First Person | Fall 2021 Issue

I Nerd Out Over L.A. Elections

A veteran California journalist admits his fondness for very local politics

By Jon Regardie

FOR MOST PEOPLE who follow politics, 2022 means one thing: The election cycle, particularly the November ballot, will determine whether President Biden and the Democratic Party cling to their slim advantages in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, or Republicans claw back some power.

This Washington stuff is important, sure, but I’m much more excited about something else on the ballot: the Los Angeles mayoral election.

I’m also looking forward to the eight City Council races, the contest for City Attorney, and even the battle to be the next City Controller. (If you have no idea what the office of City Controller is, you’re not alone; basically, it’s L.A.’s fiscal watchdog.)

For me, an open mayor’s race — like the one that starts next June with the first round of voting — is the political equivalent of the Super Bowl melded with the Oscars and a party for a birthday that ends with a zero. I have already had dozens of conversations about which City Hall or outsider candidates will enter, and I expect to have scores more. I’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole by speculating not just on who will run for the seat, but how much money they will need to raise and what voting blocs they will seek to build. I get giddy when my Twitter feed reveals the results of a new poll.

My nerdy affection for local elections runs deep. I know the names of not only the winners of most city races in the past two decades, but many of the losers — even for council districts far from my Highland Park home. I have cobbled together factoids that are utterly useless, unless someone creates a City Hall-themed version of “Jeopardy!” For example, my frontal lobe holds data points such as Mayor Eric Garcetti earned 81% of the vote in his 2017 re-election, compared with the 55% that Antonio Villaraigosa secured when he won a second term in 2009. I know that veteran City Hall player Mark Ridley-Thomas is 10-0 in elections over three decades, and that another undefeated figure is, surprise, former Councilman José Huizar; like Ridley-Thomas, he, too, is ensnared in a City Hall corruption scandal, but he’ll always have a perfect 6-0 record.

Why do local elections resonate so deeply with me? Why during campaign season do I regularly check the City Ethics Commission website so I can pore over fundraising data? Why do I willingly watch council campaign forums, knowing they are filled with well-intentioned but hopeless candidates who speak in clichés such as the tired “I will fight for you!”?

In part, it’s the power play. City elections produce hard-nosed, strategic political theater. These are high-stakes throwdowns, often involving individuals with epic egos, making the races fun to watch. Plus, when it comes to council contests, we’re talking about mini-kingdoms; the 15 Los Angeles council members each represent approximately 250,000 residents. By contrast, before becoming the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg was the mayor of a city, South Bend, Ind., with about 100,000 inhabitants.

But that’s not all. Local elections matter to me because, well, I love Los Angeles, and I love living in Los Angeles, and the people we elect help determine the direction and livability of the city.

You might argue that this holds true, even more so, on the national stage, and I won’t dispute it. I’m not downplaying the importance of a presidential race or contests for governor or Congress. There is no denying that the Joe Biden-Donald Trump election last fall was the most consequential ballot of my lifetime.

And yet, it feels like the actions taken by a mayor or a council member will have a more immediate impact on my life as an Angeleno. These are officials whose decisions and stances on myriad policies — from policing to homelessness to trash collection and beyond — color the fabric of the city. Maybe this is just a version of the old adage that all politics is local.

Because the primary election doesn’t come until June, many people won’t start paying attention to the mayor’s race and other city contests until May. That’s OK. When that time comes, I’ll emerge from my rabbit hole and share my nerdy take with anyone who cares to listen, knowing that what happens at the ballot box will shape Los Angeles for years to come.

Jon Regardie

Jon Regardie

Jon Regardie spent 15 years as editor of the Los Angeles Downtown News. He is now a freelance writer contributing to Los Angeles Magazine and other publications.

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