Political outsider, community insider aims for District 8 seat

Marqueece Harris Dawson | Matthew Tinoco

Marqueece Harris-Dawson greets South L.A. residents to announce his candidacy. | Matthew Tinoco

The idea was to prevent kids from seeing pictures glorifying tobacco when they were at school. Marqueece Harris-Dawson was only just learning about the nuances of community organizing when his bosses told him to go to then assembly-member Herb Wesson’s office, and make the case to remove tobacco advertisements from public buses that are routed past schools.

He entered Wesson’s office and gave his pitch. Wesson thought it was a great idea, and he soon delivered to the Metro Board a motion proposing all ads for tobacco products be banned from public buses. It passed.

That was more than fifteen years ago. Now Harris-Dawson hopes to bring his talents to the L.A. City Council. He announced his candidacy on Saturday morning to a packed church in Baldwin Hills.

“Marqueece! Marqueece! Who’s gonna take the eighth next year? Marqueece! Marqueece!” chanted the standing crowd as Harris-Dawson entered the church and walked to the front row.

Harris-Dawson is running to represent Los Angeles’ Council District Eight, replacing the now-termed out Bernard Parks and representing one of the most socioeconomically depressed regions in Los Angeles.

Harris-Dawson’s background suggests he’s up to the challenge, whether it’s combating human-trafficking along Western Avenue, or fighting a disproportionately high poverty rate when compared to the rest of the city. Since his time getting tobacco ads off buses, Harris-Dawson has risen to become the President and CEO of the Community Coalition, among the largest grassroots nonprofit organizations working to improve the quality of life for South Los Angeles residents.

Karen Bass | Matthew Tinoco

Karen Bass speaks up on behalf of Harris-Dawson. | Matthew Tinoco

Karen Bass, now a Congresswoman, founded Community Coalition in 1990 to form a non-profit that would implement community-based ideas to help people overcome addiction to crack cocaine.

Since then, Community Coalition has grown to focus on general quality-of-life issues, establishing programs to promote neighborhood health and safety, aiding schools to prevent them from turning into “drop-out factories,” and closing thousands of blighted liquor stores that attracted crime and failed to provide healthy food for residents.

Harris-Dawson worked with others in Community Coalition to survey thousands of residents, and ultimately petition the city’s planning committee to revoke permits for the liquor stores on the grounds they were “public nuisances.” Supporters understand it as key reason for his election.

“We want to elect people who have an agenda on day one. Those who can tell what they’ve done, not what they’re going to do,” said Congresswoman Bass. “Marqueece is a trusted friend, and I know he can do justice for Council District 8 because he already has.”

Bass shared both personal and political anecdotes about Harris-Dawson as an audience representing a diverse swath of Los Angeles residents listened and applauded at each opportunity.

A supportive audience | Marqueece Harris-Dawson

A supportive audience smiles as Harris-Dawson takes the stage. | Marqueece Harris-Dawson

Before the event, Harris-Dawson vented to Intersections about his frustration with those currently elected to City Council.

“We’ve an illogical decline in city services. The parts that need them the least got most of the help,” Harris-Dawson said. “There is lots of focus on big projects—football stadiums—and not much support for our small businesses or making sure our streets are kept clean. “

He aims to focus on the little things over flashy development.

“To the people who live here, it’s small things—like being able to use their neighborhood park without fear—that make the biggest difference,” said Harris-Dawson. “And if we do all those little things to make our city a nice place, the football stadiums will want to come to us. We won’t have to bait them.”

Harris-Dawson kicked off his candidacy at a church in South L.A. | Matthew Tinoco

Harris-Dawson kicked off his candidacy at a church in South L.A. | Matthew Tinoco

Tené Green, a volunteer with Community Coalition and nurse at the VA Hospital in West Los Angeles, said she agrees with the candidate, and thinks that Harris-Dawson’s election would be a tremendous boon to Council District Eight residents.

“He’s been involved with the community from the get-go,” said Green. “He knows education in South L.A. He knows health in South L.A. He knows the streets and what they’re like for the people who live here.”

She said that he represents a change from the politicians she is used to seeing represent the area.

“We need people like Marqueece who actively work with people and actively make a difference with the people they represent. They give through their experiences,” said Green. “It can’t be about money or power to them.”

And supporters recognize Harris-Dawson as difference. Unlike other officeholders throughout South Los Angeles, Harris-Dawson is an outsider to local politics. Incumbent Bernard Parks worked for years as chief of Los Angeles Police. Curren Price of South L.A.’s Council District Nine spent more than a decade as Inglewood’s city controller, in addition to time he spent as a state legislator. County Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas has dominated the region through several decades of elected tenure.

The constituents of Council District Eight understand this, and hope that Harris-Dawson will be able to improve the often corrupt and slow politics of South Los Angeles.

“He knows the political process, but he isn’t a politician,” said longtime Vermont Knolls resident Oscar Cervantes, who said he remembers Harris-Dawson’s efforts to close liquor stores in his neighborhood. “I have to hope he’ll be immune to the draw of power though. Lots of guys aren’t once they’re elected.”

The Harris-Dawson campaign has raised about $111,000 according to the L.A. City Ethics Commission – well above opponent Robert Cole, a County Commissioner who has garnered just over $62,000.

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