In her mailbox and on her doorstep, Echo Park resident Lucia Chappelle has been inundated.
“It's crazy,” the freelance writer says, standing outside a market. “I’ve got three or four people knocking on my door every day.”
Such is life when you live in a city council district where 12 candidates are on the ballot.
Chappelle, 60, says she votes in every city election, but still hasn’t decided who will get her support this time. “It’s just really difficult to engage,” she said.
When voters in Los Angeles go to the polls Tuesday, residents of the 13th city council district may have the most difficult choice. A dozen candidates are seeking to succeed Eric Garcetti, who is running for mayor. Based in Hollywood, the district can serve as a launching pad, as Garcetti demonstrates. The district also includes Silver Lake, Atwater Village and Glassell Park.
“It’s one of the key districts in the city,” says Jaime Regalado, the retired director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at Cal State LA.
For one thing, the area is one of the few in L.A. that’s grown economically over the past few years. Developer money has poured into the district, along with trendy restaurants and boutiques.
“It’s become a booming district,” Regalado says. “Its political importance has become magnified because of that.”
That may be why four of the top candidates moved into the district within the past couple of years – critics say to take advantage of what they knew would be an open seat.
Gentrification has brought thousands of young, new residents, and pushed out thousands who couldn’t afford soaring rents. But it remains a tale of two districts, Regalado says, with wealthy and poor living nearly side-by-side. The 13th is also perhaps the most diverse in the city, says the district’s former Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who served in the 1990s.
“It’s Armenian, it's Thai, it's Persian, it's Polish, it's Russian, and obviously it’s Latino, but not solely Mexican," Goldberg says. "There are a lot of Central Americans.”
The candidates reflect that diversity.
“I was born in Seoul, South Korea,” Emile Mack told a recent candidates forum. Mack is a chief deputy with the L.A. Fire Department.
“When I was three years old, I was very fortunate to be adopted by an African American couple and brought here,” Mack said.
Another candidate, Alex De O’Campo, senior director for a charitable foundation, described growing up with his Filipino immigrant parents and six siblings.
“Dinners usually consisted of two cans of sardines, a bowl of rice," he said.
De O’Campo, Mack, and labor activist John Choi are seeking to become only the second Asian American elected to the L.A. city council. The first was Mike Woo, who represented the same district in the 1980’s.
The race is the most expensive council contest in the city, with Choi topping the money list. Between his own fundraising and labor union money, he’ll benefit from nearly $500,000 in spending.
De O’Campo, Mack, and former deputy mayor Matt Szabo trail him in fundraising. A third tier in the cash category includes former Garcetti aide Mitch O’Farrell, who’s won the LA Times endorsement.
But money is less important than face-to-face contact, argues former councilwoman Goldberg.
"In my first campaign for city council, I think we had 120 coffees during the primary,” she says.
And with a crowded field, a candidate with deep but not necessarily broad support could win a spot in the expected runoff, says Fernando Guerra of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University.
“I can easily see the top two people getting under 20 percent,” Guerra says. That might amount to less than 6,000 votes.
Outside Trader Joes in Silver Lake, residents expressed interest in a wide variety of issues, from more bike lanes to concerns over a proposed condominium project in Elysian Park.
“Street violence,” Chappelle said. “We’ve had homophobic attacks in our neighborhood, in a neighborhood where we have lots and lots of LGBT people.”
“Roads, terrible roads here, its Third World,” Bruce Stewart complained.
Interestingly, none in a small survey of people listed the city’s projected budget deficit, which nears $1 billion dollars over the next four years.
One Trader Joes worker and Echo Park resident threw up his hands as he struggled to name one candidate. He reflected the overwhelmingly number of choices in this district, as well as a general disinterest in city elections, compared to presidential contests.
“The other day I got a huge stack of brochures, literally all in one day from a bunch of people I’ve never heard of,” Roman Rose said. “I threw them all out. It’s just like a pizza flyer to me.”
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