L.A.’s District 9 Council Race Is A Two-Person Battle

Cityside Column: Incumbent Curren Price faces challenger Dulce Vasquez in a race where both have notable cash hauls
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As the June 7 election approaches, the Los Angeles mayor’s race is garnering the lion’s share of attention. However, a bevy of other critical contests are on the ballot. That includes eight City Council battles. As part of a series, Los Angeles is looking at the individual races. This week, the focus is on District 9.

About the District

Like the other 14 council districts, the Ninth is humongous. It has a population of 255,399, according to documents used for the recent redistricting process. That is more people than live in Richmond, Virginia, and Boise, Idaho.

The district encompasses vast portions of South Los Angeles, including communities such as Florence, South Park and Green Meadows. There are economic challenges: The Ninth had the highest unemployment rate of all 15 council districts, as well as the lowest percentage of inhabitants over 25 with a bachelor’s degree, according to a 2018 study by Beacon Economics. Some of the neighborhoods in the area were among those in the city hardest hit by COVID-19.

The district also contains some major jobs hubs, economic drivers and entertainment destinations. USC and the museums of Exposition Park are part of the Ninth, as are L.A. Trade-Tech College, the Convention Center and Crypto.com Arena.

Representation

Although boundaries have shifted during past redistricting processes, the Ninth has been represented by an African American for nearly six decades. In 1963 Gil Lindsay became Los Angeles’ first Black councilmember, and under his leadership the territory came to be known as the Great Ninth; he would hold office for 27 years until his death in 1990.

There have been only three other representatives in the subsequent three-plus decades. Rita Walters held the post through 2001, and was succeeded by Jan Perry, a smart, tough-minded and resourceful representative who sought to deal with a devastating homelessness crisis at a time when most pols effectively ignored the issue (Perry is currently running for Congress). She served three full terms, and in 2013 gave way to Curren Price.

The district has changed with the times. According to the redistricting documents, the community is now 78 percent Latino and 13 percent Black. The “citizen voting age population” is 64 percent Latino and 24 percent Black.

In the Running

Price, who put a twist on Lindsay’s moniker by touting the territory as the “New Ninth,” is seeking a third and final term. The South L.A. native attended Stanford University, got a law degree and did a stint in Washington, D.C. working in the satellite telecommunications industry. He joined the Inglewood City Council in 1993, then won a state Assembly seat in 2006. He moved to the California Senate three years later. He is among a coterie of state lawmakers who captured council seats, leading some to term the L.A. City Council “Sacramento South.”

Only one other person is on the ballot: Dulce Vasquez, who during a recent Zoom debate described how she was born in Mexico, and came to the United States at the age of 7. The daughter of a mother who works as a housekeeper and a father in construction, she was the first in her family to attend college, and she earned a Master’s degree from the UCLA Luskin School. Vasquez was a mayoral appointee to the El Pueblo/Olvera Street Board of Commissioners, and works as the director of Strategic Partnerships for Arizona State University, which has a satellite campus in the former Herald-Examiner Building in Downtown.

Money Matters

Council incumbents almost always outraise their competitors, and Price indeed has outpaced Vasquez. But she has pulled in enough money to be competitive and make the race very interesting.

As of April 23, according to documents filed with the City Ethics Commission, Price had secured $408,000 from donors, and had $258,000 in cash on hand. Vasquez had accumulated $254,000 by April 23, and was spending at a steadier clip; she had $49,000 in cash on hand. However, her total ballooned on Friday, when she received $161,000 in city matching funds. Price has taken in $95,000 in matching funds.

The spending of outside groups could prove crucial in the coming weeks. Political action committees for the unions Unite HERE Local 11, the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters and the L.A. County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO have collectively dumped $206,000 into mailers, flyers, web ads and other efforts supporting Price. IEs have spent about $31,000 backing Vasquez.

Got Their Back

Not surprisingly, Price has the backing of a coterie of prominent individuals and organizations. In addition to extensive labor support, he has been endorsed by the L.A. County Democratic Party, the Stonewall Democratic Club, Mayor Eric Garcetti, former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla.

Vasquez has also secured some prominent endorsements. The Los Angeles Times has backed her, as has the L.A. Area Chamber of Commerce. She also got the nod from State Sen. Lena Gonzalez, former County Supervisor Gloria Molina and ex-L.A. City Controller Laura Chick.

How They Look

For such an important race, there have been precious few opportunities to see the candidates engage. The April 25 online forum hosted by Streets for All provided a rare window.

In the one-hour exchange, both came off confident and well-versed on the district. In an event built around discussions of mobility and transportation, there were no major screw-ups or gotcha moments.

Vasquez repeatedly hit her campaign cornerstones of housing, transportation and helping small business, and described how the city’s response to the pandemic prompted her to enter the race. She called for free public transit and taking away parking lanes in the effort to speed bus travel. “We need to rethink how we’re using public space,” she said. “We have come to be a society that expects free parking everywhere.” While the discussion was mainly mild-mannered, a couple times she zapped Price for votes she said he missed.

Price repeatedly mentioned a basic income program he propelled that gives money to transit users in the district. He talked up a battery of large projects, and detailed millions in funding he secured for them. He pointed to “green alley” efforts he orchestrated in the Ninth, as well as initiatives to make bicycling safer, saying his experience is required to move forward. “I’ve been working on our CD9 bike network for the past three years,” he stated. “But my opponent seeks to throw some shade suggesting that’s supposed to happen overnight. It takes some planning and it takes some effort.”

Next Steps

With mail-in ballots having landed, this is connect-with-voters time, and unlike several other council races, the two-person field means there will be no runoff. A few hours after the polls close, District 9 residents should know who will serve them for the next four years.


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