City Council expansion measure on April 9 ballot
William Gallegos, Editor
LOS ANGELES — With very little fanfare, an important political campaign has begun here. This campaign — to expand the Los Angeles City Council by two seats — could begin to change the political face of this second largest U.S. city.
The issue is City Charter Amendment 2, a ballot measure which, if passed by the voters on April 9, would expand the City Council from 15 seatsto 17. It is expected that at least one of the new council seats would go to a Chicano; and that the other new council district would concentrate the city’s Asian/Pacific population, who could represent up
to 25% of that district. This would significantly increase their political clout.
On February 4, representatives of nearly 30 Chicano/Mexicano, Asian/Pacific, civil liberties and political organizations formed the Los Angeles Coalition for Fair Representation to pass Charter Amendment 2. A campaign office has opened and an aggressive outreach program set in motion.
In addition to the clear benefits of expansion of the City Council so that it can more efficiently represent the people of Los Angeles, the central issue is the political empowerment of the large Latino and Asian populations in Los Angeles.
Metropolitan Los: Angeles has the largest Chicano / Mexicano population in the country, some two-and-a-half million. This is over one-fifth of the total Chicano/Mexicano population in the U.S. Yet, despite these huge numbers, there has not been a Chicano mayor of Los Angeles since the 1800’s. Only one has ever sat on the City Council. No Chicano has ever sat on the County Board of Supervisors, and only one is on the Board of Education.
While Chicanos/Mexicanos are nearly voiceless in Los Angeles city and county
government, they experience serious and chronic social problems. Chicano unemployment continues to run at a 12% rate. Youth unemployment is over 40%. The Chicano school drop-out rate is at least 45% and rising. Chicano barrios are plagued
with poor, overcrowded and overpriced housing, poor health services and
drug problems. While the City Council does not itself address all of the issues, a “break
through” onto City Council could help to place these issues more sharply before
Different forces oppose this measure. In particular the large corporations, who have ambitious plans for expansion into the Southwest, fear that an empowered Chicano/Mexicano population could greatly inhibit their ability to freely exploit the region. The capitalists fear that if Chicanos succeed in Los Angeles, this could be a
“cancer” which could spread throughout the Southwest. Since the overwhelming
majority of Chicanos are from the working class, and all Chicanos suffer some form of oppression, more Chicano political representation could mean stricter
environmental laws, higher corporate taxes, stronger safeguards against plant
closures, the knocking down of “right-to-work” laws, more protection for undocumented workers, and so on.
And perhaps most importantly, the capitalists realize that potentially the major obstacle to their ability to completely dominate political power in the Southwest and to freely exploit its people and resources is the national sentiment of the Chicano people, who consider the Southwest their homeland. The struggle of Chicanos and Mexicanos in the Southwest for political power and self-determination represents the most serious challenge to capitalist plans for that region. Any struggle for even partial democratic reforms will fuel the masses’ desire for more democracy and power. That is why barrier upon barrier exists against Chicano /Mexicano political participation.
Only last year, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors eliminated bilingual election materials, in a county with the largest Spanish-speaking population in the U.S.
Hundreds of thousands of (tax-paying) Mexicano permanent residents are not
allowed to vote in local or state elections. And of course millions of undocumented
Mexicano workers are nowhere near to having any basic democratic rights, let
alone the voting franchise.
Thus, if the expansion measure passes, the Chicano/Mexicano community can begin to realize its potential power and continue to press for an end to all undemocratic barriers to its political representation. This would not bode well for the capitalists.
What victory could bring
The formal proposal to expand the council came from Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley. This proposal was meant as a very measured response to the Chicano (and Asian) demand for political power. If the measure passes, it might well result in the two new seats being filled by one Chicano/Latino and one white. This would initially have little effect on the balance of power in the council.
Nevertheless, it is important to get the measure passed. Beyond the fact that it is
better to have one or two Chicanos rather han none on the council, a victory would
open the door to greater minority, and especially Chicano/Mexicano, representation on the council and on other government bodies. Furthermore, if the measure passes,
the council must redraw all the council districts. A strong Black, Brown and
Asian /Pacific coalition could force the council to reapportion in line with the minority nationality makeup of the city, which is over half of the total population. Such a coalition, if successful, could continue to operate to address the vital common concerns of their communities, and to push city government in a progressive
Secondly, even if only one or two Latinos make it onto the council, they can, together with the three Black council members, form a powerful “minority block” which could affect many of the council’s decisions. They could conceivably unite with the other liberal council members to combat the rightist elements on the council. This would be of tremendous importance to all minority and working class communities in the city,
and could set an important precedent for other cities in the Southwest, such as Denver, Phoenix, Houston and so on.
