A mad scramble is on to fill the two Los Angeles City Council vacancies created by Gilbert Lindsay’s death and Robert Farrell’s decision not to run for reelection. But the failure to clearly identify successors early, combined with the short campaign period, is worrisome.
The current scenario, complete with a sudden and unplanned election less than three months from now, underscores the apathy in the black community that we can no longer afford, particularly when other minority groups have become politically aware and organized. The black community could well lose representation, either now or in the not-too-distant future, unless its leadership comes together in support of particular candidates. The magnitude of the problems in the 8th and 9th districts is overwhelming evidence that these are critical times and that there is little margin for error.
The immediate question is whether the long-range interests of blacks and minorities in these districts will be safeguarded and furthered during a brief campaign. The short time period provides little opportunity for voters to properly judge and evaluate announced candidates or for a clear exposition of their positions.
And although the vacancies present an opportunity for new leadership to emerge, the realities of a short campaign make the outcome of the election too much like a crapshoot and place an extra burden on voters to tune into each candidate’s record and history of community involvement and accomplishment. If potential candidates had been identified earlier, there would have been adequate time for political and community groups to raise money, organize forums and give endorsements, all of which help voters make better decisions.
This is indeed a time for the younger generation to put its restlessness to work. But youth, plus ambition, achieve nothing unless the new energy is focused and, in the case of the black community, dedicated to helping address painful problems.
The real issue is not age or personal opportunities but the viability of the leadership offered in the 8th and 9th districts. Furthermore, a youthful black councilman is not a new proposition. When Farrell took his seat on the City Council in 1974, he was about the same age as Mark Ridley-Thomas, executive director of the Southern Leadership Conference of Greater Los Angeles, whom he has endorsed.
It appears that the field of candidates for the 8th and 9th districts will be crowded. In addition to the black men who have expressed interest, I am hopeful that able black women will be strong contenders. There are strong and appealing women in state and federal politics, but the gender gap has not been closed locally.
The 9th District race is further complicated by what will probably prove to be an irresistible temptation by some members of the City Council to carve it up. Redistricting would serve no purpose other than to relocate a piece of the district’s rich vein of power and wealth for the benefit of several council members. No minorities--neither blacks, Latinos nor Asians--would benefit from any such proposal. Already denied so much, they do not need City Council representation stripped of the powerful leverage provided by the inclusion of downtown in the 9th District.
Lindsay knew it was important to barter with the downtown business community for services and employment opportunities for South-Central Los Angeles and those in his district who did not have financial and political strength. One of his successor’s first assignments must be to fight to maintain the integrity of the 9th District.
The demands on black leaders are very different from when Lindsay and Farrell came on the scene. Sad to say, blacks, locally and nationally, are worse off now than they were a decade ago--whether you look at homicide rates, other crime, joblessness, homelessness or medical problems, such as AIDS. To add to this, blacks in Los Angeles are now witnessing potent political plays by the Latino community, specifically in regard to the Board of Supervisors.
To avoid being overcome by this tidal wave of change, the smart black politician must help position his or her constituents in a very visible role and on the front seat of coalition politics. Voters who pin their hopes on a younger generation are misguided. They should instead focus on and support those candidates who have a solid track record as problem-solvers, effective negotiators and strategists.
Only candidates who are “quick studies” and offer effective leadership and solutions to the legion of problems in the 8th and 9th districts need apply.