Voters in Council District 9 weighing the field of candidates

By Emilie Mateu

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

On March 5th, voters from the Ninth District will take to the polls in order to fill Councilwoman Jan Perry’s seat.

I spoke with residentsin the South Central LA area – or tried to. Out of over twenty people, only five spoke English. In my first successful English interview, I asked a resident if he knew who Jan Perry was.

He immediately responded with all of the confidence in the world.

image“Oh yeah! That guy cracks me up,” he said.

Nope. Wrong. First of all, Jan Perry is a woman. Second of all, maybe she has a good sense of humor but that’s not something for which she’s typically known. Clearly this resident doesn’t know who Jan Perry is, but many others do. Perry has represented the Ninth District for 12 years and she’s now running for mayor.

She is the third African American to hold the 9th District seat. Fifty years ago, Gilbert Lindsay was the first. Since then, the demographics have changed and the Ninth District is now almost 80 percent Latino. Many residents in the district do not speak English and many do not vote.

“Unfortunately in South LA we have very low voter turnout and we want to change that,” said Jose Lara, a member of the South Central Neighborhood Council. “Because of the way our electoral system is many people are disenfranchised, many people don’t know when to vote, how to vote, where to vote.”

In speaking with residents, a few of them said t their main issue with elected officials is how out of touch they really are.

“When they come in, they ask for your vote, you vote for them and then what happens? No, you need to come in and try to look around and see what needs to be done. Because if you don’t look around how are you going to know?” one resident said.

“Where are the necessities for the poor? Out of sight, out of mind, out of money, out of time. I’m not asking for a whole lot, just help me with the necessities,” another resident said.

Lara and his organization are working to raise awareness about some of the main issues in the Ninth District. “We’re hoping that whoever represents us next will focus back on the community, will focus back on cleaning up our streets. Getting rid of the graffiti, fighting against crimes in the community. Making sure youth have correct opportunities and making sure schools are fully supported,” Lara said.

Race and ethnic diversity are huge factors in this election. The candidates are Mexican, Central American, Asian and African American in a district that is predominantly Latino.

“Whoever represents the Ninth District has to represent those interests as well,” Lara said.

But at the end of the day, even though the Latino community’s interests need to be represented, Ramiro Delarajon, the manager at Family Farms Market on Central Avenue, said, “It doesn’t really matter the ethnicity or the race. As long as they are looking out for the community. Yes I know things have changed but still people are people and that’s what matters. That they look out for the people,” Ramiro said.

The main District Nine candidates are listed below.

Manny Aldana, Neighborhood Council member
Ana Cubas, Former chief of staff for City Council member Jose Huizar
Mike Davis, State Assembly member, 48th district
Ron Gochez, Schoolteacher
Terry Hara, LAPD Deputy Chief
Curren Price, State Senator, 26th District
David Roberts, Former redistricting commissioner

Candidate Closeup: Jan Perry

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageJan Perry/ File photo.

There are two narratives about City Councilmember Jan Perry. In one, she is a crusader for poor communities in South LA—the woman who invested on Figueroa and reaped the benefits for Main Street. But in the other, she is the union-busting pragmatist who shut down the push for a Fresh & Easy on Central and Adams.

“I think the greatest source of my passion is my desire, my very strong desire, to help people move forward,” said Perry. “It’s obvious that I’m a woman, I’m a woman of color; I happen to be a woman who is not only black, but I’m also Jewish and I communicate in Spanish. I think I step in the shoes of most people, and I feel what they feel because I go through it myself.”

Perry has represented Council District 9 since 2001. During her tenure, she tightened restrictions on fast food restaurants, installed the Central Avenue Farmers Market and directed millions of dollars into parks and affordable housing. She also championed the Central Avenue Jazz Festival and won awards for restoring her district’s wetlands.

“Over the last twelve years, when we had the redevelopment agency, I leveraged tax increment and took it south to develop more housing, to bring in more neighborhood retail, to basically create a climate that was far more receptive to business. I will continue to leverage construction of housing and retail,” said Perry.

Her advocacy has won her a devoted base among black voters in South LA. CD 9 has historically been represented by an African-American, but in the past few decades it’s become about 80 percent Latino. Perry has worked hard to win support from her Latino constituents, too.

“The voice of the communities is very, very important on what happens in this city,” said Mark Gory, a South LA preacher who noticed her history of engagement at a recent mayoral forum. “This is a very large city… and each community needs to have their issues addressed individually.”

imageJan Perry at the Central Avenue Jazz Festival, July 2012.

On the other hand, there’s the Perry who installed LA Live and advocated for USC’s Village project. City politics writer Ron Kaye says those put her at the beck and call of developers like AEG.

“Jan has done everything she can that the Central City association wants, that downtown developers want, certainly that AEG wants… She represents downtown, the city has poured most of his wealth over the last 30 years into downtown, and so she has done everything she can, because that’s where the money was, certainly, for her campaign,” said Kaye.

Perry is decidedly pro-business. That’s helped cull support among fiscal conservatives in the San Fernando Valley who might have leaned toward Kevin James or Wendy Greuel. Garcetti and Greuel, who lead in the polls, have also gathered union support. Perry hasn’t.

“She’s always… not against unions, but questioned,” said Kaye. “In her own way, Jan is stronger than, as a personality, Greuel or Garcetti, and is more capable of fighting, at least on some of the issues.”

Most public employee unions have lined up behind Greuel, Perry says that binds Greuel to them, though — and limits her flexibility on pension reform, one of this year’s leading issues.

“They haven’t spoken about getting employees back to the table on giving back on their healthcare and pension costs, because that is the absolute hardest thing to do — particularly if you’re a candidate who’s been heavily endorsed by some of the more powerful public employee unions. A campaign who has received the benefit of that kind of money will not say that your employees need to create salary parity. They will not say that your employees need to give back on their healthcare costs and pension costs.”

Perry is a Democrat who agrees with Greuel and Garcetti on most issues—all three oppose the half-cent sales tax increase on March’s ballot, for example. And she says her years of experience have taught her how to use Council’s resources—and that would make her a well-prepared mayor.

Sherita Herring, a South LA entrepreneur running for the 9th District seat appreciate the work Perry did in city government. But she’s worried that Perry’s cozy relationship with downtown developers threatens her ability to really advocate for poor Angelenos.

“Right now, the Staples Center, when there’s a game there, every game generates three million dollars. Every single game,” said Herring. “How much of that is impacting these surrounding communities, who are going to be impacted when the stadium comes here, and there’s more traffic? What is the trickle-down? You’ve got people who don’t care, because their home isn’t here on 41st and Broadway.”

Perry’s goal, though, is to maintain that political tightrope until March fifth—and she’s counting on crowds on both sides to keep her balance.