Column: Are charges against Curren Price just another blow for Black power in L.A.?

Councilmember Curren Price
Councilmember Curren Price sits through public comments as he presides over a council meeting Tuesday as president pro tempore at L.A. City Hall. He faces 10 counts of embezzlement, perjury and conflict of interest.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)
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“With the trust that you placed in me, I’m going to continue to do everything in my power to bring our city together. This is an honor I don’t take lightly.”

Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren Price, standing in his usual spot behind the horseshoe at City Hall, delivered those words with supreme confidence last October.

His colleagues had just made him their second in command, their president pro tempore. Now they were looking at him expectantly, with more than a little hope, even as protesters who had packed the chambers yet again chanted and slapped their seats in a relentless cacophony of hopelessness.


L.A. City Councilmember Curren Price was charged with embezzlement, perjury and conflict of interest on Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

June 13, 2023

As a Black man representing a majority Latino district in South L.A., Price was supposed to be the perfect politician to lead the city out of the darkness brought about by the leaked recording of three councilmembers and a labor leader trading racist barbs about consolidating Latino political power through redistricting.

Darkness compounded by a series of corruption scandals that have ensnared, in relatively rapid succession, Councilmembers Mitch Englander, Jose Huizar and Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“It’s time we work together to restore trust,” Price said in October, statesman-like after decades in elected office. “Restore faith in our city.”

Apparently, it won’t be that simple.

On Tuesday, Price was charged with five counts of grand theft by embezzlement, three counts of perjury and two counts of conflict of interest. Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón said he is accused of having a financial interest in projects he voted on, and of having the city pay for medical benefits for his current wife while he was still married to another woman.

It’s unclear what will happen next.

Not long after the indictment was announced Tuesday afternoon, Price spokesperson Angelina Valencia told The Times: “We have not seen the charges filed against Councilmember Curren Price. It’s highly unusual for charges like this to be brought up against a sitting city councilmember without any prior notice or discussion. Curren Price is a long-standing public servant who has given his life to the city of Los Angeles. He looks forward to defending himself.”

A few hours later, Price stepped down from his position as president pro tempore and gave up his committee assignments.


“While I navigate through the judicial system to defend my name against unwarranted charges filed against me, the last thing I want to do is be a distraction to the people’s business,” he said in a statement.

No matter. It’s likely his colleagues will feel the need to suspend him, similar to what they’ve decided for other councilmembers who have faced criminal charges. That would leave yet another group of Angelenos without a voting representative — in this case, in the 9th District, stretching south from downtown along the 110 Freeway.

If Price is actually convicted of a felony, which is far from a certainty, he would permanently lose his seat on the City Council after a decade in office.

City Councilmember Curren Price, left, chats with colleague Marqueece Harris-Dawson on Tuesday at L.A. City Hall.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Curren Price, left, chats with colleague Marqueece Harris-Dawson on Tuesday at L.A. City Hall. Price learned hours later that he had been charged with multiple counts of embezzlement and perjury.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

So it is both predictable and understandable that the charges will be seen by many as yet another both disappointing and maddening blow for Black people in Los Angeles. In fact, hovering over a city that has for so many decades been defined by tribal politics will be the question: What does this mean for Black political power?

There are no simple answers to that.

Not with rapid demographic shifts and a dwindling population of Black residents, thanks to rising rates of displacement tied to the high cost of living; namely, for housing.

Not after Ridley-Thomas, a veteran politician known for his singular ability to get things done for Black people, was convicted in late March (though he is pursuing an appeal).


Not even with the city recently electing its second Black mayor, Karen Bass, by an overwhelming margin.

Voters in Price’s district have elected a Black representative to the City Council every term since the 1960s. This is true even though the population there, at last count, is 78% Latino and 13% Black, and several Latino candidates challenged him in previous elections.

Price is in his third and final term on the council, expected to leave in 2026. If he is convicted, his exit will come much sooner, and the chances of him being replaced by another Black politician aren’t high. It also, quite frankly, makes perfect sense in a city where Latinos remain underrepresented in elected office.

In some quarters, I suspect the charges against Price also will be seen as a twisted reflection on Black politicians, writ large. It’ll be, “Oh, there goes another crooked Black politician.”

This is the most unintended side effect of L.A.’s family-affair-style tribal politics, one exploited during last year’s mayoral campaign when police unions tried to tie Bass to the indictment filed against her longtime friend Ridley-Thomas.

But this is also the way the broad brush of anti-Black racism works in this country, regardless of city or profession. Especially in a city or a profession when there are only a handful of powerful Black people.


Which is why I’m choosing to see things differently.

A jury found the longtime politician guilty in a sprawling federal case involving a quid pro quo with USC. Replacing him won’t be easy for Black L.A.

March 30, 2023

Price is 72 years old. He came of political age at a time when Black people had to band together to get elected. That’s still true, but increasingly less so. Especially in a city that’s as increasingly multicultural as Los Angeles.

More than tribal politics, maybe we need to focus instead on the forces that brought people like Hugo Soto-Martinez and Eunisses Hernandez to the City Council.

So what does his indictment mean for Black political power in L.A.?

Absolutely everything. And absolutely nothing. It’s up to us — all of us — to decide.

Price probably understands this more than most.

“As a 71-year-old Black man,” Price said last year, accepting the job of president pro tempore, “I’ve had my fair share of experience fighting against adversities. From living through a time of segregation to the social justice revolutions today. We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but I have infinite hope that working together works.’’

On Tuesday, he presided over most of the City Council meeting, blissfully unaware of the pending indictment, cheerily introducing himself as the president pro tempore and saying that it was his “pleasure to welcome you today.”

It was the last bit of normalcy in city government that we’re likely to see for a while — again.

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LA Times Today: Are charges against Curren Price just another blow for Black power in L.A.?

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