The relationship between the Los Angeles City Council’s three African American members–Bernard C. Parks and Jan Perry on the one side and Herb J. Wesson on the other–shows signs of combusting into an inferno that could deplete much of what political capital the city’s African American community has left.
The latest debacle is over the way Parks and Perry’s districts have been redrawn, but other sectors of the city also have a beef with the Los Angeles Redistricting Commission.
An earlier point of contention was over Parks and Perry not voting for, or being present, when Wesson was made president of the City Council, the first Black to achieve that status. Subsequent to that, Wesson removed the two from prime committee assignments.
Ninth District Councilwoman Perry complained in early November that some sleight of hand may have occurred concerning the redistricting maps even before the Commission had begun its task. The implication was that other council members, most notably Wesson, may have been involved with the early redrawing.
Wesson said the accusation is “absolutely untrue” that he knows nothing about any other maps.
On Sunday, Parks, councilman for the 8th District, took his complaint concerning the redrawn maps before the congregation at Crenshaw Christian Center, the largest Black church in his district. That church is one of more than 200 he said he had contacted over the redistricting issue, most by mail. Parks spoke to the congregation about 15 minutes, showing several maps on the church’s big screens and explaining how the new map eviscerates his district of revenue sources and turns it into what he termed a “poverty pit.” He explained that the same thing was happening in Perry’s district.
He appealed to the 5,000-plus members in attendance to make their voices heard by filling up the emails and the fax machines of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and 10th District Councilman Wesson. He also urged them to attend the City Council Rules Committee hearing at City Hall March 16.
For example, under the new maps, Parks’ 8th District would lose Baldwin Hills, the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza and Marlton Square areas as well as USC, but pick up several poorer areas. Perry’s 9th District would lose its economic engine, the downtown area, including L.A. Live and the proposed Farmers Field stadium, but also pick up more poor areas. The ninth, said Perry, is now without a middle class.
Park alleges that the redrawn maps of both his and Perry’s districts are attempts to turn both their districts into Latino districts, pitting Latinos against Blacks. In other words, they are obvious attempts to ravage the Black community. Heretofore, the 8th District is the only one of the city’s 15 districts with a Black majority, he said.
On the councilman’s official website, he alleges that the Commission’s effort is a “very obvious racially motivated assault on the Downtown/South Los Angeles districts” whose intention is to “irreversibly weaken African American influence in the city.”
“There are laws established by the Voting Rights Act that undeniably protect non-White majority districts like CD8,” Parks says on the website. “However, the commission has decided to only acknowledge the laws protecting the majority Latino districts of 1, 7 and 14.”
The site also says, “… reducing the African American CVAP (citizens of voting age) in CD8 puts the last remaining majority African American district on the fast track to become the newest majority Latino district.”
He continues by saying Perry’s 9th District “has created 90,000 jobs in downtown L.A. over the last 10 years. Separating her from downtown throws a wrench into her efforts to ensure local hiring on major development and public works projects that ease unemployment in South L.A.”
Parks maintains that his is “the only district in the city that has seen an increase in jobs for six straight years. . . .”
Parks clearly sees the mayor and Wesson as the culprits in the efforts to harm the 8th and 9th districts.
“It’s ironic that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who enjoyed 55 percent of the African American vote . . . is now working through his appointed commissioners to disenfranchise African American voters. It’s even more ironic when you consider that this type of behavior is exactly what a lot of African Americans feared as they weighed whether or not to give him their support.”
Parks indicated that the great beneficiary of the changes in his district would be Wesson’s 10th District and the changes to Perry’s district would benefit Councilman Jose Huizar’s 14th District. Wesson would get Baldwin Hills, which includes Parks’ residence; the Baldwin Hills-Crenshaw Plaza and Marlton Square areas and other sites of economic development. Huizar would get most of downtown, including the area where Perry resides.
Parks told the Crenshaw Christian Center congregation that the redrawn 8th District “is nothing like the district I ran for last time.”
