by Rev. Edward L. Anderson
Published April 7, 2022
Los Angeles is often thought of as a leader in progressive politics. We are the town that led efforts to raise the minimum wage and institute vaccine mandates. However, the actions of the Los Angeles City Council leadership over the past few months should raise alarm bells. Instead of the principles of inclusivity and justice that so many of our leaders campaigned on, what we are beginning to see now, if you look closely at the internal dynamics of this body, are the politics of systematic disenfranchisement - where decisions are being made behind closed doors, and in a manner that completely disregards meaningful civic engagement or public input, particularly on issues that impact the most marginalized members of our community.
I experienced this first hand through the City’s recent redistricting process. After participating in a year-long effort that sought true public feedback regarding city council boundaries that could honor and uplift the goals of fair representation - the City Council, led by the Council President, decided to disregard our proposal - before it could even be finalized.
Before the ink had even dried on the new maps, the 10th Council District became the next fodder for political control. After the elected Councilmember was suspended from the Council - without the opportunity to plead his case or for a public hearing to allow 10th District constituents to weigh in - the Council voted last month to appoint the former Councilmember to replace him. Again, this happened without any transparency or public input.
After waiving requirements for a public hearing, followed by nearly two hours behind closed doors, the Council did not discuss the process by which an appointment could be made to address the temporary vacancy - but rather decided to make the appointment, while also voting to simultaneously get a report back on the options to address the situation.
How on earth does this make sense? It took a Superior Court Judge to intervene - who has now questioned whether the Council had the authority to appoint the termed-out Councilmember in the first place.
While it would be nice to think that these two issues could be anomalies - I fear not.
With the anticipated departure of the Mayor, once he’s confirmed by the US Senate as Ambassador to India, it’s likely that we may lose another fundamental component of checks and balances at City Hall.
The council president has made it clear that she wants to remain the leader of the council and become acting mayor for the duration of the current term. A balance of power is not just intuitive to our ethical compass, but is ingrained in our city charter: the Mayor oversees the executive functions of the City, and the Council oversees the legislative ones.
While the City Charter makes her de facto acting mayor unless the council makes an appointment - she has made no indication that she will entertain any public input in making this significant decision for our City.
Given the recent handling of both the redistricting commission, and the 10th Council District seat, we should not take for granted that our City leaders are dedicated to fair representation, meaningful civic discourse, or checks and balances. It requires a lot more of us paying attention, raising the red flag, and demanding transparency and accountability, or we will be complicit in supporting an autocracy at City Hall, instead of the democracy that we as Americans, and Angelinos, expect and deserve.
Edward L. Anderson is a third generation Pastor who serves the historic McCarty Memorial Christian Church located in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles. He represented the 10th Council District on the LA City Redistricting Commission.