When I come out for a candidate it has been because they resonate with me on both an intellectual and an emotional level. In 2001 and 2005 I was “all-in” for Villaraigosa…My heart pitter-pattered as Antonio made each of his supporters feel like the most important person in the world, as his voice caressed each word that he spoke and his eyes danced with excitement.
My chest heaved with pride as I’d teach the correct pronunciation of ”Vee-Yah-Ry-Go-Sa,” explaining the beauty of his blended surname and implied commitment to feminism. Intellectually, I saw Antonio Villaraigosa as the greatest hope for a Black/Latino alliance in Los Angeles…I was all in.
Although the governance form taken following his 2005 victory would disappoint, I continued to search out and support candidates who won me over that completely…Mark Ridley-Thomas, Karen Bass, Holly Mitchell …and even long-shots with absolutely no chance of winning like Ron Gochez managed to satiate my longing.
Amid the field of 2013 Los Angeles mayoral contenders, one would surely stand out for progressive vision and, more specifically, for Black progressivism. Jan Perry would seem the most obvious choice…She was Black…and Jewish…and downtown business friendly….with a long record of fighting with (as in against, not alongside) other Black electeds. Okay…not quite eliciting the pitter patter.
But, one January morning in a crowded USC auditorium, his energy enveloped my balcony seat as he uttered the words that I longed to hear…”underground train on Crenshaw….” Yes! It didn’t matter that he was the son of Gil Garcetti, who, as District Attorney, was the target of countless protests for criminal justice reform.
It didn’t matter that he presented to the world like a skinny entitled White boy, whose Latino roots must be buried somewhere deep, deep within.
It didn’t matter that he had a history of not following through on promises. Committing to undergrounding the Crenshaw rail meant Eric had won my support.
For the past three years, I have felt like David seeking to topple Goliath, demanding a Crenshaw SUBWAY…an underground train that would breathe new life into the Crenshaw corridor. The MTA’s plan to run a train down the middle of Crenshaw Boulevard, fighting with cars, bikes and pedestrians for space, would bring death and destruction to our community.
It was this very issue that brought the end of my political love affair with Mayor Villaraigosa. My evenings were filled with Crenshaw Subway Coalition meetings. And I had become a single-issue voter who simply asked candidates, “Will you make sure that the Crenshaw line goes underground?”
As we approached the run-off elections, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition requested interviews with the final candidates: Eric Garcetti and the former Republican, former corporate executive, over hair-sprayed, very blonde, Wendy Greuel. Nothing about Greuel lit my fire. Even her name made me think of witch’s cauldrons. She was from the Valley and married to the dictionary definition of a rich, old White man…a one-percenter if I’ve ever seen one.
I was bewildered as labor, progressive groups, and my County Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, lined up behind her. When she sat down with the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, just days after we requested a meeting, I didn’t quite believe the words that she uttered. “I will be a champion for undergrounding the entire Crenshaw line.” Come on…she’s just saying that. She’s trying to catch up with Eric.
So we called Garcetti…and called him….and called him….and called. For weeks we called, emailed, and sent messages through campaign volunteers. When he finally met with us, he arrived late, left early and refused to commit to what he had spoken just a few short months before…undergrounding the Crenshaw line.
As I stepped back, I came to understand that this election was about much more than my single issue. What it was really about was the kind of governing coalition that each candidate brings.
With Eric, we have a former Council President who stumped early for Obama, but did little substantively and has virtually no authentic Black advisors. Who whispers in his ear and reminds him that he must get back to Black folks quickly, that he must allot time to really connect, and that he must do more than open a campaign office on Crenshaw?
And what made Wendy spend more than an hour with us? What made her be courageous enough to put her commitments in writing? Some of it may be about character…it may even be about gender. But some of it is also about advisement. Much of Wendy’s guidance comes from Ridley-Thomas, who is helping her to understand South Los Angeles and Black interests. It may also be the emerging leaders in her circle like Ed and Effie Sanders.
As Election Day draws nearer, no one has made my heart pitter-patter, driven me to write a check, or even compelled me to volunteer. I am not under the illusion that either candidate is entrenched in the Black community or even has a cursory understanding of it. What I am beginning to recognize, however, is that those who surround themselves with wise counselors can represent us in ways that disconnected electeds absolutely cannot.
There is much more required than issuing off-the-cuff statements in the heat of a debate. What matters most in a race where neither candidate “speaks to me” is to whom the candidate actually speaks. So…while I am not “all-in,” I am in. On May 21st I’ll be casting my ballot for Wendy Greuel…and if that makes me a flip-flopper, they are shoes that I will simply have to wear.
(Dr. Melina Abdullah, Ph.D is a parent of a student at View Park Prep School, which would be impacted by the currently proposed street-level segment of the Crenshaw/LAX Line from 48th-59th Street.)
Vol 11 Issue 41
Pub: May 21, 2013