Closeups of the 2013 Los Angeles mayoral race candidates

As Antonio Villaraigosa bows out of his role as Los Angeles Mayor, several candidates have stepped up to the stage to snag his spot. Those looking to replace him are City Council Members Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry, entrepreneur Emanuel Pleitez, former federal prosecutor Kevin James and City Controller Wendy Greuel.

Rosalie Murphy has profile of the candidates to discover the issues they want to address for Angelenos.

Candidate Closeup: Eric Garcetti
City Councilmember Eric Garcetti leads polling in the days before LA’s mayoral primary. But is he a strong enough personality to lead the city politically? MORE…

Candidate Closeup: Wendy Greuel
In the days before March’s mayoral primary, City Controller Wendy Greuel leads the field in funds raised. She is expected to advance to the May runoff election. MORE…

Candidate Closeup: Kevin James
Kevin James is more like a watchdog than a City Hall outsider—a longtime Angeleno keeping a careful eye on its policymakers. MORE…

Candidate Closeup: Jan Perry
There are two narratives about City Councilmember Jan Perry. MORE…

Candidate Closeup: Emanuel Pleitez
Emanuel Pleitez is the Los Angeles mayoral race’s undisputed underdog. MORE…

Pleitez hosts a hack-a-thon as latest effort to win voters

By Melissah Yang

Computers and coding was the theme of Sunday’s campaign event for mayoral candidate Emanuel Pleitez.

In an effort to bring technology to underserved communities like South L.A., the hack-a-thon – dubbed “Silicon-Alley” – brought together tech experts and local students to build a website that maps out the area’s resources and programs. image

Several laptop stations were set up in the backyard of a couple of apartments where Pleitez’s campaign team lives and works. Post-it notes on each laptop, all personal devices belonging to Pleitez’s campaign team members, signaled which topics would be covered in relation to South L.A.

Half a dozen students, who had little to no experience with web producing, typed quick blurbs, ranging from the history of South L.A. to local parks and after-school programs, and coded webpages with the help of a mentor.

Alejandro Bernal, a junior at 32nd Street/USC MaST High School, heard about the event through URBAN TxT, an organization teaching teens from South L.A. and Watts how to become leaders in technology. He said the website will be important for people who want to learn a little more about the history of South L.A.

“There’s enough about South L.A. on the Internet, but we want to incorporate more information including programs that will help people in this community,” Bernal said.

The hack-a-thon was one of many unconventional campaign events that Pleitez has hosted in preparing for the final days before the mayoral election. Pleitez, a former tech executive for social network aggregator Spokeo, said the event fit his campaign’s overall theme of community outreach.

“It’s youth-driven, it’s technology and it’s innovative,” Pleitez said. “And at the end of the day, it’s helping everyday people especially in the most underserved communities like South L.A.”

Juan Vasquez, Pleitez’s director of digital outreach, said the hack-a-thon and many of Pleitez’s campaign events defied the idea that “extravagant” events, backed with money and support from key sponsors, win elections.

“This type of event challenges the way traditional politics run in Los Angeles,” 24-year-old Vasquez said. “That’s something our campaign has been doing for months now, and we’re proud of it.”

Yet, the community events seem to have little effect on Pleitez’s standing in the mayoral race. The latest poll by SurveyUSA puts him in fifth place with 6 percent of the vote, well behind front-runner Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel by around 20 percentage points.

For students like Bernal, who wants to study computer engineering or software programming, the website is a project of pride that he hopes will help with his college applications.

“Now that I know more about technology…I’m actually excited because I didn’t know how to code before, but now I do,” Bernal said.

The website is set to go live later this week.

Candidate Closeup: Emanuel Pleitez

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

imageEmanuel Pleitez is the Los Angeles mayoral race’s undisputed underdog:

“I’m stepping up to take the challenge on because we need that,” he said. “We need a new leader, someone with a fresh perspective, a unique perspective.”

Pleitez has rocketed onto debate stages and into TV ads since the new year after surprising analysts by raising enough money to receive matching public funds.

Just 30 years old and born in South LA, Pleitez is a breath of fresh air for longtime LA political reporter Ron Kaye, former editor of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“He has the immigrant son story of growing up in the city, and he’s put himself on the map,” Kaye said. “I think he’s become a visible player, and from my personal point of view, a welcome one.”

Pleitez is only seven years out of Stanford University, but his job history is extensive. He has worked for John Kerry, Mayor Villaraigosa, Goldman Sachs, President Obama’s transition team, a consulting firm and, most recently, data firm Spokeo. He even ran for Congress in 2009, but lost. In fact, his only victorious election has been to his senior class presidency in high school.

