I wonder what the three mayoral candidates thought of last night, as they traveled to the third and final debate to be held in South Los Angeles before the March 5 election. Were Wendy Greuel, Jan Perry and Eric Garcetti affected by the change in scenery as they drove closer to Ward AME Church, one of the city’s historic religious institutions?
I would like to think that they clearly saw the run-down corridors, littered with liquor stores, abandoned buildings, empty lots and fast food joints. As they approached the steps of the church did these veteran public servants allow themselves to catch the eyes of that beautiful little neighborhood girl or boy who has access to fewer resources, as well as a lower probability of living a high quality life than a child from the Westside or San Fernando Valley?
Looking forward, if elected, would the high poverty rates in South Los Angeles and elsewhere keep Greuel, Perry or Garcetti from getting a good night’s rest in the mayor’s mansion? Will any of them take the requisite risk necessary as mayor to struggle with well-heeled developers and other business interests to ensure that every neighborhood shares in Los Angeles’ wealth and prosperity? An affirmative answer to these questions is what history requires from the next Los Angeles mayor, if he or she is to be great rather than just another in a long line of chief executives.
Before the forum’s first question was even asked, many of us who call South Los Angeles our home or place of work already knew the major issues faced by nearly one million people who live south of Washington Boulevard: a serious lack of living wage jobs and quality schools, along with a desperate need for affordable housing.
As the Mayoral Forum commenced, it was clear that the energy was different from many of its predecessors. The pews of the church, which only hours before was empty except for a handful of volunteers, were now full beyond capacity. More than 300 residents, activists and leaders packed the chairs and aisles to hear the presumed leading candidates in this very competitive race explain why they are uniquely prepared to address the needs of this community.
Greuel talked about how her audits as Controller reflect the independence and strength needed from a mayor. City Councilmember Perry touted her history and support for legislation that helped vulnerable populations – such as the formerly incarcerated — find jobs and housing. And City Councilmember Garcetti spoke about his plans to transform local government by hiring new department heads and a city-wide jobs coordinator to ensure fair access to employment.
With absentee ballots due to arrive at voters’ homes within a week, the candidates attempted to provide strong cases for their individual campaigns. Nevertheless, they all agreed that South Los Angeles is in need of investment and development capable of transforming the lives of its residents, present and future. The candidates simply disagreed about who is most capable to lead the effort.
I had to leave the forum before closing arguments in order to participate in the county’s Homeless Count in a neighborhood a few miles south. Among other issues, South Los Angeles has the fastest growing homeless population in the city. At about 10:30 p.m., two hours after leaving Ward AME, I found myself at Figueroa Street and Century Boulevard looking for anyone who may have been without shelter. In the span of a couple hours I counted way too many people who were sleeping in vehicles or makeshift tents along the streets.
On my way home, I noticed police tape around one of the local pizza joints. Bright red blood was running from the lobby onto Western Avenue, apparently from a robbery attempt gone very bad. When I parked my car I thought about the ideas and promises I heard from Greuel, Perry and Garcetti just hours ago. For South Los Angeles’ sake, I hope they meant them.