Inglewood voters elected Mayor James T. Butts to a third term Tuesday, handing the incumbent victory over a local clergyman who had the financial backing of an entertainment conglomerate and some prominent celebrities.
Butts received 63% of votes to Marc Little’s 18%, according to official election results. Joseph Soto, Brandon Myers and Mohamed Ben Amor came in with 12%, 4% and 2% of the vote, respectively.
When Inglewood voters marched to the polls, they were not just casting their ballots for the mayor but for two different visions for the city’s future.
Butts wants to continue his plan of making Inglewood a sports and entertainment destination by building a new arena for the Clippers. The team’s owner, Steve Ballmer, donated more than $350,000 to a committee supporting Butts’ mayoral bid.
Little, backed by Madison Square Garden Co. — which owns the competing venue the Forum — did not support the arena plan. MSG poured more than $600,000 into Little’s campaign. The total is higher if counting the dozens of contributions of $900 or more from those in the entertainment business with some association to MSG, including reality TV star Kris Jenner.
“We taught MSG a lesson that they cannot buy this city with money,” Butts said at his victory party Tuesday night. “This is only going to make us stronger from here on out.”
Butts, who took office in 2011, has been heralded for resurrecting Inglewood after a long period of loss.
He attracted two NFL teams, the Chargers and Rams, L.A. Philharmonic’s youth program and a Girl Scouts USA headquarters to the city. His bid to bring the Clippers to an arena across the street from the football stadium turned into the campaign’s central issue.
MSG has been waging a legal battle against Butts, alleging the mayor tricked the company into ending its lease of city-owned land used for overflow parking with the promise that Inglewood would turn the property into a technology park. The city later offered that land to the Clippers to build a venue a mile away from the Forum.
Butts denies any wrongdoing.
MSG hired lobbyists to combat a state Senate bill to fast-track the arena. When that proved unsuccessful, the company threw its support behind Little, the most prominent name in a field of four challengers to Butts.
“It was a bad strategy,” said Fernando Guerra, professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University. “Not only did they fail but they further emboldened the opposition.”
Aside from the arena issue, Little campaigned on the promise of bringing more affordable housing; slowing the rise of rents; addressing noise, traffic and potholes; and bringing integrity back to a city facing scrutiny for paying council members and some city employees six-figure salaries.
But he struggled to gain traction in the city where Butts has built a reputation as a charismatic local leader. In 2014, Butts easily won reelection with 83% of the vote.
Little, a longtime pastor at Inglewood’s Faithful Central Bible Church, moved to the city weeks before the filing date to qualify to run and was seen by some as an outsider, Guerra said.
“Little never had a defining effective message other than ‘I’m not Butts, and I will do everything that Butts isn’t doing,’ ” Guerra said. “None of those resources or big names were indigenous, authentic voices of Inglewood.”
Little said he gave the people of Inglewood an alternative and was inspired by those who felt their voices were unheard. In a message to supporters Wednesday, he urged them to “not quiet your voices. Our city government owes us transparency and respect.”
Murphy’s Bowl, the Clippers-controlled company behind the arena project, said voters have spoken.
“Clearly the voters of Inglewood are overwhelmingly pleased with the job James Butts has done as mayor of Inglewood,” said Howard Sunkin, spokesman for the arena project. “And that is why we were thrilled to support his reelection.”
Guerra said Butts received another clear mandate from voters that they approve of the direction in which is he taking the city.
Inside the Hollywood Park Casino on election night, in the backroom of the Century Bar and Grill, Butts said he was humbled by voters’ trust in him. He touted the Forum as a top concert venue in the region, but said Inglewood will continue to prosper with or without MSG’s support.
“We love what they do but we didn’t love what they did,” he said. “If they leave there will be five entities that would want to come and take their place. So Inglewood will never be the stepchild again.”
(MSG would not comment on the election, but spokeswoman Kimberly Kerns said in a statement: “We love this city, we love its residents, and we’re not going anywhere.”)
As Butts ended his speech, he quoted a Katy Perry song to describe the race.
“You held me down but I got up,” he said, pausing as the crowd erupted in applause. “I got the eye of the tiger.”
Dozens of supporters whooped, and Perry’s song blasted from the speaker as Butts took it all in.