Pleitez calls this job history an advantage because it makes him an outsider to City Hall, independent from debts to unions and specific neighborhoods.

“I’m a mayor of all Angelenos, and that goes whether they’re documented or not. I am the mayor of all Angelenos that are in the city of LA, and I want to make sure everyone has an opportunity to work and contribute to LA,” Pleitez said.

Kevin James, a lawyer and radio host, is the race’s other “outsider.” But Jan Perry, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti are City Hall veterans with big endorsements from politicians, unions and developers.

But Pleitez’s relative inexperience stokes his popularity for frustrated voters.

“The things that he said, it gelled. It came together,” said Brian Gaines, who saw Pleitez speak at a mayoral forum on Jan. 19. “Look at the others who have been there–what have you done over the last, collectively, 30 years?”

“The others who have been there” refers to Greuel, Garcetti and Perry’s combined three decades in City Hall. “That really stood out to me, being young and coming through the trenches. I want to see something new.”


Consistently, Pleitez’s number-one issue is one ravaging City Hall: Pension reform.

LA’s pension obligations will increase to $3 billion a year by 2017, according to former mayor Richard Riordan. That’s about 50 percent of the city’s annual budget. Pleitez wants to increase the retirement age and move toward a 401-k plan for current city employees.

“That’s why every single year they’re having to cut another few hundred million dollars. If we reform the pension system, we wouldn’t have to make those cuts,” Pleitez said.

His number-two issue is education. Pleitez has been speaking ardently at LA’s community colleges and is hosting a “South LA Backyard Hackathon” next weekend. Its mission: “Bring Silicon Alley to South LA.”

“If we actually invest in education and training, not just for young people, but older folks as well, then we’re going to be able to move our workforce into a higher skill level to get the jobs that are actually available,” Pleitez said.

Based on city election trends in LA, though, this race doesn’t look good for Pleitez: He has a fraction of the frontrunners’ money and lacks endorsements from major city players like unions and councilmembers.

But he does have momentum. Pleitez said this week that his team has knocked on 40,000 doors and made 150,000 phone calls since Jan. 1.

That effort might be sufficient. According to California Common Cause, LA has notoriously low voter turnout in local elections: Sometimes just 7 percent of the population votes, and the city’s maximum is about 35 percent.

However, Ron Kaye cannot envision Pleitez qualifying for the runoff election in May. If no candidate wins a majority of the vote on March 5, the top two candidates advance to another ballot on May 21.

“I do not have a scenario where this is going to be an election that changes the face of LA politics,” Kaye said. Pleitez is young, however. “He’s put himself on the map, nobody had heard about him a few months ago. I think he clearly has signaled that he intends to be around.”

Pleitez will be around, knocking on every door, at least until March 5.

Molly Gray contributed to this report. Photos by Molly Gray.

L.A. mayoral candidates debate at Empowerment Congress

By Max Schwartz and Rosalie Murphy
Photos By Katherine Davis

The Empowerment Congress kicked off its 21st annual summit at USC on Saturday. Its opening session was a debate in which the five mayor candidates who have raised the most money discussed arts funding, gun violence, homelessness and the Leimert Park metro station.

imageMayoral candidates Emanuel Pleitez, Eric Garcetti, Jan Perry, Kevin James and Wendy Greuel answer questions at Empowerment Congress forum.

Candidates Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, Kevin James, Jan Perry and Emanuel Pleitez spoke at the forum hosted by L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the Second District that covers South LA.. Candidates Yehuda Draiman, Addie Miller and Norton Sandler were not present.

Ridley-Thomas called the Congress to order shortly after 9:10 a.m. When he was a City Council member, Ridley-Thomas helped found the Congress in 1992 “to make government more accessible to the people.” He introduced Brad Pomerance, moderator of the debate. After the introduction, Pomerace discussed this year’s theme, “election connection.” He said the questions were submitted online and then chosen by the Empowerment Congress planning committee.

Garcetti, Perry and Greuel focused on their extensive records in city politics, while James and Pleitez positioned themselves as outsiders. “We have a jobs crisis, budget crisis, education crisis, transportation crisis, public safety crisis, corruption crisis,” James said. “We have a leadership crisis.”

South LA issues take center stage

All of the forum’s six questions came from Empowerment Congress members. One participant asked candidates directly if they supported a Leimert Park station along the new Crenshaw Line metro line. All five candidates said they support the station. “The community deserves it,” Greuel said.

