Tuesday September 18, 2001
It was only one week ago that terrorists killed over 6,000 people in New York, DC and Pennsylvania, as well as leveled the World Trade Center. That same day our City Clerk decided to hold the elections for the Los
Angeles City Council, 4th District - my first run for City Council. I woke up at 6:00 AM and met a dozen volunteers. We were prepared to hold signs while standing on street corners, reminding people it was election day. What a different day it turned out to be.
We sat transfixed in front of the screen. We had expected a slow news day and had hoped coverage of the council race would feature prominently. It was almost impossible to convince the media to cover the race at all - what with car chases and shootings taking up all available slots. A few days before the election I had to threaten to commit civil disobedience just to get air- time on KABC Radio. The host, Phil Shuman, chose only to interview the two best-funded candidates out of ten (Beth Garfield and Tom LaBonge). When I said I wouldn't leave the control room until I was given equal treatment, another host, Brian Whitman, gave me thirty minutes of air-time and we took calls. But the glow of that victory had faded in the wake of thousands dead and everyone was in shock. I pleaded with Michael Carey, the City Clerk, to postpone the election. He said his original prediction of a 35% turnout would probably end up at 20% instead, but that was consistent with traditional Los Angeles election apathy - so on with the show.
As we stood on the street corners, fighting back tears, we didn't see many election was cancelled?" Or "I would never vote today - today is a day of mourning." Later that day we went out in trucks with bullhorns and urged people to "Vote today! Don't let terrorists take away your right to vote!" But Los Angeles was a ghost town. Just 71 of 1200 of the registered voters in my precinct turned out to vote. Absentee ballots (which favor conservative voters) turned out to be more than 30% of the total votes cast instead of the usual miniscule percentage. Mr. Carley was just about right. Approximately 17% of the people voted. The LA
Weekly was right too - those with the most money made the runoff. A municipal election - particularly this special one which was the only election on this day - is already absent from most people's radar. But on
this particular day, Los Angeles voters had an unquestionable excuse. We might not even exist in 24 hours so whom we elect in the 4th District seems of little consequence.
But now, a week later, I ponder the two choices we are left with and my heart sinks. I, and a few other candidates, represented real change from the status quo. Councilman Ferraro, who ruled over the district since his appointment over 35 years ago, did not equally represent all the residents of this extremely diverse district of 250,000 people, most of whom are renters. Neither of the two winners supports empowering neighborhood councils over land use, which is the one thing that could stop the senseless over-development and rampant mall building. Neither agreed with my decision to refuse corporate, developer or lobbyist money ("I'm proud of all of my supporters," LaBonge likes to say). Neither candidate is in touch with renters. In fact, Beth Garfield has been endorsed and her campaign was partially funded by the Apartment Owners Association. The bulk of her money, however, came from herself in the form of a 0,000 loan because she refused to be outspent by anyone. Neither candidate has voiced an interest in strengthening rent control to prevent seniors and middle-income people from being displaced, saving all of the Ballona Wetlands, stopping corporate welfare or instituting electoral and campaign reform.
The ,000 we raised was historic. Our campaign was the first time a Green received municipal matching funds. We received the best dollar-per-vote ratio of all the candidates. Also our impressive endorsements from the LA Weekly, National Organization for Women, Martin Sheen, Americans for Democratic and others attracted the attention of progressives around the country, and hundreds of volunteers poured in from
around the state. However, those who filled the mailboxes with over twelve pieces of literature were the best known. How could we meet 124,000 registered voters? I knocked on as many doors as possible, spoke
at every forum I was invited to (and even one I wasn't invited to). I appeared on various television programs, both commercial and public access. We even had a TV commercial running on CNN, Lifetime, A&E, and
many others channels for the final few days before the election. We finally raised enough money for our first mailer, and it was sent 5 days before the election, but due to postal errors, most people didn't receive it (another mystery, as yet unsolved). The terrorist activities clearly overshadowed the election - but here, a
week later, it has more meaning than ever. Many of us are fighting for increased democracy and an end to moneyed privilege here in LA. The terrorists not only destroyed the lives of thousands of people and a
landmark in New York, but they actually kept people in their homes - either out of fear or sadness. The terrorists won a victory that day,that they weren't even aware of.
There's still a lot to be hopeful about. People are pulling together - a crisis is good for that. Volunteers have flooded New York in such great numbers that they're not needed any more. And in Los Angeles - there's
always another election. In 18 months the seat for the 4th District will be up again. This is your chance. Don't forget to vote.