L.A. on the Record: Asian Americans and the L.A. vote

Kenneth Mejia heading to his downtown campaign office in 2022 after he was elected L.A. city controller.
(Steve Lopez/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to L.A. on the Record — our City Hall newsletter. It’s Jeong Park and Dakota Smith at the helm.

In Los Angeles politics, 2022 was a historic year for Asian Americans.

Kenneth Mejia became the first Asian American to win a citywide office when he triumphed in the city controller’s race.

But a report released this week by the UCLA Asian American Studies Center argues that Asian Americans, now the third-largest racial group in the city, still lack representation.

The report, called “Asian American, Latino, Black and White Voters in Los Angeles City Elections: Racial Diversity and Representation in 2020 and 2022,” identifies three major issues with Asian American voters.

Not enough Asian Americans are running for office in L.A., with only 13 of 193 candidates for City Council between 2011 and 2022 identifying as Asian American, the report said.

Also, voter registration rates in the community remain low at under 50% across most of the city, and there is no city council district where Asian Americans make up a majority or even plurality.


“Asian American voters do often vote as a bloc in support of Asian American candidates but at the same time, they are often not a large enough group of voters to sway the outcome of an election in Los Angeles,” Natalie Masuoka, an associate professor of political science and Asian American studies at UCLA, and Nathan Chan, a Loyola Marymount assistant professor of political science, wrote in their report.

“But while Asian Americans are visibly growing in Los Angeles, it is not clear if their power and growth in electoral politics matches the potential suggested by their population growth,” the report said.

Between 2010 and 2020, the population of Asian American residents in Los Angeles grew by 8.2%, while the population of the entire city grew by 2.8%, according to the report.

Asian American residents, at 11.8% of the population, trail Latino residents (46.9%) and White residents (28.9%). Black Angelenos represent the fourth-largest racial group at 8.3%.

Only when Asian Americans can form a coalition with other ethnic groups, the report said, can they get their preferred candidates to win.

That was the case in Council District 1, where Eunisses Hernandez defeated incumbent Gil Cedillo with strong support from Asian Americans and white voters. The report found that an overwhelming number of white voters supported Hernandez. Cedillo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about the study.

Chan said the numbers are merely estimates and that a relatively small sample size can produce extreme numbers.

Asian Americans were also part of a multi-racial coalition, along with Latino and Black Angelenos, that propelled Karen Bass to victory in last year’s mayoral race, countering Rick Caruso’s slight victory among white voters.

In the controller race, Mejia won an overwhelming majority among Asian Americans, but he also had a lot of support from the Latino and white communities.


But Asian Americans struggle when they go it alone in their support of a candidate. In Council District 13, where Asian Americans make up 18% of voting age citizens, their support for then-incumbent Mitch O’Farrell was countered by Hugo Soto-Martínez running up the margin among Latino and white voters.

In 2020, Asian Americans voted overwhelmingly for Grace Yoo when she challenged Mark Ridley-Thomas in a district that included much of Koreatown, but Yoo still lost by more than 20 percentage points.

At a panel on Tuesday, Masuoka and Chan, along with community leaders, presented their study. Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College, asked: Are 15 City Council districts ultimately too few to adequately represent Asian American voices in L.A.?

Each council member represents around 260,000 people and there’s been a lot of recent support in City Hall for expanding the council.

Some community leaders voiced their support for expansion of the council. But William T Fujioka, chair of the Japanese American National Museum Board of Trustees and a former chief executive of L.A. County, was skeptical whether any expansion would go through.

“People are not willing to support more government, more politicians,” he said.

State of play

— THANKS, BUT NO THANKS: Mayor Karen Bass’ initiative to house people in hotels has stalled in a downtown Los Angeles neighborhood, encountering crime, addiction and “resistance” from some of the area’s unhoused, The Times reported. In May, at least three dozen tents still populated the streets targeted by Bass around El Pueblo, including Main and Spring streets, Cesar Chavez Avenue and Broadway.

— PAY UP: Metro is set to release a congestion pricing study this summer that looks at charging people to drive key freeways and roads, The Times reported. MBass’ office declined to comment for the story, but she told The Times’ editorial board last year during a mayoral candidate interview that she would support a congestion pricing pilot program.

— ON LEAVE: John Chen, a top executive at the DWP who makes more than $320,000 a year, was placed on administrative leave after The Times asked the utility about Chen’s outside bitcoin mining business. Chen denies any wrongdoing.

— 2026 WATCH: Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who ran for governor in 2018, isn’t ruling out another go at the job in 2026. “I’ve spent my life in service and I’m going to continue to serve,” Villaraigosa told FOX 40 anchor Nikki Laurenzo. Villaraigosa made more than one run for L.A. mayor —he lost in 2001, but came back and won in 2005.

— CD 6 WATCH: The Daily News’ Linh Tat profiled both Imelda Padilla and Marisa Alcaraz ahead of the June 27 election for the City Council District 6 seat.

— NEW LEADER: Bass on Thursday picked Staycee Dains, director of Animal Care Services for the city of Long Beach, to be next general manager of the city’s troubled Animal Services department.

— CLOSE ONE: Final results released Friday from the L.A. County Registrar/Recorder show that LVMH’s fancy Beverly Hills hotel project failed to pass by just 80 votes.

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Quick hits

  • Where is Inside Safe? The mayor’s signature anti-homelessness initiative went to Harbor City, helping residents of an encampment on Lomita Boulevard. By Friday, more than 60 people had been moved into nearby motels, according to the mayor’s office.
  • On the docket for next week: The Armenian National Committee of America Western Region will host a forum with the two City Council District 6 candidates on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Vatican Banquet Hall in Van Nuys.

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