I sent this in an email to my friends in the LA area in March, 2022. I had been following local politics as a voter, but wanted to experiment with amateur journalism and encourage my peers to get engaged with the election – this is my attempt to do that.
As of late 2023, Karen Bass ended up winning, Caruso spent an enormous amount of money on his failure, De León was part of a large scandal in the council that may mean an end to his political career, and automation at the port continues relatively unabated.
Meanwhile, in San Pedro
At the end of February I attended a debate with candidates for the LA Mayoral primary and I wanted to tell you about it. This meant driving almost the length of the 110 Freeway from Downtown LA to San Pedro, which neighbors Long Beach.
There is a long list of candidates in this race. California dictates that LA runs an unaffiliated two-round system, with this primary being the first round. The event was hosted by the Democratic Club of San Pedro, who invited four of the front-runners, most notably excluding famed Mall Owner Rick Caruso (see: The Grove, Glendale Americana, etc.). Rick’s billionaire status leads us to assume that in the coming months he’ll be walking down Wilshire palming cash to anyone with a pulse to promote his campaign.
Congresswoman Karen Bass is perhaps the biggest brand, representing the 37th congressional district covering part of West and South LA, followed by Joe Buscaino, an ex-cop city councilman from the 15th district, which is where the debate is being held. Kevin De León is also a councilman, representing the most easterly District 14. Finally we have Mike Feuer, the LA City Attorney. The City Attorney’s office represents the municipality and prosecutes criminal misdemeanors.
The current LA City 2021/2022 budget is ~$11.4 billion. The mayor manages the administrative processes of the city and guides the City Council on legislative matters which holds considerable influence over how these funds affect life in and around the city of Los Angeles. Eric Garcetti is the current Mayor in the second of his limited two terms – he will jet off to Delhi to serve as our country's Ambassador to India following this election.
In the lineup to enter the venue outside of the theater, learning Pedro politics from a local, it is suggested that I am there to “see if their skin is transparent”, which seems apt. Given the raucous outbursts at the previous debate which resulted in attendees being forcefully dragged out, Black Night Patrol, the private security firm headquartered a block away, is carefully looking on as all twenty of us early arrivals stand around on the sidewalk. A lank attractive woman asks me “where the candidates entrance is”.
Once we’re inside, it is clear Buscaino has home-field advantage. His campaign representative, Sandra Ciaramitaro, runs back and forth holding two rows of theater seats for “Joe’s extended family”. Each seat has a campaign sign. Sandra seems deeply troubled by an aging woman who is not a member of Joe’s extended family and refuses to move. She spends the better part of fifteen minutes attempting to relocate her (with increasingly official tones) to no avail.
This is the “Harbor Area”. There is discussion by all of the local political figures before the debate about how LA politics typically leaves out Pedro. The LA municipal district outline looks a bit like it has a leg sticking out – the leg’s foot is the Harbor and connects to the LA City port which imports a fifth of America’s stuff. The precursors to the debate also include mention of LA County districts now “splitting” San Pedro in half following the recent redistricting, one of the two county supervisors is met with moderate booing. He seems dejected and unresilient in the face of this.
Karen Bass takes the first question and brings it straight to the homelessness crisis and her emergency room experience. Congresswoman Bass worked in a USC emergency room and “she realized that applying pressure to her patient’s wound might save one life, but it wouldn’t stop her city from bleeding”, so she started community organizing and ended up in Congress. She states directly that both “unhoused and housed” do not feel safe in LA. This is a clear acknowledgement of her platform that includes calls for an increase in staff and budget to the LAPD among other public safety investments.
Buscaino takes the second question, and the crowd “erupts” as much as the hundred some people who made it out can. He leads with his humble recognition of his roots in Pedro, not being from the political class, for “faith, family, service”. “Straight talk” language and statement, getting things done, stating he has made changes and progress. Talks about his history as a cop and his track record on public safety and community cleanup.
Kevin De León is next. He comes at it with more charisma. Repeats multiple times that his mother has a “third grade education”. De León seems to have about as much of a crowd as Bass, with loose cheers, but perhaps a few non-family non-staff attendees. The die hard De León crew is out, but still outnumbered by Team Joe locals.
Mike Feuer shares his story. His dad was in the camps, and that he grew up with “yiddish and spanish”, and that he watched his Japanese friends leave at some point. Proudly repeats his plan to visit all 101 neighborhoods in the city, “something no one else is doing”. He’ll be down the street at 2pm here in Pedro for his visit. I have a deep desire to see the spreadsheet that tracks these visits.
The initial set of questions are all local port issues, and are answered consistently by the lot of them. Karen makes a suggestion for those re-introducing to society working at the port. Pro-union sentiment from everyone. A leader from the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) is one of the questioners. Apparently automation is a deeply evil word here, and every candidate dumps on it spectacularly. Kevin sounds like he is pursuing the presidency, “a crane is not just a crane, it’s a worker paying a mortgage”.
Both Joe and Kevin describe the green energy movement as a plot towards automation and workforce reduction. Anti-worker automation investments are apparently being introduced as green energy initiatives throughout the port and the union has wisened up.
Kevin De Leon continues leaning on words and metaphors. In a discussion on pollution he points out that “I grew up in a neighborhood that had no trees” and looks over a district with “Nine major freeways that crisscross the district and choke the air like a serpent”. He asserts that the supply chain for a flat screen going across the country is taking advantage of “YOUR LUNGS” with forceful emphasis.
Joe continues focusing on his local connection to the area stating he has family members who have passed from cancer due to that same polluted air. I begin to be confused as Joe refers to an increasingly large pool of people in his anecdotes as “brother” and “sister”. It’s either cultish language or he has prolific parents.
Mike Feuer dates himself, bringing up council measures from the 90s that he led or supported to reduce pollution. He has the longest career of the group in politics. On one local environmental issue, Karen suggests she will “bring it to Washington”, making it clear her relative power over federal issues vs the rest of the group.
We arrive on the issue of housing affordability and access. Buscaino clearly focuses on this, and talks about his plans for a central “development services department”. Karen states there are no magic bullets but takes it federal again stating we need a national emergency to be declared. Kevin speaks to the whole audience, says he is concerned for their wellbeing, gets poetic again “let me underline, emphasize, italicize…bold if you will…how important you are”.
It wraps with a question inspired by the protests of summer 2020. Joe gets rhetorical with the audience – “do you want a city with more mayhem and chaos”? Karen and Kevin both want all forms of civil engagement. Mike ends with a bang, restating his 101 neighborhood tour.
Concluding statements and we exit to the street. Buscaino is out on the sidewalk trying to leave with his extensive family. He is being stopped by a guy trying to get a project done in Watts. Joe sighs, turns, and says “okay what’s your number”. Buscaino is short and has a bit of a waddle.
Kevin De León is in the alley off to the side swaddling a baby, surrounded by family. They are the best dressed contingent. A few of his fans walk by, middle-aged Silverlake residents (if I were to guess). Someone in Kevin’s crowd mutters “he seems to know the port issue” in clear reference to Buscaino.
I take in the sun and overhear a press-passed man speaking reductively to a group. It’s unclear what outfit he works for. “Mike Feuer’s got the plan – whomever wins should hire Mike”. “The question is, between Kevin and Karen…Karen’s got the edge. It’s the year of the Black woman, none of those other 3 are either Black or women”. “Joe should get hired on one of those NCIS programs”.
Two teenage passersby in long dark clothes and dyed hair walk down the sidewalk, weaving through the crowd outside the theater. One turns to the other, “what the fuck is wrong with San Pedro man...what the fuck was that”.