When it comes to politics, Los Angeles didn’t have as tumultuous a year as Washington, D.C. experienced. Still, there was plenty of attention-generating activity, and it occurred on a variety of fronts.
There were fierce clashes between power players, and a high-flying mayor trimmed his personal ambitions. Naturally, there were multiple jaw-dropping moments, including another FBI raid of local government. The year culminated with a City Hall changing of the guard.
Here are the 10 most memorable political moments of 2019.
One Strike and They’re All Out: On January 14, sidewalks in front of LAUSD schools turned into a sea of red as 31,000 educators, backed by an army of parent and community supporters, went on strike, demanding better pay, smaller class sizes, additional nurses and counselors, protections against charter school growth and more. Most parents kept their kids at home, and as strikers marched in cold, wet weather, public sentiment swelled around them. On January 22, Mayor Eric Garcetti helped union head Alex Caputo-Pearl and LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner come to terms on a new contract, and classes resumed the following day. Almost lost in the fracas: The deal teachers signed was very similar to one the district offered before the walkout began.
POTUS Dreams Deferred: Mayor Eric Garcetti flirted with a presidential run for over a year, traveling to more than a dozen states and dropping the hashtag #MayorsGetThingsDone. He pulled the plug on the-never-officially started endeavor at 5 p.m. on January 29, announcing in City Hall that he intended to finish the job city voters had elected him to do. Garcetti said resolving the teachers strike had helped him refocus on the city, though many wondered if Senator Kamala Harris’s then-seemingly unstoppable surge impacted his thinking, or if he was worried about potential fallout from a worsening homelessness crisis. Whatever the reason for the decision, L.A. had its mayor back.
No Gold Star: Alex Villanueva became the 33rd sheriff of L.A. County in late 2018, and he seemed to spend most of 2019 in a ceaseless, pointless, and fully avoidable war with the powerful Board of Supervisors. Much of the battle concerned his efforts to rehire a deputy, Caren Carl Mandoyan, who had been fired by previous Sheriff Jim McDonnell following allegations of harassment and domestic abuse. The supervisors took the matter to court in March, and won a favorable judgment in August. Yet relations remained frosty, and in the fall the supes froze a portion of Villanueva’s budget in the wake of increasing department overtime pay. This is an ongoing county clash with no end in sight.
Show Them the Money: On May 22, the City Council approved a motion with the potential to rein in political campaign financing and “behested” giving, in which people donate to charities at the request of politicians. In December, the panel voted to limit donations from real estate developers with projects before the city, but stopped well short of the wholesale change that clean-government advocates wanted—the new strictures won’t go into effect until after March 2022, meaning many council members could still benefit in their next election. Further, despite recommendations from the City Ethics Commission, behested payments continue unabated. Even some elected leaders were displeased, with Councilman Mike Bonin saying the city needs to stop approving “piecemeal crap.”
Sinking Streets: Everyone instinctively knew that homelessness in L.A. was getting worse, but Angelenos were unprepared for just how much the situation had deteriorated. That was revealed on June 4, when the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority released its annual Homeless Count. It found that homelessness had soared 16 percent in the city in a year, to more than 36,000 individuals, and spiked 12 percent in the county, to nearly 60,000 people. Politicians instantly issued statements full of gravitas and pledges to do more. Although thousands of people were actually housed, the numbers still soared, and the pressure on elected officials to make progress ratcheted higher.
FBI Raid, the Sequel: Eight months after FBI agents raided the City Hall office of Councilman José Huizar, they returned to downtown Los Angeles, this time searching the City Hall East offices of City Attorney Mike Feuer and the headquarters of the Department of Water and Power. While the feds were mum as to what sparked the July 22 investigation, Feuer—avoiding the commonplace “no comment”—issued a statement saying that the search warrants were related to a class-action lawsuit and settlement from a billing dispute involving the city, the DWP, and the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. No charges have been filed or arrests made, but the raids added to a stigma of a scandal-ridden local government.
Council Clash: L.A. came as close as it gets to a Red State-Blue State battle in the race to replace District 12 City Councilman Mitch Englander, who quit his job for a private-sector gig. John Lee, Englander’s former chief of staff, ran for the seat as a Republican in the only council district that still leans GOP. He was challenged by Loraine Lundquist, a Democrat and astrophysicist. The race was heavily contested and nearly $4 million was spent in the primary (which included additional candidates) and the August 13 runoff, but in the end, Lee captured 51.55 percent of the vote in the territory that includes Chatsworth and Granada Hills. Now chapter two is coming: Lee won the right to complete Englander’s term, and Lundquist is challenging him again in the primary next March.
Bad Planning: The city has strict “revolving door” laws dictating that high-level government employees who leave for the private sector must wait a year before being paid to lobby those they worked with. Apparently, someone forgot to tell Michael LoGrande, who departed his job as City Planning Director in 2016 and within months began seeking to push big projects through City Hall via his new consulting firm. That got the attention of the City Ethics Commission, which investigated the matter and, on August 20, hit LoGrande with a $281,250 penalty for his transgressions. It served as the largest fine the commission has ever imposed. LoGrande admitted violating the rules.
D.A. Throwdown: Jackie Lacey, who has served as District Attorney since 2012, had been coasting toward an easy March 2020 re-election; she faced some competitors, but no one scary. The situation changed on October 28, when former San Francisco D.A. George Gascon launched a bid to topple Lacey. It instantly became a battle of political heavyweights, and though Gascon (also a former LAPD assistant chief) on December 10 scored the endorsement of the L.A. County Democratic Party, Lacey has the backing of a squadron of prominent leaders, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. Gascon’s candidacy drew national attention and set up a battle between wings of the Democratic party.
The Rise of Nury: On December 3, the L.A. City Council unanimously elected Valley Councilman Nury Martinez as the panel’s next president, succeeding Herb Wesson, who is giving up the job to focus on a run for County Supervisor. Martinez, a savvy former LAUSD board member who won her current seat in 2013, will be the city’s first Latina council president, as well as its first woman president in more than three decades. Martinez has focused on issues including boosting the minimum wage and pushing for paid parental leave. She’ll unveil her agenda as president when she assumes the post in early January.