2022 In Review: The Year Women Shook L.A. City Hall

Cityside Column: In a year of dynamic votes, Angelenos saw a pass-the-popcorn election cycle that brought some seismic shifts to local politics

Virtually every election is pitched as being an opportunity to bring change. The 2022 cycle in Los Angeles was no different, though back on Jan. 1, neither high-priced consultants nor armchair activists could have predicted the seismic shake-up in store for the city. Over the next 11 months, Angelenos were treated to a serious pass-the-popcorn electoral spectacle and as the year closes, L.A.’s leadership looks nothing like it did just a month ago. 

This isn’t only because of the historic election of Karen Bass as mayor after she withstood mall master Rick Caruso’s head-smacking $107 million in campaign spending. Individual results in both the June primary and the November general election proved to form a greater whole that upends what many thought they knew about the region and where it’s going. Here’s a look at what the 2022 elections brought for L.A.

Women Rule

One of the many problems L.A. has endured in recent decades was near-total male dominance of elected offices. After the 2013 vote, just one of the 18 elected posts in the city was held by a woman. After the 2017 elections, the only women in office were City Council representatives Monica Rodriguez and Nury Martinez. Obviously, this doesn’t come close to reflecting the makeup of L.A.

Martinez has been gone since October following the dawn of the now-infamous audio leak scandal. But even with the next occupant of the 6th District’s seat still unknown, City Hall now has its largest female contingent ever. The June victory of Eunisses Hernandez and the November wins of Katy Young Yarolsavsky and Traci Park, put six women around the Council horseshoe—they join Rodriguez, Nithya Raman and Heather Hutt, who holds the District 10 seat on an interim basis.

At the citywide level, women are even more dominant. Bass, of course, is the first woman mayor in the city’s 241-year history. But L.A. also has its first woman city attorney after Hydee Feldstein Soto’s decisive Nov. 8 win. The future is here and it is female, indeed.

City Hall Was Kicked in the Face

Political analysts will long debate why so many with L.A. City Hall ties were so badly pummeled in 2022. In a city where City Council incumbents were once unstoppable, two fell: District 1 Councilman Gil Cedillo lost to Hernandez, and Hugo Soto-Martinez defeated District 13 Councilman Mitch O’Farrell. The two left-leaning victors are part of a growing progressive movement that also ushered Kenneth Mejia into the city controller position—he battered longtime Councilman Paul Koretz.

But more than progressive candidates doomed the City Hall crowd. Veteran pols Mike Feuer, Joe Buscaino and Kevin de León all failed to connect with voters in their failed bids for mayor—Feuer and Buscaino would see no viable path and drop out before June while de León stayed in only to finish in a distant third place (months before the audio scandal). In other races, three candidates closely allied with former Mayor Eric Garcetti all failed to reach the runoff.

In November, the exposure of the racist conversation and attempts to manipulate the redistricting process cast a grim light on anyone affiliated with City Hall. But just as much damage may have come from Caruso. Although he finished 9 points behind Bass, his big-budget message of City Hall as a corrupt cesspool may have hampered others in the building.

Progressives Roll, to a Degree

L.A.’s progressive DSA set rejoiced with the victories of Hernandez, Soto-Martinez and Mejia. The candidates benefitted from the effective organizing of groups such as Ground Game L.A.—clearly, a portion of the electorate yeans for change here.

But let’s hold off on assertions that a socialist wave is washing over L.A. City Attorney Feldstein Soto’s victorious campaign came at the expense of another lefty fave, Faisal Gill. Then there was the race to replace District 11 Councilman Mike Bonin, the most progressive member of the panel: Attorney Erin Darling was seen as his ideological heir apparent and likely to continue his controversial approach toward addressing homelessness. Darling finished first in the primary, but in November lost by four points to centrist Traci Park. Disruptors unhappy with the result tried to smudge her inauguration.

Sure, the progressive wing is undoubtedly growing in L.A., but with only three consistent votes on the 15-member Council (Hernandez and Soto-Martinez now join Raman), traditional Democrats will continue to drive the agenda.

The Voters Turn Out, Kinda

In 2013, the mayoral runoff voter turnout was an embarrassing 23.3 percent. With Los Angeles’ political apathy, local leaders worked to shift election day to even-numbered years and align voting with state and federal contests. This was the first time the mayor’s race was on the new schedule.

How did it go? In May 2013, a total of 409,909 votes were cast, and Garcetti claimed 222,300. This November, 929,974 ballots were tabulated—more than twice as many as nine years ago. Bass earned 509,944 votes.

The good news: 43.85 percent of the approximately 2.12 million eligible city voters cast a ballot for mayor.

The bad news: More than half of Angelenos who had the chance to vote for their mayor opted not to participate. The lack of a competitive top-of-the-ticket contest didn’t help—Gov. Gavin Newsom and Sen. Alex Padilla walked into slam-dunk, no-drama contests.

Again, compared with the past, almost 44 percent ain’t bad. But in November 2020, with the Joe Biden-Donald Trump presidential contest pulling people to the polls, almost 76 percent of county voters cast a ballot. Maybe, if we really want top-notch mayoral turnout, we need a contest that comes alongside the presidential vote.

 We Will Wait

Angelenos learned in the two rounds of 2022 voting that there’s a downside to enhancing the electoral process. To be sure, magnificent steps have been taken. Every voter in California now automatically receives a ballot. You can literally make your choice without getting dressed. If you head into the world (and put on clothes), regional centers allow someone to vote in-person up to 11 days before “Election Day.”

The only negative tick is that since we procrastinate, tabulating mountains of late-arriving mail-in ballots takes the proverbial minute. Of the almost 2.5 million ballots cast in the county in November, about 1.97 million were voted by mail. For each of these, the L.A. County Registrar-Recorder must open the envelope, verify the signature, and check it against a master list. It’s a process.

However, votes were counted quicker in November than in June, and give credit to the Registrar-Recorder for providing almost daily updates. Still, we have learned that election night counts are unreliable. The playbook seems to be that late votes lean progressive.

Election Day is a thing of the past. It’s now Election Month and ends in November…ish.

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