After city-wide protest and national outcry, the special election to replace former Los Angeles City Council President, Nury Martinez of District 6, was met with an 11.4 percent voter turnout rate. The Los Angeles Council scandal that involved Martinez, Gil Cedillo, Kevin de León and the LA County Federation of Labor President, Ron Herrera, made its way into the history books of California politics. After an eruption of nationwide protests from a coalition of activists, the council members decided to resign. The matter drew so much adverse attention that even President Biden made a statement that the three council members should step down.
Despite the outrage to get Martinez out of office, the voter turnout rate for the April election was incredibly low. Only 13,506 ballots out of 118,455 registered voters were cast before the April 4 deadline. The results, with Imelda Padilla and Marisa Alcaraz as finalists in a runoff until June, also represents an unchanged constituency preference for a moderate Democrat. There’s a slight reflection between the politics of the leading contenders and Nury Martinez in regard to their somewhat pragmatic approach to LA policy, most apparently in regard to public safety.
Martinez was criticized by progressives for her firm stance on anti-camping laws. She fought hard to ensure the safety of “mothers who are walking their children to school every morning, people walking through their neighborhoods, and seniors who have to navigate through the debris on the sidewalk.” She was loved and appreciated by immigrant families who were concerned with the upbringing of their children in homeless-plagued District 6.
One of the main policy issues on District 6’s ballot is the implementation of the City’s 41.18 ordinance, which prohibits any unhoused person from camping or sleeping on sidewalks in certain areas, including near schools or libraries. The homeless crisis remains the dominant factor in this special election. It’s one of the main reasons that many looked to Martinez as the future Mayor.
As the issue took center stage in a debate, candidates were split equally. Padilla and Alcaraz were two out of four candidates who supported the ordinance. The other progressive candidates, Antoinette Scully, Isaac Kim and Marco Santana, referred to the many flaws of 41.18 and stated that they would work hard to repeal it if they were elected. Their progressive stances didn’t work in their favor.
Los Angeles progressive groups hold a lot of leverage when it comes to candidate endorsements. Groups like Ground Game, Sunrise Movement, Democratic Socialists of America and Feel the Bern have had successful advocacy results on behalf of their candidates. Campaigns for candidates like Hugo Soto-Martinez, Eunesses Hernandez and Kenneth Mejia all had the support of Ground Game and essentially won their races against incumbents or longtime City Hall politicians.
The results of this special election show the weak-hold that progressive groups have on District 6. Black Lives Matter, the leading organization of the protests, didn’t even endorse anyone. The candidates who were backed by progressive groups, Marco Santana with LA Forward Action, Isaac Kim with Sunset Movement, and Antoinette Scully with Feel the Bern, lagged in performance compared to Padilla and Alcaraz.
There’s valid reason to believe that District 6 represents a growing LA constituency that’s defined by their support for anti-camping laws. The lack of support for 41.18 from progressives was a likely determinant of their loss. Despite Nury Martinez’s past comments, the District 6 constituency still desires someone who prioritizes her pro-immigrant family principles and her desire to keep residents, children, and elders safe.
Cruz García is a research fellow at the Urban Reform Institute. He received his masters degree from the Pepperdine School of Public Policy and his undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan College of Literature Sciences and Arts. His past research has focused on domestic politics and economic mobility in low-income communities.
Photo: Los Angeles Fire Department via Flickr in Public Domain.