The councilman also showed another map done in white and green areas. The green indicated wealth and the white indicated poverty. It showed the 8th District as mostly white, indicating that it had been turned into what Parks referred to as “a poverty pit.”
Asked whom she saw as being behind the way the redistricting maps were drawn, Perry said, “the mayor and Wesson.”
“Clearly the people who live in South Los Angles will not benefit,” she said, but added that “Mr. Huizar and Mr. Wesson will benefit from the way the maps are redrawn. The impact, which [affects] African American and Latinos, will be to reduce their ability to elect the candidate of their own choosing and create two districts that are impoverished.” Perry feels the mayor has long coveted the downtown area. Both Huizar and the mayor are known as Wesson allies.
Perry’s conflict with goings-on in the council first came to light, when she resigned as president pro tempore, the No. 2 ranking position on the City Council, “partly out of unhappiness with what she described as behind-the-scenes maneuvering over redistricting and the council presidency.”
She said that council redistricting lines were being redrawn in private, even before the 21-member commission charged with that duty had begun to perform the task. She also said she was troubled by private talks that concerned who would take over as president of the council as Councilman President Eric Garcetti prepared to step down to make room for his run for mayor. A few days later the council voted in Wesson as its new president.
“These important issues should be discussed in the public record,” she added.
Parks and Perry were not the only ones angry. An article in L.A. Weekly claims that “Citywide, people are angry over the [redistricting] plan, and Koreatown is the epicenter.
“The Frankenfist-like map redraws L.A.’s 15 council districts by snipping key communities apart, creating a ‘voting’ district that crosses the Santa Monica Mountains to join Encino with Silver Lake, switching proudly independent Sunland-Tujunga into the district of indicted Councilman Richard Alarcon, snatching most of downtown from Councilwoman Jan Perry and melding Westchester and South L.A. voting district by linking the two areas with a thin flagpole-like corridor.”
The gist is that most of the Koreatown residents want the area represented “by one council member, instead of the current four. . . .”
There was also concern expressed over the fact that Wesson’s chief deputy, Andrew Westall, had been appointed to serve as executive director of the Commission.
A political observer contacted by Our Weekly saw nothing particularly nefarious in the goings-on, at least as it relates to the African American community. He described it simply as “City Hall politics.”
When told that some believe the maps, if approved as drawn, create resource-poor, poverty-stricken areas, Wesson said: “During this process, it’s always an emotional and very difficult process. People say they gained resources and lost resources. I only have one vote, and I have not had the opportunity to deliver that vote yet. Plus, I only had one member on the 21-member commission.”
When reminded that that one member–the Executive Director Westall–was pretty important, he pointed out that the mayor has three, the previous council president has two, the city controller, the city attorney and each council member have one apiece. [However, it is pretty much conceded that there are more than enough votes to pass the redistricting maps as they are presently drawn.]
Concerning any collusion by him and Mayor Villaraigosa, Wesson said, “I haven’t colluded with the mayor on anything. The only thing I have attempted to do is create a good district for the people who reside in the 10th District.”
As to the charge that this is his way of punishing Parks and Perry, he said: “I am so over them! I am not punishing them. I did what I needed to do early on.”
Perry is termed out, and is gearing up to run for mayor. Parks is still in the early part of his last term. Wesson may have about seven and half more years in office. When his present term is over he will probably run again. But he said he is concerned about the other districts in the city.
“I have the opportunity to be reelected,” he said. “I’m going to do the best I can to see that the [Black] districts are not left struggling. My beliefs are different than theirs. That doesn’t mean I don’t respect their opinions, because I do.
“I don’t want any infighting,” said Wesson. “I have always extended the olive branch. Whatever was done in the past is passed. I am open to having a discussion with them, and I will be willing to think about changes.”
Further, Wesson said he never says “anything negative that relates to another African American official. I will stand tall and take all the hits, but I do what is in the best interest of our people.”
Parks said he already has plans in motion to file a lawsuit if the redistricting plans are approved as is.
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