In the final weeks before the runoff election, the Los Angeles City Council District 1 race has taken an unfortunate dark turn as incumbent Councilman Gil Cedillo fights off a surprise challenge by community activist Joe Bray-Ali. Harsh campaign mailers are arriving in the mail, racist comments have been made, supporters can be found screaming at each other at events, and accusations of unethical behavior have been leveled. That sort of thing.
It's in stark contrast to the relatively mild race that led to the March primary election, in which the biggest drama that occurred was when someone was caught on video tearing down a Bray-Ali campaign sign.
Though council members almost always win outright, with more than 50% of the vote, in the primary, Cedillo has found himself fighting for re-election in a runoff race against an opponent with a fraction of his campaign cash, political support or name recognition. That's because District 1, which stretches from upscale parts of Highland Park to the dense, low-income neighborhoods around MacArthur Park, is in need of a responsive, respectful steward as it experiences transformative growth.
The council member must balance the needs of the district's constituents with the formidable pressure from developers to build more housing. Many community leaders say the councilman is not succeeding at that. They say he is unresponsive to and dismissive of constituents. Some say he's too cozy with developers; some are concerned that his policies are encouraging gentrification of the district's neighborhoods, which in turn is resulting in displacement.
Bray-Ali offers a credible, appealing alternative to Cedillo. He earned the recommendation of The Times editorial board in the March primary and is still the best candidate. Bray-Ali, a former bike store owner, has been active in the community for more than a decade, first as a neighborhood council member and then as an advocate for bike lanes. He has a deep understanding of land-use issues, fresh ideas grounded in reality and a clear commitment to the district and its issues. It's telling too that Councilman Mitch O'Farrell in neighboring Council District 13 has broken with tradition and endorsed Bray-Ali over Cedillo, calling him an "independent voice."
Regrettably, this campaign has been characterized by mudslinging rather than a deep examination of the issues. Why did Bray-Ali once register to vote as Republican? Why won't Cedillo apologize for a supporter yelling "go back to India" to Bray-Ali at a debate? (Bray-Ali's father is Indian American.) Does posting a question to the hilarious OC Weekly column "Ask a Mexican" mean Bray-Ali is a racist?
If voters look beyond the campaign distractions and identity politics on the surface of this race, they will see that Cedillo is an old-school politician whose policies and actions have helped bring about some of the very gentrification he now decries, and that Bray-Ali offers the kind of energetic, visionary and community-focused leadership that this district, and city, deserves.