As results come in, a clear picture emerges: establishment politicians in LA should be scared.
Results are still being tabulated, but the overarching message sent by Los Angeles voters is clear: whenever possible, voters opted for progressive change.
The Black Lives Matter Los Angeles-targeted District Attorney Jackie Lacey has taken — in a race that was widely described as “contentious” and “tight” — a decisive loss. The most recent tally shows a 7.5 point gap, 53.7% for Gascon to Lacey’s 46.23% with 2.5 million votes in. The electoral repudiation of Lacey’s notoriously carceral and cop-union-friendly administration was underscored this morning by the unexpected announcement that Drakeo, the rapper who’s been locked up since 2017 awaiting clearance on charges he’d effectively already been cleared of, had been suddenly offered a plea deal for time served and will return home tonight. George Gascón will enter office understanding his mandate — the countywide refrain was “Jackie Lacey Must Go,” not “George Gascón must win” — and facing immediate pressure to make good on it.
If the anti-Lacey result was decisive, the verdict on Measure J, the decarceral, defund-the-police-and-invest-in-community measure, was definitive. Anxiety that the countywide electorate is more conservative than the city’s proved misplaced as the structural shift to LA County’s budgeting process, which — among other things — codifies participatory budgeting, saw a landslide 14-point victory, with Yes outperforming No by 400,000 votes. This summer, an estimated 25,000 took to the streets to chant “Defund the Police.” Now at least 1.6 million voted to make it happen.
Voters in Supervisorial District 2 made those margins look pedestrian by handing State Senator Holly Mitchell a 20-point victory over former City Council President Herb Wesson. Wesson had raised significantly more money and collected more endorsements, and while the contributing factors of this unexpected blowout will be examined in the coming weeks, one immediate conclusion is that voters must have seen association with City Hall as more a liability than an asset.
And while the race hasn’t been officially called, it sure looks like the Council District 4 result will see an City Council incumbent felled for the first time since 2003, with David Ryu sitting at 47.61 percent to progressive moment-backed Nithya Raman’s 52.39. It’s estimated that he needs somewhere between 55 and 70 percent of the remaining count to win. It’s not likely he’ll get it.
There are certainly disappointments for progressives — Fatima Iqbal-Zubair’s inspiring and incredibly well-run campaign wasn’t enough to overcome over a million dollars in campaign funding on behalf of the incumbent. Godfrey Santos-Plata’s bid to become the only renter in the State Assembly fell short.
But for every disappointing result, there were resounding counters: Konstantine Anthony, the DSA-LA, Sunrise-backed, Homes Guarantee candidate was sent comfortably to City Council in Burbank. Culver City rejected an almost cartoonishly nefarious attempt to undo its rent control, approved a progressive real estate transfer tax, and looks poised to elect two Homes Guarantee candidates to its Council in Yasmine-Imani McMorrin and Freddy Puza.
Each of these races and results are different — Measure J the result of years of targeted advocacy and relationship-building with the Board of Supervisors; Jackie Lacey’s defeat essentially a BLM-LA-led countywide referendum on our approach to criminal justice; Raman’s win the result of a groundswell movement — but there’s a clear throughline.
In each of these cases, LA voters — city and county — said, when asked, that they want to see substantive and aggressive change to the way our city operates. Members of the City Council have a strange habit of referring to it as the “most progressive legislative body in America:” Los Angeles voters are calling them on it. Across the county and city, it often didn’t matter whether the incumbent had a direct fundraising advantage like Wesson, or outside spending and endorsement advantages like Ryu.
2020 also marks the first cycle where we’ve seen municipal elections in Los Angeles sync up with state and federal elections. The switch from odd-year to even-year elections was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2015, with the aim of increasing turnout. This has worked incredibly well. For instance, in the 2015 election that won Ryu his CD4 council seat, there were 24,378 ballots cast. As of today, we’ve seen 112,830 votes counted in the CD4 race. It is impossible to overstate what a game changer this is.
Ryu won by a margin of 2,317 votes in 2015, around the size of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association, a group which he credited with his victory. Currently, he is losing his race against progressive challenger Raman by 5,404 votes, and it is incredibly unlikely that he will make up the difference. Five years ago, a virtual political unknown defeating a sitting city councilmember would have been unthinkable, especially by this margin. From the results so far, it seems that the era of homeowners associations outsized influence on local elections could be coming to an end.
“Anybody at City Hall who doesn’t recognize the significance of this election,” Zev Yaroslavsky told the Los Angeles Times, “is making a mistake.”
Los Angeles voters didn’t pull the lever for the option that most filled their mailboxes with endorsement logos. They pulled the lever for meaningful, progressive change. It will be interesting to see how this impacts the 2022 election, a race which will see several vulnerable seats on the council up for grabs. The day after the election, city councilmembers fell over themselves to approve a motion meant to explore social housing models. What is considered politically expedient and electable in LA is changing, and it’s changing for the better.
KNOCK.LA is a project paid for by Ground Game LA. This article was not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate.
Several candidates mentioned in this article were endorsed by Ground Game LA.