Over the last few weeks, the race for Los Angeles’ next mayor has begun to firm up. City Council President Nury Martinez and Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas are out. U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), Councilman Kevin de Leon and business leader Jessica Lall are in. They join City Atty. Mike Feuer, Councilman Joe Buscaino and real estate broker Mel Wilson, who had already announced their candidacies over the last year.
There may still be more prominent names joining the race ahead of the June primary election. Real estate developer Rick Caruso and former L.A. Unified schools Supt. Austin Beutner are reportedly thinking about running.
It’s good to see the candidate pool filling up. Los Angeles will only benefit from having a broad range of candidates who bring a variety of experience and viewpoints to the race. The mayor’s election is not simply about selecting a chief executive for the city. In electing a new mayor, voters will also choose a new vision and direction for Los Angeles.
The 2022 mayor’s race is setting the stage for a major reset of the city, and there’s never been a better time for it, particularly after the upheaval of the last year and a half.
L.A. is slowly emerging from the pandemic and there’s a deep frustration among Angelenos that the city hasn’t made enough progress on homelessness, housing affordability, transportation options and environmental transformation — even after voters approved ballot measures and billions of dollars in tax hikes and bonds.
Homelessness is already the top issue of the campaign. But the question of what to do is much more complex than decreeing when and how encampments should be moved. Homelessness is the most visible sign of deeper problems in Los Angeles, which is increasingly a city of extremes. Homes in working-class neighborhoods now list for $1 million or more, while more than 40,000 people are homeless, according to the last count. High-skilled workers have seen their wages shoot up, while low-skilled workers’ pay has been nearly flat.
The candidates have to grapple with these larger economic and societal challenges, and offer concrete ideas for how they’ll address the housing shortage, as well as income and opportunity inequality within the city.
The city is losing ground on one of the major achievements of the last few decades, namely the historical decrease in crime. There’s been a jump in homicides and gun violence in L.A. since 2020, similar to what law enforcement agencies are seeing across the nation. At the same time, Los Angeles is long overdue for a serious conversation about how to make policing more just, effective and humane. The next mayor has the opportunity to reshape the Los Angeles Police Department and public safety, and the candidates should be prepared to talk specifics.
And then there are the nuts and bolts of city government. L.A. is a city with dirty streets and broken sidewalks. It’s notorious for bureaucratic red tape and poor customer service, frustrating the businesses and individuals who want to invest here. Yes, Angelenos want a mayor with big ambition and vision, but they also want an executive leader who makes sure potholes get filled, trees are trimmed and the city budget is balanced.
Angelenos elected Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2013, and it was a very different time for the city. The candidates were pressed for their positions on dense development around transit stations, the city budget and the power of city employee unions — topics that will surely be revisited this time. But it was before the homeless and housing affordability crises exploded. Before COVID-19. Before George Floyd. Before President Trump. The stakes feel higher in 2022.
It was a different kind of race in 2013 as well — most of the candidates were City Hall insiders in an off-cycle election in which fewer than 1 in 5 voters bothered to cast a ballot in the primary. Since then, voters decided overwhelmingly to move city elections from odd-numbered to even-numbered years to coincide with presidential and gubernatorial elections.
That change significantly increased voter participation in last year’s City Council elections, and it is likely to draw more voters to the 2022 mayor’s race. Again, that’s good. This is not the time for Angelenos to sit out an election.
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