The residents of District 10, a portion of which spans South Los Angeles, will vote for a new councilmember on March 3. Intersections interviewed the candidates ahead of the elections.
Standing among crowds of people chatting at his campaign rally, the man wearing black jeans, a collared shirt and grey oxford flats appears to be just another District 10 resident. In some ways City Council President Herb Wesson is just that, he said. Wesson has lived in the district for more years than he can count, and has represented the area since the beginning of his career in public service.
“I’m a very, very ordinary person who’s been selected to do extraordinary work,” he said.
As he prepared for the March 3 elections on a recent afternoon, Wesson said his inspiration for his work is never far from his mind. During much of his time at the historically black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in the 1970s, Wesson said he did not know what he wanted to do. (He did not graduate from Lincoln until 1999 because an illness in his family prevented him from finishing his senior year.) But, that changed the day he heard Congressman Ron Dellums speak.
“When he spoke about civil rights and human rights and building coalitions at that moment that’s when I decided I wanted to be a public servant,” Wesson said, recalling the California Democrat’s speech at a fraternity sponsored event.
Although Wesson’s ambition was to be a city councilman, he said his career trajectory was unusual. Wesson served as the chief-of-staff to former Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden from 1982 to 1992 and to former Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Burke from 1992 to 1997. He then served as a member of the California State Assembly from 1998 to 2004, including two years as the chamber’s speaker. He has been a member of the Los Angeles City Council since 2005, and he has served as its president since 2012.
When asked about some of his biggest achievements, Wesson was quick to point to the $1 million he allocated for improvements at the Leslie N. Shaw Park in the Jefferson Park portion of the district and his role in helping get the expansion of Metro’s Crenshaw Line. But the council president said he wants constituents to remember that Herb Wesson the politician is second to Herb Wesson the man, who coached three years of Pop Warner football — leading his team, the Culver City Panthers, to a national championship — and facilitated the adoption of over 100 homeless dogs in the area.
Wesson has a long list of powerful endorsements including the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, the Los Angeles Times, City Controller Ron Galperin, California State Assemblyman Chris Holden and all but one of his current colleagues on the City Council. Councilman Bernard Parks, 8th District, is the one member of the Council who did not endorse him, according to Jasmyne Cannick, one of Wesson’s campaign consultants.
Reports of tension between Wesson and Parks began after controversial redistricting in 2012.
Still Wesson said he maintains a good working relationship with most of his colleagues on the City Council.
He explained that as president, his goal is to make sure everything is running smoothly. “It’s my job to do everything within my power to ensure that the other members of the Council can deliver on the promises they made to the people in their districts,” Wesson said.
Resident Elmo Espree, 93, said he feels Wesson has done just that. Espree said he has come to campaign events in District 10 for more than 30 years.
“Before him they had [David] Cunningham and [Nate] Holden but I like Wesson the best because he’s doing things for education and he’s doing things for different types of businesses,” Espree said, after Wesson delivered his remarks about the campaign.
Resident Isabel Cruz is a member of the North Harvard Heights Neighborhood Association, and said she has worked closely with Wesson to repair sidewalks throughout her neighborhood.
“Many people walk just to commute or people push strollers and the babies in the strollers are just shaking around,” Cruz said. “We asked the councilman to come and take a look personally and he did.”
Wesson has partnered with the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative to make it possible for crews to repair city sidewalks and trim trees faster and more affordably then if they had waited on the understaffed Dept. of Public Works.
Still, some residents feel it is time for a change in leadership.
“The politicians have been in office for a really long time…it’s harder for them to overcome what’s expected,” said District 10 resident Teresa Markowitz, whose son is starting kindergarten in the fall. Markowitz said most important to her is achieving equality in the education system so families do not have to look beyond their home schools to find a supportive learning environment.
Should Wesson win the election, he said he expects the issues of minimum wage and wage theft to be at the top of the City Council’s agenda for its next term. Mayor Eric Garcetti wants the minimum wage to increase to $13.25 per hour, and Wesson said other members of the Council would like to raise it to as much as $15 per hour.
“What I expect is that now you’ll see us trying to come together with a position that everyone can live with,” Wesson said.
Garcetti was Wesson’s predecessor as City Council president, but at age 63, Wesson seems content with his position. Wesson said he is proud of what he has accomplished and the barriers he has broken as the first African American City Council president.
“The coolest thing about being the first African American anything is knowing that you won’t be the last,” he said. “Whenever you open a door other people can walk in with you.”
If Wesson wins another term, it will be his last due to term limits.
You can learn more about Herb Wesson at his campaign website.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that former Councilmember Jan Perry endorsed Councilmember Herb Wesson. She has not endorsed any candidate in the District 10 race.