L.A. mayor’s race inspires 2 youngsters to activism


He’s only 12, but Adam Brown has already volunteered for a presidential campaign, started his own nonprofit to get other kids involved in politics, and, last month, ran for student body president at Sylmar’s Los Angeles Mission College, where he takes classes.

His most recent plum? Introducing city councilman and mayoral hopeful Eric Garcetti during a fundraiser at his family’s Northridge home.

Poised but sneaking peeks at his notes, Adam, wearing a polo shirt and a campaign button, called Garcetti a “great leader” and ticked off his political biography. Then, like a seasoned pro, he closed by pivoting back to a plug for his own group,


“When your [16-month-old] daughter is old enough, I would like to have her join KidsSpeak,” he told Garcetti, as they shook hands to a hearty round of applause.

Brown was not the only precocious ‘tween at work in the Los Angeles mayoral race in the final days before Tuesday’s election.

On the Eastside, Zoe Donahoe, also 12, is phone-banking twice a week for Garcetti’s rival, City Controller Wendy Greuel. Zoe (pronounced ZO-ee) decided to get involved after learning that if elected, Greuel would be the first female mayor in the city’s 163-year-history.

“I thought it was crazy that there had never been one before,” said the soft-spoken girl, wearing a vintage “ERA YES” button on her jacket as she phoned potential voters in Greuel’s Boyle Heights office.

Adam and Zoe have never met, but if they did they’d probably have a lot to talk about. Their parents insist they are just typical kids: Adam enjoys baseball and sits up late playing Wii video games, his mother, Geeta Brown, says; Zoe keeps her hair in a hipster bob with bangs, wears unlaced Converse sneakers and occasionally “gets her phone taken away like every other kid,” says her mother, Mara Donahoe.

But at an age when many of their peers are focused on Instagram and zombies, these two appear to be fascinated by politics. What they can’t understand is why so many of the adults they meet seem uninterested, or even unaware, of the looming municipal election.

In the March primary, just 21% of Los Angeles’ 1.8 million registered voters cast a ballot. Political analysts are predicting a similar lackluster turnout in the runoff, which will determine the city’s next mayor, city attorney, controller and who holds council seats in as many as four districts.

Too often when she calls voters, Zoe said, they don’t know that an election is just days away.

Adam, too, focused on voter apathy in his introductory remarks for Garcetti.

“I know I can’t vote yet, but I make it a priority to stay informed about politics in our country so that when I’m old enough to vote, my vote will make a difference,” he said.

For Adam, the remedy is igniting a spark early in future voters. In appearances for KidsSpeak, he demonstrates that politics can be interesting.

During a recent talk to students at First Presbyterian, his former elementary school in Granada Hills, Adam tried to ignite a similar spark by staging a mock law-making session. He broke the fifth-graders up into “legislators,” “lobbyists” and, for one happy boy, the “governor.”

Then he took them through the process of how a bill becomes a law. The legislators proposed that all animal shelters must have no-kill policies. Adam told them they’d have to explain how to pay for it. Their first version of the bill included a $250-per-person tax to reserve a state campsite. That failed by one vote.

The “legislators” then huddled and came up with an alternative: How about a $12-per-person tax? That sailed through.

“What’s the name of your website?” several students asked Adam as they mobbed him afterward.

Adam became obsessed with learning everything he could about American presidents while still in preschool. He was an early reader, and his mother, who runs adult education programs, supplied him with as many library books as he could absorb. (His father, Christopher Brown, is a film producer.)

Adam was so far ahead of his class that his mother pulled him out of middle school and began home-schooling him. At age 8 — after volunteering for Barack Obama’s first campaign for president — Adam also persuaded her to let him take classes at Mission College.

Earlier this year, he decided to run for student body president at the college. But his first official political campaign has not gone smoothly. He apparently won by two votes but can’t yet claim victory because his next-closet rival has filed a protest over alleged polling violations. The matter has not been settled.

Zoe’s interest in politics developed over the past year as she studied civics and U.S. history. (Zoe, too, is part of a supervised home-schooling program.) Like Adam, Zoe was inspired by a president — albeit a fictional one. She recently started watching “The West Wing,” the TV series starring Martin Sheen as the fictional President Josiah Bartlet, a Clinton-esque liberal, and found the depiction of the fast-paced, cutthroat politics of Washington thrilling.

Earlier this year she decided she would volunteer for the mayor’s race and began researching the candidates. Her mother told her to pick a side, and she settled on Greuel. The campaign’s staff assigned her to the Boyle Heights office, not far from Zoe’s home in South Pasadena.

“I would like to vote,” she said. “But I have influence already. I can talk to people and change their mind about something.” She’s already won over a handful of voters, she said, who have pledged to support Greuel. Her mother, who was leaning toward Garcetti, was persuaded that Greuel would be a better leader. No word yet on which candidate is favored by her father, Gerry Donahoe, a set dresser for television and movies.

At a recent event in Boyle Heights, Greuel took a few minutes to talk to her young admirer. Even though elections can get tough, she told Zoe, more women should be willing to get into the arena.

“You never know. Keep that door open,” Greuel told her.

Garcetti, too, offered Adam words of support at the Northridge fundraiser.

“I know you’re in the midst of a hard-fought campaign,” Garcetti said. “I hope we’re both going to come out victorious.”