By Logan Heley
Walking down Trousdale Parkway or outside of the Lyon Center on the University of Southern California campus, it’s likely you’ve seen or even talked to the people working at Terry Hara’s city council campaign booth. It’s also likely you haven’t seen or talked with any of his rivals, at least not yet. The reason: Hara has made USC central to his early campaign strategy while his opponents have yet to establish much of a presence on campus.
The Hara campaign claims to be the only operation on campus “24/7” and its booths on Trousdale and the Lyon Center have been active for over a month. Go on Hara’s website and the first picture you’ll see is of him talking with young people in Trojan gear at the Von KleinSmid Center. With elections just under a month away, Hara’s campaign for the Los Angeles City Council 9th District seat has a commanding fundraising lead, with nearly twice as much cash on hand as the next candidate.
USC joined the 9th District last year after a contentious redistricting fight that took much of Downtown Los Angeles, and its political bargaining chips, out of its boundaries. One candidate running, David Roberts, a former USC employee, said the new 9th District might be the poorest in the city, if not in the entire state. The 9th District has been represented by Jan Perry for the last 13 years. Perry is now running for mayor.
Hara has been part of the Los Angeles Police Department for 33 years and currently serves as one of eight Deputy Chiefs, the first Asian American to hold that position. That’s one reason why his USC point man, Nick Paladines, who graduated from USC in December, said some people don’t recognize him.
“He’s been in the police, not politics,” Paladines said.
Involving the “top of the district,” referring to USC, in the election is important because it boasts the highest concentration of people and the university is the largest promoter of jobs in the district, Paladines said. Recent violence on and near the USC campus also offers an opportunity for Hara to show off his public safety credentials. In meetings with students, Hara likes to bring up the story of when he caught the serial rapist who had been targeting USC students in 1981 after going undercover.
Paladines believes it’s more important for students to be registered to vote at their USC address rather than in their hometown because students spend most of the year in school. Paladines said that only around 3,000 USC students are even registered to vote.
“It’s their neighborhood; we’re just trying to get them involved in it,” Paladines said.
Some USC students are taking that message to heart. The Hara campaign said it has about 30 USC students working for the candidate. In addition, the Beta Omega Phi fraternity, an Asian-interest chapter, decided to stick one of his lawn signs in their front yard and endorse Hara after he made a presentation at their house.
“He had some pretty good ideas and he has USC students’ safety in mind,” said Jeffery Liu, Beta Omega Phi’s president.
Hara’s rivals say they’ve reached out to USC students, but will step up their efforts soon with on campus events like a two-candidate forum at USC on Tuesday.
“You will definitely see an immediate increase (in on-campus campaigning),” said Mike Davis, council candidate and former state assemblyman for the USC area.
Other notable candidates in the race include Roberts, Ana Cubas, a former L.A. city council aide, and Curren Price, a state senator.
Thomas Wong, a second-year Price School of Public Policy graduate student and Hara staffer, believes this election should be important to USC students. “This election actually has more direct consequences on our own neighborhoods than a presidential election does, but (students) kind of tune it out,” Wong said. “So I have hopes that more people start to pay more attention to these kinds of races.”