David Ryu was elected to the L.A. City Council on Tuesday, riding a tide of anti-development anger to a surprise win over Councilman Tom LaBonge's hand-picked successor.
Ryu defeated Carolyn Ramsay, LaBonge's former chief of staff, by a tally of 54 to 46 percent. He becomes the first Korean-American ever to serve on the City Council and the first Asian-American in 22 years.
“It's about the neighborhoods! It's about the community!” Ryu told a cheering crowd of supporters at Wokcano Restaurant in Hollywood. “We're finally telling City Hall that we do not like business as usual.”
The 4th Council District runs from Sherman Oaks to Silver Lake, and includes portions of Hollywood, Miracle Mile and Hancock Park. Fourteen candidates ran to succeed LaBonge, who was termed out of office. Ryu emerged from the March primary in second place, just 85 votes behind Ramsay, thanks in part to a strong showing among Asian-American voters.
“He was on nobody's radar,” says Joan Pelico, another candidate in the primary, who endorsed Ryu.
In addition to LaBonge's support, Ramsay had the backing of Mayor Eric Garcetti, most of the City Council, the L.A. County Federation of Labor and the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce.
Ryu seized on the issue of development, tying Ramsay to unpopular projects across the district and pledging not to take developers' contributions. Ryu also vowed to stick to zoning rules and to require developers to bring proposals to the community first.
“David is committed to reining in massive overdevelopment,” said David Rankell, a Sherman Oaks resident who volunteered for Ryu. Rankell lives near the planned 325-unit Il Villaggio Toscano project, and is worried it will cause gridlock. “Carolyn was responsible as chief of staff for that project.”
“I think this sends a message,” said Zev Yaroslavsky, the retired county supervisor, who attended Ryu's celebration. “It's not development uber alles. Neighborhoods count too. It's a message to City Hall that's long overdue.”
Yaroslavsky said that as the economy improved, a glut of new construction was likely to generate a backlash.
“I've been warning for years that there's going to be a quality-of-life uprising,” Yaroslavsky said. “I think we've seen the first manifestation of that uprising here in the 4th Council District.”
In a brief interview Tuesday night, Ryu said he would work with developers once he is sworn in on July 1.
“It's what I've been saying — talk to the community,” he said. “It's not a bad thing. It doesn't help them when there's lawsuits. So let's work in advance to work out the issues.”
Ryu also energized Asian-American voters, who make up about 9 percent of the district. Fred Register, Ryu's campaign consultant, said it was clear that Korean-Americans turned out in greater numbers than the rest of the population.
Ryu himself worked hard. He took a leave from his job as government affairs director at Kedren Community Health Center a year ago to walk precincts. He knocked on thousands of doors.
“He worked as hard as anybody I've seen,” Yaroslavsky said. “He reminds me of my own first campaign. He had the entire establishment against him.”