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L.A. City Council candidate retreats from racially charged remark

State Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles) is running to replace Jan Perry on the L.A. City Council.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

A state lawmaker campaigning to represent a major chunk of ethnically diverse South Los Angeles on the City Council is retreating from his controversial accusation that an opponent has tried to divide voters “along racial lines.”

State Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles) is seeking to reframe remarks he made last week to a group made up largely of African American ministers about his rival, former council aide Ana Cubas. The shift in message came after council President Herb Wesson, a top Price supporter, called for the senator to meet personally with Cubas.

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On March 18, during a speech to the Baptist Ministers Conference of Los Angeles and Southern California, Price decried voter identification laws passed in other parts of the country and warned that the U.S. Supreme Court could strike down the Voting Rights Act. Then Price, who is African American, made a reference to Cubas, a Latina.

“Even in this campaign, we have an opponent who is committed to dividing the 9th [District] along racial lines,” he said. Price did not elaborate.

The speech touched a nerve in a district that is nearly 80% Latino, but where African Americans make up more than 40% of registered voters. Former City Councilwoman Rita Walters, an African American who once represented the district and now supports Cubas, issued a public letter accusing Price of trying to demonize a “bridge builder.”

“I am disturbed that a candidate … in a district where Latinos and African Americans have lived side by side for decades would utter remarks so clearly aimed at inciting friction between both groups of voters,” Walters said.

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Wesson, the council’s first black president, also reacted, calling for a Monday meeting between the candidates at a restaurant at downtown’s L.A. Live entertainment complex. Also attending the meeting was Eastside Councilman Jose Huizar, who is Latino and backing Cubas.

Afterward, Price told The Times he had spoken with Walters and reassured her the campaign would be focused on issues, not race. He also said he intended to send a different message in his speech to the clergy.

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“The point I was trying to make is there is no room for racial animosity in the campaign,” he said. “It shouldn’t be exploited. That’s really the point I was trying to make.”

Last week, Price’s campaign sent reporters a copy of his initial attack on Cubas, and a representative said he expected to back up Price’s claim with examples. The campaign never did so.

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Cubas said she was taken aback by Price’s accusation. “I am very concerned about, as leaders, what kind of tone we set,” she said. “And my tone and my themes have always been around unity” between different races.

If Cubas wins, it will be the first time in 50 years that the district won’t have a black council member. Councilwoman Jan Perry, who replaced Walters in 2001, will step down June 30 because of term limits.

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Price’s March 18 remarks were recorded and posted on the Baptist Ministers Conference website. That’s the same site that eight months ago posted video of Wesson discussing efforts to ensure that the district continues to be represented by an African American. Wesson told the ministers’ group that if they came together “as a people,” they could replace Perry with “someone who looks like you, who looks like me.”

Wesson said Tuesday that he suspected Price had made his original comments about Cubas based on “unvetted” information. He predicted that the candidates would be “sensitive” about their comments in coming weeks before the May 21 election. “Curren’s going to need Latino votes, and Ana will need African American votes,” he said.

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Walters, the former councilwoman, said she was satisfied with Price’s effort to make amends.

“He made a commitment that it would never happen again,” she said.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com


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