A winning strategy
While an official opposition committee against Charter Amendment 2 has not yet formed, it is opposed by powerful political figures, led by council member and
mayoral candidate John Ferraro. It is also opposed by council members from
four other districts with large populations of conservative white voters, who traditionally vote in the highest numbers. Their principal argument is that Charter
Amendment 2 will cost too much. In fact, expansion will cost about $1 million, less
than one percent of the city’s budget. No new taxes are necessary to cover this expenditure.
But cost is not the real reason for opposition. It is opposed by Ferraro and company because it will dilute their power. They are aware that minority national
minorities already make up 51.7% of the city’s population and that their numbers are
growing fast. They do not want to see any increase in minority representation, “lest
the droplets become a tidal wave” which could wash out the power of the conservative block on the council. They want to protect their own power and privilege.
What then is a winning strategy for expansion? A key element is the development of a strong Black, Chicano, Asian/Pacific alliance. While these groups constitute somewhat less than 40% of the electorate, a large turnout from these communities could swing a close election. It is important to stress the common interest that these nationalities have in greater minority representation, so as to better address the basic economic and
social problems they all face. Also, every minority is under-represented in government, so a victory for any one minority nationality is a step forward for all.
It is especially important not to allow the politicos to pit Black people against Chicanos. One Black councilman, Gilbert Lindsay, is opposed to expansion because he fears the loss of campaign contributions from the Asians in his district. Lindsay is only defending his own narrow career interests and not those of the Black community.
The record of recent elections dictates that the stronger support for progressive issues comes from the three districts with large Black populations (one of which also has a relatively large number of Asians) and the 14th (Latino) District. The key task is to turn out the vote from these districts in large numbers. Emphasis must be on an aggressive voter education and get-out-the-vote campaign which does not skirt the issue of minority representation. The opposition is certain to bring it out, so it should be addressed head-on and affirmatively.
In those areas with large numbers of liberal white voters, the task is to educate them on the overall benefit of fair minority representation in government. If people believe in democracy, they must stand for its expansion to include everyone. There is no democracy for anyone if any one is excluded. In addition, as Jesse Jackson said during the primaries, when minorities win, progressives win, women win. The fact is that minority empowerment will represent a growth in progressive voting strength and will help in the efforts to move the city of Los Angeles and the entire region towards more progressive programs.
Secondly, it is important to get active support from the liberal politicians. Thus far most have just given lip service to expansion. Only Mayor Bradley has provided any logistical support for the campaign. The Los Angeles Coalition for Fair Representation must forcefully encourage all the Chicano, Black, Asian and progressive white elected officials and candidates to support this campaign financially and politically. Those running for office in April should make it an important issue in their own campaigns.
Thirdly, it is necessary to establish connections with existing progressive political forces including Assemblywoman Gloria Molina, Women to Women network, Democratic clubs, the NAACP, the National Coalition for Redress/Reparations, minority student networks and so on. Labor federations and unions can help with money, manpower, supportive articles in the press, and perhaps even staff personnel. This should be seen as part of building a progressive coalition which could later address other important issues.
Unity is key
A victory for Charter Amendment 2 will be an important step forward on the road to political empowerment for the Chicano/Mexicano and Asian populations. This is long overdue.
Greater democratic representation for these two long-under-represented,
predominantly working class populations will mean greater allies in the fight against
social decay of our cities, a deteriorating educational system, environmental pollution and the progressively greater exploitation of workers (high prices, high rents, high taxes, lower wages, etc.). The opposition to Charter Amendment 2 and to any striving for greater democracy comes precisely from those forces responsible for those conditions.
In the course of this struggle, the unity of Afro-Americans and Chicanos/Mexicanos will be especially key. But the unity of all other nationalities and progressive forces will also be important. In particular, the ability of the left forces which support the struggle to work together, and to leave sectarianism and red baiting “at the door,” will be important not only to the winning of this particular struggle but to lay the basis for greater left cooperation in the future.
Through greater unity not only can this charter amendment struggle be won, but
it could lay the basis for a broader progressive coalition in the city of Los Angeles which could continue the fight for democratic representation and a better
quality of life.