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In LA City Council District 1, incumbent Cedillo faces serious challenge

File photo. Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo (First District).
File photo. Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo (First District).
Grant Slater/KPCC

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With just one week to go before Los Angeles voters head to the polls again, one of the hottest City Council contests pits the incumbent against a challenger who has drawn a major endorsement.

Home to about 250,000 residents and covering communities like MacArthur Park, Koreatown, Mt. Washington and Cypress Park, District 1 is currently represented by Councilman Gil Cedillo who is seeking his second term.

The District 1 contest is one of eight council races on the March 7 ballot.

Cedillo is way ahead in fundraising with $375,000 in contributions, according to his latest campaign financing reports, with an additional $64,200 in public matching funds from the city. But he has four challengers.

The main threat for Cedillo is Joe Bray-Ali, best known as a cycling activist. Campaign financing reports show he's raised $61,200 in contributions, plus city matching funds. He previously ran a popular local bike shop called Flying Pigeon in Cypress Park. 

Although the race is nonpartisan, Bray-Ali like Cedillo is a Democrat who supported Bernie Sanders in California’s primary election. 

Bray-Ali is running for elected office for the first time. One of the reasons he is considered a serious challenger is that he's landed the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper praised Bray-Ali for his grasp of land-use policy and called him the best prepared for the job.

After Bray-Ali won the Times' endorsement, Cedillo shot back, releasing a detailed, four-page letter to the Times’ editorial staff disagreeing with their selection. 

In that letter, Cedillo took issue with the Times comment that he is known by community activists as someone who is “hell-bent on helping developers build market-rate housing.”

Cedillo called the Times description of his relationships with developers and neighbors "highly inaccurate.” He argued that he’s taken a responsible approach to development.

He is one of just two council incumbents who did not land the endorsement of the L.A. Times. The other is Councilman Curren Price of District 9.

Cedillo, previously a member of the state Assembly and the state Senate, won election to the City Council in 2013. His backers include Gov. Jerry Brown, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

"I’ve run for office 14 times, I’ve won 13. The L.A. Times has never endorsed me," Cedillo told KPCC. "I won’t say just anything to be endorsed. We had a very candid conversation. I think that they were wrong in many of their assumptions and so we have differences. That's OK. The biggest endorsement for me is the electorate."

Cedillo said he’s spent his career advocating for poor people and immigrants. He points to accomplishments like helping raise the minimum wage and said he’ll focus in his second term on issues like traffic congestion. 

"I think we bring a record of leadership," he said. "We were the first to hold out against the criminalization on homelessness. We were the first to hold out on the criminalization of street vendors. We’ve been working to address the concerns of housing."

For his part, Bray-Ali said if elected he'll focus on the district's nuts and bolts problems, like trash services and park repairs. He also wants to see the city develop economic plans that would make it more independent of the federal government, this in light of funding cuts threatened by the Trump administration. 

"Time and again the current council member has fallen down on the job. He has not been willing to engage with people on the day-to-day basics of running and managing this district," Bray-Ali said. "The reason I'm doing this is not romantic. But it comes down to two things. The delivery of basic city services, a clean public toilet, a functioning sidewalk, and a responsive council office."

The other candidates running for the seat are Giovany Hernandez, a community organizer; longtime Highland Park resident Jesse Rosas; and Luca Barton, who is a write-in candidate. All three are Democrats.

KPCC has posted a candidate survey of all five candidates.

A candidate in the March 7 primary will need 50 percent of the votes plus one to win the race outright. If that doesn’t happen, the top two voter-getters advance to the general election on May 16.

This year, the City Council candidates are competing for 5 1/2-year terms rather than four-year terms. This is because the city wants to sync its terms to even-numbered years. So winners will be in office longer than usual.

For more election resources, visit our website, kpcc.org/votergameplan