Channing Martinez, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Aura Vasquez, Grace Yoo

This event was co-sponsored by the following Neighborhood Councils:

Empowerment Congress West Area Neighborhood Council, Mid-City Neighborhood Council, Olympic Park Neighborhood Council, P.I.C.O. Neighborhood Council, South Robertson Neighborhoods Council.

These are my personal opinions and impressions about the candidates:     

Melvin Schnell was unable to attend this forum because of a family illness. 

Channing Martinez is full of self-confidence, has solid activist cred, righteously rages at the machine, has a vision that supports his black community but is punching above his weight. His most telling point in the forum was when he was asked how available his office would be to constituents.  He talked about being noticed by everybody when he walks down the street and how he would probably spend 10% of his time at City Hall and 90% among the people. He clearly missed the memo about the job requirements for a council district representative.  Being a city council member means being immersed in endless minutiae, showing up to take votes on issues which you may not be that interested in but need to care about, and representing the interests of wealthy and middle income white people and Asian people as well as his black and Latino brothers and sisters.  In other words, people outside of the concerns that rock his world. In a questionnaire sent to him that asked which one of Robert's Rules (the rules that govern official meetings) was his favorite, he left that question blank, possibly indicating he may have never been subjected to meetings governed by these rules.In which case,  steep learning curve.  Martinez' demanding  agenda - open borders and amnesty for all! 50% of all new housing development for low-income! U.S. out of Venezuela! No police on public transportation! - showed he might not understand that if elected he would not be able to issue edicts; he would have to convince a majority of the other councilmembers to vote with him. One of his platforms is to get rid of 50% of the police force. Good luck convincing a majority of other councilmembers to sign off on that one. But kudos to Channing for stepping up. I am sure he will continue to grow into his ambition as time and experience present him with continued opportunities to manifest his natural leadership talent. It might be a smart move to get himself hired as a deputy. It is how many political careers begin.

Aura Vasquez is also clearly meant for a life of community engagement and has an impressive activist resume.  She is concerned about the typical issues,  homelessness and the green environment, was a former DWP commissioner and a strong community organizer. At the forum it was also apparent she had studied the oratory technique of slowly raising your voice as you make your point; until it becomes an impassioned, fist-pumping, rousing call-to-arms with the expected applause and shout-outs from the audience.  Forums are helpful in not only getting answers but in watching behavior, which can be more telling than prepared answers.  Her lack of attention when she wasn't speaking (whereas the other candidates listened with focus and patience) began to grate.  She seemed to be very distracted by her phone constantly referring to it (?),  shuffling papers and taking notes, especially when her direct rival, Grace was talking. Consciously or unconsciously, Aura’s distractions and sometimes animated visible reactions to what Grace was saying, pulled focus back to her.  She is an impassioned speaker,  invested in the game, is playing to win and has her strategies.

Mark Ridley-Thomas is a seasoned and experienced politician with a fundraising war chest and substantial endorsements all of which leaves him very confident about his electability as the front runner. One imagines he is not crazy about having to sit next to young bloods attempting to take his rightful throne and probably not too worried (although if he doesn't pull 50% of the vote he will have a run off with the candidate with the next highest vote count.)  There is much to be said about knowing the ins and outs of City Hall, the many connections made and which levers need pulling, and he has his community commitments and successes, but this can also be a problem when constituents have gotten tired of the musical chairs of CD10 elections and with being used as a stepping stone to greater power. Councilman Ludlow left after the second year of his lackluster CD10 tenure (leaving CD10 without representation for seven months) to become leader of the County Federation of Labor. He was soon toppled off the pedestal after pleading guilty to using union workers money to help fund his 2003 election to CD10.  Then we had Herb Wesson fresh out of Sacramento winning a quick election to replace Ludlow. His love of power, getting more of it, wielding it, rewarding the loyal and punishing enemies is undisputed.  Within a short time he was President of City Council with his eye on becoming either Mayor or Supervisor.  (He’s going for Supervisor, Ridley-Thomas's old job and Ridley-Thomas is going for his old job)  Some give Wesson kudos for his participation in their community, but our neck of CD10 suffered from the beginning with complaints of unreturned emails and phone calls and lack of engagement from Herb himself (unless an issue demanded his attention).  Businesses complained about his disinterest in their concerns, and homelessness was dealt with simply by sweeps, even though his Western Blvd. council office was surrounded by many grassroots organizations directly helping the poor. No visits from Herb.  It got worse when he grabbed the coveted prize of City Council President.

When a candidate has their eye on a bigger prize, it's easy for them to focus on actions needed to position themself to be able to grab that prize when it comes around and to make minimal effort in activities that don’t serve that purpose.  Getting involved in the community takes 100% focus, and that has been missing in CD10. CD10’s profile has also changed radically in the past decade or so and the constituency is much more diverse and demanding so Thomas-Ludlow's expected shoo-in might not be as polished as he thinks. For many, this election won’t be more of “Vote for me, go back to TV and let me be.” People really want someone who is going to make their service to CD10 an all consuming-commitment.

When Ridley-Thomas answered the question of whether or not he’s planning to run for mayor while he represented us, he responded by saying he can’t run for mayor if he is in office, which was disingenuous. When countered with “But you can prepare to run for office and get distracted.” he assured us he is known for being deeply committed to community.  But he didn’t say he wasn’t planning to run for mayor. And the next election for mayor is in the middle of the four year commitement to CD10. So his true motivation for why he wants to keep his musical chair raises concerns.

The audience was also visibly reactive when he wouldn’t say yes or no to taking contributions from oil companies. He clearly has.  CD10 has several oil wells that are a scourge to local communities that suffer from environmental effects. But as one politician put it, if you can’t take money from donors and ignore their demands for reciprocity, you aren’t a good politician. Could be true, but it’s not a confidence builder with the community.  Then of course there is the corruption scandal.  Google Mark Ridley-Thomas USC Corruption. Corruption or using power to advance ones own personal needs and wants, is a big red flag.

Grace Yoo didn't have the bedazzle of Ms. Vasquez' but instead presented sobering, substantive points and innovative ideas which also garnered enthusiastic applause from the audience. A look at her website shows an impressive lifetime commitment of achievments in a variety of community services.  Along with the others, issues of homelessness are at the top of her concerns but she had novel ideas of what could be done now, beyond the standard "affordable housing" and the years it would take to get people housed. Ideas like pre-fabricated housing, tiny houses and container homes, solutions found in other cities. She has proven and assured the audience, making certain that neighborhoods are heard and consulted as new development begins to push its way into CD10, is a top priority. She was direct in her answers, didn’t need notes or cell phone prompts and clearly had thoughtful creative solutions. Corruption in City Hall is also a huge problem for her. With her lawyerly background, she is intent on confronting the backroom negotiations and developer influence that have benefitted the power players at the expense of the voters. She has a Goliath to slay in Ridley-Thomas but of the other two candidates competing with him, in my opinion she has the most gravitas.  She would not have a big learning curve stepping into the halls of power and with only ONE other woman sitting at City Council I think its up to CD10 to correct that. We wholeheartedly endorse Grace Yoo!

These are my impressions and opinions but you can make your own and watch the forum at this link:

Read the summary from Larchmont Buzz just google Larchmont Buzz CD 10 forum

And check out the candidates websites:

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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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