Last Sunday, Hang Out Do Good (H.O.D.G.), a local neighborhood-founded grassroots action organization, hosted its first Sunday afternoon online discussion on the upcoming local elections. The event started with an overview of the local races provided by David Levitus, Executive Director of LA Forward, a nonprofit organization dedicated to education and grassroots action to support progressive public policy.
“We were so pleased that 55 people were able to attend the first in the “Looking Local” series presented by Hang Out Do Good,” Andrea Rothschild, a H.O.D.G. leader and organizer, told the Buzz. “While we continue to have our eye on national politics, we live in Los Angeles — a vast city with complex challenges. David Levitus, LA Forward, gave us an excellent overview of what all the jobs — of mayor, board of supervisors, city council, sheriff and city attorney — actually entail.”
To set the stage for one of the most consequential elections on the June ballot, Levitus reminded the 55 people assembled on Zoom for the one-hour session on civics, just how large and consequential the county is — LA County, with its 10 million people, would be the 8th largest state in the country, if it were a state. There are 88 cities within the county, of which Los Angeles is the largest. To distinguish the two, Levitus explained that very broadly, the county has jurisdiction and funding for our social services, jails, and other programs for people, while the city has jurisdiction over the planning and zoning — the built environment. There are only five supervisors on the the LA County Board of Supervisors, which oversees County government, each representing more than 2 million people. The supervisors directly hire all the county department heads.
Since Supervisor Shelia Kuehl, representing the 3rd District, is not running again, that race is wide open and the district has been redrawn to include some parts of the San Fernando Valley. Our neighborhoods are on the edge of the 3rd and 2nd Districts, so you may be voting in this race. Recently LA Magazine published an interesting analysis of the politics of the race, suggesting that depending on who wins the seat, the progressive-leaning majority of the current board could shift to a more conservative majority.
Levitus said this seat is a hybrid – part executive and part legislative – so an effective supervisor is one who can work effectively with their colleagues to swing their votes, since there are only five people making lots of decisions at the county level. So Levitus suggested asking candidates questions about their main focus, the personal staff they will hire, their policies, and their track record.
“Ask them what will do and what they have done,” said Levitus. “I think that’s more important than the endorsements.”
This Sunday’s discussion will focus on the race for LA County Sheriff, featuring three candidates running against Sheriff Alex Villanueva, whose office provides policing for 42 cities that don’t have their own police departments.
H.O.D.G. has confirmed that candidates Cecil Rhambo, Eli Vera and Eric Strong, who are all running against Villanueva, will participate in this Sunday’s session.
“This is the only session where we will have more than one candidate,” said Rothschild.
When it comes to the LA City Council races, all the odd-numbered district seats are up for election this year, and that includes CD5 and CD13, which now represent our Buzz-area neighborhoods. And, then, of course, there’s the Mayor’s race too!
Most experts will agree that the Los Angeles mayor’s powers are limited because so much power rests with each of the 15 city council members. But the mayor does get to hire heads of all the city departments, sets the budget, sets priorities, and of course provides vision and leadership. So Levitus likened the mayoral role to that of a CEO of a large, diverse company or an orchestra conductor using communication and management skills to get everyone working together for a common good.
Since City Council members get to say what happens in their districts, Levitus said voters should ask each City Council candidate what their priority issues are going to be. Do their positions align with your values and will they push the envelope to try new ideas?” asked Levitus. Regrettably, the city is not solving our biggest problems, he added, so voters should ask candidates for their big ideas to solve problems, and whether candidates will stand up to the entrenched powers that be and how they will differ from the incumbents, if that’s case. For incumbents, Levitus suggested voters look at the candidates’ records and ask experts on the issues you care about how their performance stacks up. Try to get deeper, beneath the surface rhetoric of a campaign, advised Levitus.
The office of City Attorney is also on the ballot. For those who don’t know, Levitus explained the City Attorney is a prosecutor of misdemeanors of all kinds supervising hundreds of attorneys. They can sue businesses that violate City laws, they serve as an advisor to the City Council, and they represent the city in litigation.
Again, Levitus advised voters to ask candidates what they are their priorities, how risk adverse will they be on certain issues, what they would do differently for the current office holder, and what has prepared them to supervise hundreds of attorneys.
It was lot of information packed into 60 minutes. For more information on Levitus and LA Forward’s work, click here or contact him here. Levitus said that LA Forward will be issuing candidate endorsements, though H.O.D.G. is not endorsing any candidates.
And if you agree our local elections are important, click here to join the discussion this Sunday, February 6 at 4:00 p.m. for a roundtable with Cecil Rhambo, Eli Vera and Eric Strong, three candidates running for sheriff.