KPCC's Shirley Jahad speaks with Mark Haefele about the battle being waged between Bernard Parks and Mark Ridley-Thomas to win the Second District seat on L.A.'s Board of Supervisors, which is being vacated by Yvonne Burke.
Shirley Jahad: Good afternoon, I'm Shirley Jahad. This is All Things Considered on 89.3, KPCC. I'm here with Mark Haefele. He's dean of the city hall reporters. Hi, Mark.
Mark Haefele: Hi, Shirley.
Jahad: Of course, this week, all the talk about the presidential race, and here in the Golden State, our February 5th primary is less than a month off. But bringing it down to a local level, there is a very powerful post up for grabs. One of the five so-called "fiefdoms" of L.A. County, a seat on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors is opening up.
Haefele: Yeah. This is an unusual thing. This is the 2nd district seat, long held by Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, who is retiring after a long and full political career.
Jahad: The 2nd district, like all the L.A. County supervisoral districts, is huge. Two million people, it spans from Westwood to Watts, basically.
Haefele: Westwood to Watts, and then if you go the other diagonal, it's from Hollywood to the marina.
Jahad: Some of the traditional African-American communities of L.A. County are in the 2nd district.
Haefele: Both in the City of Los Angeles and in the unincorporated areas, and of course, cities like Compton.
Jahad: And some of those areas are actually, in fact, no longer predominantly African-American.
Haefele: Now, this is the key point I think about this election. You're talking about a district that is now not majority African-American, but majority Latino.
Jahad: We have two candidates running for the seat: Mark Ridley-Thomas and Bernard Parks. Parks, of course, the city councilmember and former LAPD chief. Mark Ridley-Thomas, current state senator and a former city councilmember as well.
Haefele: Bernie is a guy who really feels, like most conservatives, that business can solve all the problems if it's just given a chance to do so. Mark Ridley-Thomas sees a more complicated picture, sees a lot of people in the area who need the kind of help that the government can give them, that the county provides in the way of services, such as medical care, welfare, you know, streets, roads, and so on.
Jahad: It's a majority Latino district, but the folks who come out to vote, the biggest voting bloc, is African-American, right?
Haefele: This is true. There is a presumption, of course, in this district, that African-Americans are the voters who count the most. But I don't think anyone has even demonstrated that the majority of the registered voters are African-American in this district anymore. So I think that the picture is iffier than the two candidates seem to acknowledge.
Jahad: What does the changing demographic say about the political clout of the African-American community right now?
Haefele: I think the changing demographic suggests that a candidate for this office who ignores the Latino vote is not gonna win.
Jahad: Are the candidates trying to reach out to the Latino voters?
Haefele: So far, I don't see that really happening. I do see that Bernie Parks has made a major step by getting the endorsement of supervisor Gloria Molina, who is the only Latina on the board of supervisors, and the first one, actually. I see that Mark Ridley-Thomas has the support of organized labor, but I don't see either of these guys speaking any Spanish. I don't see these guys making an overt pitch for the Hispanic voter, and I think that whoever decides to do that might find himself way ahead of the other guy.
Jahad: Why do you think there isn't a Latino candidate?
Haefele: Two reasons. First of all, I don't think any of the office holders who are Latino who live in the 2nd district have enough clout and fundraising ability to stand up to either of the two guys who are running. Both Bernie and Mark have been planning this run for a long and have huge war chests. The second thing I think is more psychological. I think that there's a feeling that somehow goes across the community boundaries, both in the African-American and in the Hispanic community, that this is an African-American district even if it isn't African-American majority. Within the next 20 or 30 years, certainly and probably sooner than that, the 2nd district supervisorial seat is going to be held by a Latino or Latina. These are the realities of the situation, and they can only be pushed off so far.
Jahad: We've been talking with Mark Haefele. He's dean of the city hall reporters. I'm Shirley Jahad.