Cityside Column: A battalion of candidates is angling for the crucial gig of representing Council District 6
If any part of Los Angeles politics could use an exorcism, it would be Council District 6. The Northeast San Fernando Valley territory remains affiliated with former City Council President Nury Martinez, who resigned in October amid the leaked audio scandal and whose legacy haunts the area.
No one may be replicating scenes from William Friedkin’s chilling 1973 film, but this past weekend, another religious element was floated when, before a forum including six candidates hoping to take the seat once occupied by Martinez, a prayer was read. The event took place on Saturday morning in the sanctuary of the Osborne Neighborhood Church in Arleta, and Pastor Ryan Donnelly delivered the blessing. “Before I get frustrated, I want to give thanks,” he said, in a nod to the feeling that permeates L.A. politics.
A special election for the job representing the heavily Latino district, with approximately 260,000 residents, is set for April 4. Here’s a look at the candidates, the forum, and what’s next for the district and City Council.
In the Field
Seven candidates have qualified for the election to finish Martinez’s term. In order of ballot listing, they are Isaac Kim, who owns a men’s skincare company; Imelda Padilla, a community relations manager who once worked for Martinez; Rose Grigoryan, who is identified as a social activist/journalist (she didn’t attend Saturday’s event); Marisa Alcaraz, the environmental policy director and deputy chief of staff to City Council member Curren Price; Antoinette Scully, a community organizer; Douglas Dagoberto Sierra, a business consultant; and Marco Santana, the director of engagement of L.A. Family Housing and a former staffer for Congressman Tony Cardenas and state Sen. Bob Hertzberg.
A Small Town Feel
Give the Valley Alliance of Neighborhood Councils some credit—the umbrella group for a battalion of neighborhood councils organized the event and drew more than 100 people on a nice Saturday morning when “listening to a bunch of candidates talk” was about the 127th most exciting activity anyone could have chosen.
The event was snappy, with moderator and L.A. Times reporter Dakota Smith whisking the candidates through a litany of topics from street vending to bike lanes to whether a small airport should close. The audience likely walked away with all the information they need to make an informed decision.
Ultimately, this was a refreshing reminder that big city politics can have a small-town feel, and even in an election for such a prominent post—remember, before her fall, Martinez had risen to become the second most powerful politician in City Hall—it’s close-up community connections that matter.
They All Care
The field is somewhat curious. Open Council seats often attract state lawmakers who want a bigger salary, more juice, and the chance to stop spending time in Sacramento. But there is not a single big name on the ballot. Everyone in the running is angling for their first paid elected post, and on Saturday they all resonated as earnest advocates with legit intentions to better the community. Sure, they all crave the power that a Council slot affords, but it was obvious that each was ingrained in the life of the district.
Plenty separates the candidates, but the clearest divide was along the lines of how fresh a voice they wanted to present. Kim, Scully, and Sierra took the tack of outsiders responding to the crisis of trust that erupted when Martinez stuck her entire leg in her mouth after the racist and homophobic bile she’d spewed was exposed. Padilla, Alcaraz, and Santana also harped on the “We need change!” theme, but approached the moment with more ties to the political system.
The “outsider” card is always questionable. There’s a logic in trying to connect with voters sick of politics as usual, and Martinez indeed sickened many voters. But the City Council is no starter job—residents of many districts have suffered dearly because their newly-elected outsider had no clue how things in local political circles are actually accomplished.
Alcaraz and Santana clearly looked like the candidates with the greatest chance of navigating City Hall. This doesn’t mean that either is necessarily the “best” choice for the district long term, but the two at least speak the language necessary to form connections and avoid getting chewed up by the many forces inside the building.
Lack of Money
Cash is the lifeblood of any campaign, and it is more important here than during most votes. District 6 traditionally has a low turnout, and it being a special election with literally nothing else on the ballot makes it hard to drive people to the polls. Each candidate needs a hefty war chest to send mailers and run a phone bank.
So far, no one has any real money. In the first financial reporting period, which ran through Dec. 31, Alcaraz had the biggest bank, at about $31,000, but that is still a pittance. Padilla has $25,000, Santana raised $23,000 and no one else had even five figures. New financial totals are due Thursday.
So it seems that the race could be shaped by outside groups. The Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters has spent about $46,000 pushing Alcaraz. In this type of scenario, it’s best to keep watching where these “independent expenditures” wind up.
She Who Shall Not Be Named
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the forum was that everyone sought to avoid mentioning Martinez by name for as long as possible. I don’t think her name was even uttered in the first 30 minutes. The less she was cited, the more relaxed everyone seemed.
But You Can’t Quit Nury
Need proof that politics is layered? That came when moderator Smith asked about efforts to combat illegal dumping and sex trafficking. Everyone had to acknowledge that no matter their feelings about Martinez, she made progress on a pair of scourges in District 6.
“I think she did some really good stuff with regards to sex trafficking,” said Santana, who noted that activity has come back with no leader in the seat. “It’s one of the few things I can give credit to the predecessor,” Sierra begrudgingly remarked. Alcaraz noted that the sex and human trafficking program Martinez started “is still going and they expanded it into South L.A. as well.”
“Transparency” is the New “Fight”
Over the years I’ve attended scores of Council candidate forums and before Saturday’s event started, I silently bet myself that those on stage would use some form of the word “fight” more than a dozen times. This is how these things go, political hopefuls telling the audience, “I will fight for you,” blah blah blah.
I picked the wrong word. Instead, the six fell over each other to present themselves as the arbiters of “transparency” and “accountability,” as the person who will make government truly accessible. The words came again and again.
It was an unexpected message, but also refreshing. Perhaps this is the best evidence of politics after Martinez—a desire to be truly transparent. As the expression goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant, and now there is an appetite for sunlight.
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