In disputed election, Palmdale chooses first black council member

A view from high ground of Palmdale, whose elections system is being debated in court. The city elected its first black council member on Tuesday but the courts must decide whether to certify the results.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

In the midst of a widely watched court battle over its system for choosing its leaders, the city of Palmdale elected its first African American councilman Tuesday.

Retired college administrator Fred Thompson won one of two city council seats on the ballot. But it will be up to an appellate court to determine whether the city’s municipal election was legitimate.

Activists recently won a lawsuit claiming the city’s at-large method of electing officials violates the California Voting Rights Act, citing as evidence that the minorities who make up much of Palmdale’s population have been largely unable to elect one of their own due to racially polarized voting in the city. They are pressing for council members to be elected by geographic district.


It was unclear Wednesday what effect Thompson’s victory might have on the lawsuit. After ruling against the city in the suit, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney granted the plaintiffs’ request to cancel the election. The 2nd District Court of Appeal allowed the election to proceed but said it would determine after the election whether to certify the results.

Also, Mooney is preparing to unveil his plan to remedy the election system. City officials have said they will appeal the case once the trial judge completes his work.

Thompson, a former school board member and city planning commissioner who had the backing of Mayor James Ledford and several other civic leaders, is only the second minority candidate to win election since the city’s 1962 incorporation. (The first was a Latino who is no longer on the council.)

Ledford and Councilman Tom Lackey were reelected Tuesday but technically cannot be seated for their new terms until the appellate court acts.

Activists hoping to improve minority representation on city councils, school boards and other elected bodies have been targeting communities with significant minority populations but little or no such representation.

The Palmdale case is being watched in other jurisdictions being sued, including the cities of Whittier and Anaheim.


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