Los Angeles City Council District 10 spreads over a chunk of the center of the city; it is bisected by the 10 Freeway and encompasses the bustling Crenshaw Boulevard commercial corridor, the oil drilling sites in Jefferson Park and West Adams, and a large part of Koreatown. Presiding over this economically and ethnically diverse community is Herb Wesson, a former speaker of the California Assembly who has served as councilman for the 10th District since 2005. If he wins another term this year, it will be his last because of term limits. He should be reelected.
Not that we don't have concerns about him. Wesson serves as City Council president — one of the most powerful in recent years. He says he is "the glue" holding that body together, but to achieve such a high level of cohesion, he rules with a strong arm, rounding up the yes votes he needs and, critics say, occasionally punishing those who dissent. He's a bit of an operator, a wily and pragmatic leader of the council who hasn't articulated much of a vision for the city but has proved his ability to get things done, for better or, occasionally, worse.
In pushing through the controversial hotel minimum-wage hike last year, for instance, critics say he didn't allow enough time for council members to review economists' reports and allowed a consultant hired to evaluate the wage hike just 60 seconds to testify before cutting him off. Wesson also spearheaded a much-hyped campaign for a half-cent sales tax increase in 2013, warning that the city would face dire cuts in police deployment if it did not pass. The tax was defeated by voters, and there were no major cuts in police services.
Wesson, the first black council president, was also at the center of a contentious 2012 redistricting plan — now in litigation — that increased the number of black residents in his district by pulling them from the nearby 8th District. He was later videotaped saying that one of his main concerns was to ensure that there would be at least two districts with enough black voters to reliably elect black council members.
In the other part of his job — serving constituents — Wesson has supporters. They note that he secured a $1-million grant for a park that a local group had been struggling to build; found money for tree-trimming on a street where residents said they were desperate for it; persuaded city officials and an oil company to agree to a new review of a drilling site that community activists had been pressing for.
City Council members are in the business of providing constituent services. But they're also supposed to look out for the best interests of the city. We're not so sure that giving short shrift to city consultants or politicking to make sure that District 10 can elect a black council member best serve the interests of L.A. Wesson should concentrate on using his formidable political skills for the benefit of the entire city.
In the March 3 election, Wesson faces two challengers, neither of whom is prepared to replace him. Delaney "Doc" Smith is a physician who claims that reclaimed sewer water is being piped into taps in South L.A. There is no evidence of this, and he should not be elected. The more serious challenger is Grace Yoo, a lawyer and former executive director of the Korean American Coalition. She has openly challenged Wesson on his role in redistricting.
Yoo is plucky, genial and smart. But if Wesson is too much of a politician, Yoo is too little of one. She does not articulate her views well, and it's difficult to see her becoming a forceful member of the council. It would be terrific to see her grow into a strong voice for District 10. But in this race, we endorse Wesson.