With all 94 precincts reporting, first-time political candidate Joe Buscaino has sent Warren Furutani back to the state Assembly by snagging 60.69 percent of votes cast in the special Council District 15 election Tuesday.
A little in excess of 16,000 of the more than 100,000 registered voters went to the polls in an election where the choice was clear-cut–City Hall outsider versus a veteran with long ties to the state’s political machinery.
The city clerk has until Feb. 7 to certify the election, and then the Council must approve the certification and seat Buscaino, who will serve out the remainder of the term vacated when Janice Hahn won election to Congress (about 10 months).
The election was the easy part, say Watts community leaders who all evidence a wait-and-see attitude. Now, Buscaino must try to get enough done in a short period of time, to convince people he is the councilperson they need.
And talking to leaders in the Watts area makes it obvious that this is going to be a task that will require some extra special effort.
Les Jones, head of the Watts Willowbrook Boys and Girls Club, who stressed that his comments pertain only to his youthful constituency, says jobs are a key need.
“The young people in Watts are living under significant (levels) of crime, poverty and joblessness,” said Jones, noting that the summer youth employment programs have been reduced drastically in the last two years and that the 2011 program started so late youth could not take full advantage.
“I’m looking for anything year-round. We are not a job creator, and we’re suffering from our own economic challenges. We don’t have the ability to create paying jobs. We do lots of internships and experiential type of things,” said Jones, who added that one of his main concerns is whether or not the new councilman will take a wholistic, all-inclusive strategy to handling the district.
Jones also pointed out that youth in Watts are some of the most disenfranchised in the country, and that in order to maintain their hopes and dreams, a special effort should be made.
Tim Watkins, head of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC), decried the apathetic voter turnout and said he is expecting accountability, cooperation, tolerance and a presence from Buscaino.
“He did reach out to me to get introduced, but he didn’t seem to have much of a history with the community. And that’s neither good or bad . . .” said Watkins.
“We need self-sufficiency in Watts as much as possible, particularly in the community of the formerly incarcerated. We need for people living in the desperation of poverty to have the opportunity to come out of that without becoming more dependent on welfare.”
That means, continued Watkins, jobs that go beyond working at the local hamburger stand and encompass employment that will lead to careers.
“We have ideas (about job creation), but we just don’t get consulted about them,” added the WLCAC head, who also said that Watts is starving for resources and real solutions to the demon of poverty.
“He talked a good game. Now let’s see what he gets done. He’s got 10 months. Let’s see how much traction he can get.”
Maudine Clark, head of the Watts Neighborhood Council and a member of the Watts Gang Task Force, said she appreciated Buscaino’s friendly outgoing nature and his apparent sincerity. But now what she wants is quite simple: “The only thing I expect him to be is real and fair with the community . . . if he doesn’t understand, I feel he should come to the community, not just one person.”
Clark, too, sees the key needs as career-level jobs and improved educational opportunities.