting to experience revitalization along its commercial corridors.

Molina, a trailblazing figure in Latino politics, attempted to exploit concerns about the pace of development. She argued that Huizar is in the pocket of developers, who helped fund his campaign. She also argued that development has been haphazard and poorly managed, at one point saying that there is "too much density" in downtown L.A.

She also took aim at Huizar's personal lapses, highlighting his affair with one of his staffers, which resulted in a sexual harassment suit. But voters seemed to regard that as a private matter.

Skelton said that Molina, who has not had a competitive race in more than two decades, seemed "rusty."

"Obviously people did not agree with Molina's critique," said Fred Register, Molina's campaign consultant. "I think the general rise in home values, and the recovery from the recession, left people feeling like things were moving in a good direction."

Polling showed that both candidates were well known and well liked, which explained why they were essentially tied at the start of the race. But when it came down to a choice, voters saw no reason to throw the incumbent out.

"They didn't see a rationale to change, and we were never able to establish one," Register said.


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