Perry cited her work on the Expo Line, which opened in April, as evidence of her dedication to transit projects.

imageMayoral candidate Emanuel Pleitez, right, answers a question from the moderator at the Empowerment Congress debate.

Pleitez stood out for Brian Gaines, a University Park native. “The things that he said, it jelled… Being young and coming through the trenches,” he said. “I want to see something new… all the name-dropping wasn’t impressive to me either. But really, what are you going to do moving forward?”

James and Garcetti stood out to Sherri Bell, a South LA native who works with the Los Angeles Black Workers Center. “I definitely feel like I’ve been left behind,” she said. “It’s not just a gun problem, it’s not just a violence problem, it’s not just a lack of education problem. You have to really attack the things that contribute to that. I pay attention to the candidates who actually have a strategy.”

What to do with neighborhood councils

The forum’s fifth question was about how to engage the neighborhood councils in city decisions more. Each candidate agreed to empower them, but their methods varied. Gruel, for example, believes the councils need more power. She said that they have been “part of the decision-making processes” throughout her career and she will continue to “engage councils every step of the way.”

Pleitez added in his follow-up answer that council members need to be trained to deal with “real problems… It’s not about fighting for funding but actually being inside the decision-making process,” he said.

James proposed that each neighborhood council appoint a commissioner who would work directly with him.

Garcetti remarked, “[it is] time to start treating neighborhood councils like adults.” He said he would have the Department of Public Works talk to the neighborhood councils at the beginning of every year.

Finally, Perry defended councils fiercely. “It is life-changing to be able to listen to them,” she said. “It’s most important to preserve the neighborhood council system to continue discourse… We are not a threat to each other. We are partners with each other.”

The council discussion struck the forum’s attendees, too.

“I have watched them grow, I’ve watched them change, and it does take training,” said Dorsay Dujon, chair of the arts committee on the Arroyo Secco neighborhood council. “You just don’t go from your daily job and go into sitting on a board and recognizing and understanding all of the responsibilities that you have to that.”

Despite that need, Dujon believes much of neighborhood councils’ successes are their own. “It also takes a commitment on the part of the individual who’s on the neighborhood council to recognize that it’s not just about what you want for the community,” she said. “As much as it is a growing process for the councils themselves, it’s also for the neighborhoods to understand that they’re there for them.” Dujon supports Garcetti, Perry and Greuel; “in that order,” she said.

Other issues: Arts, homes, guns

The forum’s first question was, “How will you better utilize the power of the arts to revitalize South Los Angeles?” Pleitez, the first to answer, hesitated. He attributed the city’s unmanageable budget to pensions that “drain funds,” which means there is not enough money to spend on the arts.

Garcetti declared he would go to Sacramento in attempt to prevent additional cuts to public education, promising to “restore arts as the heart and soul of Los Angeles.”

imageMayoral candidate Jan Perry, center, answers a moderator’s question.

Perry promised to redirect the city’s public arts fee to private nonprofits. James agreed that the arts should be one of LA’s economic priorities, and Greuel argued for better supporting the entertainment industry.

Garcetti responded first to the second question: “Is the development of housing for the mentally ill homeless in your top three housing priorities?” He cited examples from his record as councilman for the 13th district. Perry also cited her record as councilwoman from the 9th district. “They need to have housing and a safety net,” she said.

James emphasized that this would be a priority for him, too. He said, “This crisis is not new…and has not [gotten] attention and priority it deserves.” Greuel added that also she wants to bring back the housing trust.

Pleitez agreed that this is one of his priorities if elected. However, he brought up the pension problem again and said pensions are his first short-term priority. He also discussed including mental health in public heath programs.

The forum also considered a timely national issue: “What will you do…that will actually reduce gun homicides?” Every candidate supports a comprehensive ban on assault weapons and background checks for concealed carry permits.

James added that he wants to “close the mental health records gap.” He also brought up an original idea, that of a “school marshal program,” which “provides anonymity and security” without actually stationing armed guards at schools.
Pleitez called gangs the city’s biggest purveyor of gun violence: he lost a friend in middle school to a gang shooting. As mayor, he wants to find a way to reintegrate gang members into non-violent life.

Greuel supports the plans put forward by President Obama and California Senator Dianne Feinstein. In addition, Greuel called for, “…prevention, intervention, and enforcement.”

Perry and Garcetti proposed regulations elsewhere: Garcetti plans to regulate ammunition sales, and Perry “introduced…divestment from companies that manufacture guns” as a councilmember.