No matter what David Ryu's election to the Los Angeles City Council District 4 seat says about the demographics of the voters who chose him, his victory brings a significant change in the demographics of the 15-member council. Ryu becomes the first Korean American member and just the second Asian American — 22 years after the first, Michael Woo, left office. The challenge for Ryu now is to be not just a fresh face, but also the fresh voice he promised during the long and costly campaign.
Ryu, a former development director at a nonprofit Los Angeles hospital, positioned himself as the outsider in the race to fill the seat of longtime Councilman Tom LaBonge, who was termed out. His opponent in the runoff, Carolyn Ramsay, had worked for LaBonge in various posts, most recently as chief of staff, and had been endorsed by such major City Hall figures as Mayor Eric Garcetti and Council President Herb Wesson.
There wasn't much difference between the candidates on the issues; both pledged to fight out-of-scale development and fix crumbling infrastructure, two of the biggest concerns in the district. But if the complaints of some community leaders are any indication, what voters — or at least the paltry number who bothered to cast ballots — wanted was a candidate with no ties to LaBonge or City Hall. The fact that Ryu won the Hollywood Hills, where residents were upset over tourists clogging winding roads on their way to the Hollywood sign, and a portion of Hancock Park, where residents were angry that their concrete streets went unpaved, lend credence to this theory.
Now that Ryu is on the inside, we urge him to maintain the outsider stance he struck during his campaign and question the way things are done in local government. Too often, council candidates win seats by railing against the status quo only to be subsumed quickly into the united front that City Hall puts forward on issue after issue. Having blasted LaBonge's use of his office's discretionary funds on lower-priority projects, Ryu also vowed to be transparent in how he would spend this money. His constituents should hold him to that promise.
Ryu was well-known for proclaiming on the campaign trail that he would listen to constituents before formulating his own plans. Now that the voters have given him that listening post, he should take stock of their needs and start developing a response to the concerns they expressed, loud and clear, about mansionization, traffic congestion and crumbling infrastructure. But we also expect him to be actively engaged on such daunting citywide problems as the protracted budget mess. His constituents need him to be not just a listener and a pothole fixer but a skeptical voice on the big issues as well.