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Furor over Bray-Ali’s online comments provides a lift to Cedillo, the unpopular incumbent

A phrase of protest is projected onto a building during a 2014 event against evictions in Highland Park. L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo, who is running for reelection, has been criticized by constituents who say he's not doing enough to stop displacement of renters.
(Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times)

With the May 16 election approaching, Los Angeles City Councilman Gil Cedillo looked relaxed as he strode to the lectern at a Lincoln Heights park groundbreaking on a recent morning, speaking after Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and state Senate leader Kevin de Leon.

“Rise and shine, everybody,” Cedillo told the crowd, before making a joke about politicians’ long speeches.

Cedillo is having a good couple of weeks. His opponent in the District 1 runoff, Joe Bray-Ali, is under fire over comments he made in an online forum that encourages racism and fat-shaming.

Bray-Ali’s campaign took another hit when the candidate — to head off any more damaging revelations — posted on Facebook that he had “slept with several other women” who were not his wife and owes nearly $50,000 in state business taxes and fees.

Still, the incumbent faces widespread criticism from his constituents. Neighborhood leaders across his district say they never see him and that his staff members are unresponsive and don’t attend community events.

Cedillo, who chairs City Hall’s Housing Committee, also is accused of not doing enough to stop the displacement of renters in his Northeast L.A. district, a charge he denies.

As the 63-year-old councilman campaigns in the final days before the election, Cedillo appears less interested in attacking Bray-Ali than appeasing voters unhappy with his leadership.

Who are the two candidates?

District 1 challenger Joe Bray-Ali at a candidate debate event last month in Los Angeles.
District 1 challenger Joe Bray-Ali at a candidate debate event last month in Los Angeles. (Genaro Molina/ Los Angeles Times)
Councilman Gil Cedillo responds to a question during the April 17 debate.
Councilman Gil Cedillo responds to a question during the April 17 debate. (Genaro Molina/ Los Angeles Times)

Joe Bray-Ali

  • Lincoln Heights resident.
  • Served on Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council.
  • Worked for Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez.
  • Private sector experience includes running bicycle shop Flying Pigeon and working at a family-owned real estate development firm.

Gil Cedillo

  • Downtown L.A. resident.
  • Elected to the City Council in 2013.
  • Former state senator and assemblyman.
  • Previously worked for the Service Employees International Union.

Where they stand:

Development

Joe Bray-Ali

  • Wants to pass a law giving tenants the opportunity to buy their buildings if the owner decides to sell. (Washington, D.C., has a similar law.)
  • Wants to update city’s zoning code to change parking requirements near transit stops.
  • Do community outreach when an affordable housing project is proposed in area so it isn't blocked by neighbors.

Gil Cedillo

  • Says that more than two-thirds of housing built or planned in his district during his tenure has been affordable units.
  • Wants to overturn Costa-Hawkins Act, which bars rental caps on single-family homes and some apartments.
  • Wants to work with neighborhoods to help counter “not in my back yard” attitudes toward development.

Digital billboards

Joe Bray-Ali

  • Doesn’t support city proposal to collect revenue from digital billboards on city property. Says billboards are a distraction to motorists and create light pollution.
  • Wants City Hall to instead focus on supporting businesses that grow city’s tax base.

Gil Cedillo

  • Supports proposal to collect revenue from digital billboards on city property.
  • Wants those revenues to go back into the communities where the displays are located, such as Pico-Union.

Airbnb

Joe Bray-Ali

  • Wants neighborhoods to decide their own limits on the number of Airbnb units in their areas to avoid displacement of renters and long-term residents.
  • Believes fines for noncompliance are too high in the proposed rules.

Gil Cedillo

  • Hasn’t taken a position on proposed city rules that would allow homeowners to rent out their residences for 180 days a year with Airbnb and similar services.

During the primary, Cedillo refused a Times reporter’s requests for an interview. (The newspaper’s editorial board endorsed Bray-Ali, then pulled its backing when his online comments came to light.)

For the run-off, the councilman gave a phone interview last week about the issues in District 1, which includes Chinatown, Pico-Union, Elysian Park and Highland Park.

He didn’t dispute neighborhood leaders’ criticisms that his office has been unresponsive.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said of those complaints, adding that his office has replaced staff members in the last six months and that constituents can expect an “upgrade.”

He also acknowledged that such changes may be too late for some in the district.

“I say, OK, I understand if you don’t want to vote for me,” Cedillo said.

Bray-Ali, 38, landed in the run-off after hammering the councilman on issues such as bike lanes, gentrification and development.

But since website LAist last month published comments Bray-Ali made on Voat, a provocative site that touts its uncensored content, the issue hasn’t gone away for the Lincoln Heights resident.

Residents spent most of a recent 90-minute forum, held by the Echo Park Improvement Assn., asking Bray-Ali for explanations.

“If my words online have turned you away from me, I understand,” said Bray-Ali, who also blamed the media and said his comments were taken out of context.

He continued his criticism of the councilman, telling the crowd, “We want someone in office that will listen to us, that will work for us and that will address problems directly, instead of pushing them off.”

In a follow-up email, Bray-Ali wrote that Cedillo’s “campaign has tried every insult and personal attack possible.” (Cedillo said his campaign didn’t give LAist the tip about Bray-Ali’s Voat comments.)

The fight over whether to create bike lanes on Figueroa Street in Highland Park has been a divisive issue in council District 1.
The fight over whether to create bike lanes on Figueroa Street in Highland Park has been a divisive issue in council District 1. (Jabin Botsford / Los Angeles Times)

In addition to losing the backing of Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, Bike the Vote — a street-safety group dedicated to mobilizing voters — rescinded its endorsement of Bray-Ali.

“Many of us were disappointed with both his actions but also his lack of contrition,” Michael MacDonald, a member of the steering committee member, said in an interview.

MacDonald said Bray-Ali won the endorsement after Bike the Vote sent all the primary candidates questionnaires about bike safety and street issues.

Cedillo’s office and campaign never replied or filled out the questionnaire, MacDonald said.

The councilman has also been accused of not doing enough to help those affected by rising rents in his district, which has seen a wave of gentrification that is blamed for displacing working-class residents.

A study done last year by the anti-gentrification group Northeast Los Angeles Alliance and other organizations, looked at a 10-block area in Highland Park.

The study found that 23% of the 1,200 families living in the area have been displaced since 2013 because of real estate sales.

John Urquiza, a member of the Northeast Los Angeles Alliance, has marched numerous times with area tenants to Cedillo’s office to complain about evictions, but says he’s left frustrated by the councilman.

“He’s on board with luxury development,” Urquiza said. “And that’s going to cause more displacement.”

Cedillo’s office says that the majority of the units built or planned during his tenure have been affordable housing units.

Renters advocate Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, praised Cedillo’s record as chair of the council’s Housing Committee.

Cedillo has passed legislation on seismic retrofitting, tenant buyouts and foreclosed properties, Gross said.

“Show me anyone on the council who has done more on the issue of renters’ rights,” Gross said.

Jaime Regalado, a professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A., said he doubts that Cedillo will win over voters who backed Bray-Ali but are now by disappointed by the grassroots candidate.

Those voters are just as likely to stay home, Regalado said, adding: “Cedillo still needs to work hard. He can’t take anything for granted.”

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dakota.smith@latimes.com

Twitter: @dakotacdsmith


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