A federal judge on Thursday allowed Los Angeles school board member Rita Walters to run for the City Council seat of the late Gilbert Lindsay, overruling city officials who said she had not met a 30-day residency requirement.
U.S. District Judge Robert M. Takasugi said the city residency requirement was unconstitutional in this case because it did not give Walters and other candidates enough time to move into Lindsay’s 9th District and declare their candidacy after the councilman’s death Dec. 28.
“I’m ecstatic,” said a grinning Walters, before hugging her two lawyers. “Now we’re off to a vigorous campaign, to assure victory at the end of that road, as we were victorious here.”
The decision allows Walters to join 14 other contenders for Lindsay’s seat in an April 9 special election set to coincide with other local races.
Assistant City Atty. Anthony S. Alperin argued that Walters should be barred from running, and said the city “may very well” appeal the ruling.
Walters, a fiery Board of Education member, moved into Lindsay’s district on Jan. 8. But because the City Council had set Jan. 18 as the filing deadline for the special election, anyone who had not moved into the district three weeks before Lindsay died was barred from entering.
Walters sued the city, contending that the residency requirement deprived her of her right to seek office.
Alperin argued during the hearing that the 30-day rule, upheld in several courts, ensures that candidates demonstrate “real connections to the district” and keeps political carpetbaggers from moving into the district at the last minute.
The city attorney contended that Walters had had enough time to move into the district during the months before Lindsay died, when the 90-year-old councilman was hospitalized, immobile and unable to speak because of a stroke.
Alperin said Walters also had the option of staying in the 10th District, where she had lived for 22 years, and running against incumbent Nate Holden, who also is up for reelection.
A Walters attorney, Gregory Smith, argued that the 30-day residency requirement does not guarantee that candidates have strong ties to the district. Also, he argued, Walters represents 80% of the council district’s residents as a school board member.
Walters said in an interview that she refused to move into the district while Lindsay was alive because it would have been impolite, unseemly and perhaps politically damaging.
“As long as there is life in the body, you never know what might happen,” Walters said. “It seemed kind of ghoulish to me, like vultures hovering around, waiting for someone to die.”
Walters, 60, was elected to the school board in 1979. Its only black member, she has strongly supported school desegregation and the rights of minority students.
Among the other candidates in the 9th District are Bob Gay, Lindsay’s former deputy; Brad Pye Jr., an aide to county Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, and Woodrow Fleming, a labor activist working for state Sen. Art Torres in his campaign for a county supervisor’s seat.