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Call them super-progressive: LA’s political left wants to expand its power in City Hall

You could call them political progressives. Or maybe super-progressives, given how badly they want to reshape politics in Los Angeles.

Whatever the label, candidates on the left end of the political spectrum made significant progress in the March 5 City Council primary, setting the stage for some closely contested runoff campaigns and potentially an expansion of their power by year’s end.

Progressive activists and advocacy groups helped re-elect City Council member Nithya Raman while sending two other left-leaning candidates — tenants’ rights advocate Ysabel Jurado and small business owner Jillian Burgos — to the runoff against more moderate rivals.

“I think the results have consistently shown that when we show up, we win,” said Bill Przylucki, executive director of Ground Game LA, a nonprofit advocacy group that has spent several years pushing the council to the left.

If Burgos and Jurado prevail in November, the number of council members with deeply progressive backgrounds will rise from three to five and make up a third of the 15-member council. Four of the five fought alongside the Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles. Burgos, the fifth, received support from other big names in left-wing political circles, including city manager Kenneth Mejia and former mayoral candidate Gina Viola.

A five-member super-progressive voting bloc would have significant influence on homelessness, subsidized housing, renter protections, public transportation, the creation of bike paths and the size of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The bloc would need just three more votes to pass legislation in a council where several members, including Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Katy Yaroslavsky, have left-of-center swing votes. Superprogressives would also fill additional seats on council committees, allowing them to shape policy from the beginning, Przylucki said.

Los Angeles City Council member Nithya Raman speaks to the crowd on election night.  (Myung Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles City Council member Nithya Raman speaks to the crowd on election night. She secured the majority needed to avoid a Nov. 5 runoff and won a second term.

(Myung Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Some players in L.A. politics say the left’s impact in the primaries is overstated. They point out that Councilman John Lee, one of the council’s centrist members, easily won re-election in the Northwest Valley. Another incumbent, Councilwoman Imelda Padilla, made it to re-election after securing support from public safety unions, construction unions, Valley business groups and others.

Raman won 50.7% of the vote, securing the majority she needed to win overall. But that victory merely preserved the council’s existing political makeup, said Tom Saggau, spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which waged an expensive but unsuccessful campaign against Raman.

“Ultimately, there was no net gain for any ideology on the council,” he said. “There are still three socialists on the council. That was before the election, that was after the election.”

Saggau said the police union has not yet decided how it will use its resources in the coming runoff elections.

Progressive groups in LA remain hopeful that Jurado and Burgos will win and change the status quo.

Julio Marcial, senior vice president of the nonprofit Liberty Hill Foundation, said expanding the City Council’s super-progressive bloc would ensure City Hall has a “real, honest conversation” about community safety strategies. For Marcial, that means shifting money from the LAPD to affordable housing, expanded mental health services, job training and other programs.

City Council candidate Ysabel Jurado cuts a cake at an event celebrating her campaign's success in the March 5 election.

City Council candidate Ysabel Jurado cuts a cake at an event in Little Tokyo to celebrate her campaign’s success in the March 5 primary election.

(Michael Blackshire/Los Angeles Times)

“We can no longer follow the same formula in budgeting where we fully fund law enforcement and not the things that are proven to be effective in keeping the community safe,” he said.

Burgos, who is running to represent a district in the eastern San Fernando Valley, said she hopes other council members would lean toward more progressive policies if Jurado wins.

“Right now, some people are afraid to make these decisions,” said Burgos, an optometrist who lives in North Hollywood and is part owner of an interactive crime theater group.

Burgos, 45, and Jurado, 34, have a long list of common political goals. Both want to repeal Municipal Code 41.18, which bans homeless camps next to schools, daycare centers and “sensitive” locations like senior centers and highway overpasses. Both want to create “social housing” and task city agencies with purchasing, repairing and managing low-cost apartment complexes.

The two candidates want to move traffic enforcement out of the LAPD. And they hope to make bus and train passes free — a more complicated goal since the decision rests not with the council but with Metro’s 13-member board.

“We have a real opportunity to usher in a progressive era on the City Council,” “instead of just throwing away some of the solutions that are important to us,” said Jurado, who came first in an eight-way race for the Eastside seat now held by Councilman Kevin de Leon held.

Burgos, who describes herself as a leftist, came second in the race to succeed Council President Paul Krekorian, who is stepping down at the end of the year. First up is former state Assembly member Adrin Nazarian, a former Krekorian aide who describes himself as a “pragmatic progressive.”

Los Angeles City Council candidate Adrin Nazarian grabs campaign signs in North Hollywood.

Los Angeles City Council candidate Adrin Nazarian grabbed campaign signs in North Hollywood earlier this year, touting his own progressive credentials.

(Michael Blackshire/Los Angeles Times)

Nazarian secured 37% of the vote in the primary, compared to 22% for Burgos. In an interview, he said that he, too, had advocated for progressive policies, such as expanding public transportation, increasing funding to cover college tuition for students and creating a unified health care system. In 2016 and again in 2020, Nazarian supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) for president in the Democratic primary.

“Judge me by my record. Judge me on my work ethic. There’s a reason I was able to get almost 40% of the vote in a crowded field of seven,” he said.

Nazarian, unlike Burgos, supports the continued use of 41.18. He also expressed support for Mayor Karen Bass’ push to hire more police officers and increase their salaries.

When asked about these two issues, Burgos called for more alternatives to policing, saying in a statement that “data has shown that there is no relationship between the number of sworn officers or police budgets and crime.”

De León, who finished second to Jurado, also defended his progressive credentials, pointing to his work on immigration rights, climate change and laws to prevent tenant displacement in downtown, Boyle Heights and elsewhere.

“My track record of fighting the toughest battles – Sanctuary State, 100% clean renewable energy, renter protection – and winning for my constituents shows that I know how to actually effect progressive change,” said De León, a former state Senate president who is aspiring a second term in office.

De León faces a tough second round. He is still grappling with the fallout from a scandal surrounding his participation in a secretly recorded conversation that included racist and derogatory remarks.

Like Nazarian, he supports LAPD raises, hiring more police officers and deploying 41.18.

Los Angeles leftists got their first serious break at City Hall four years ago, helping to elect Raman, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, to the City Council. Unions and advocacy groups repeated that success in 2022, working to elect two more Democratic Socialists of America-backed candidates — activist Eunisses Hernandez and union organizer Hugo Soto-Martínez — and oust two incumbents.

Of the three, Raman proved to be the most moderate. Like Nazarian, she sometimes describes herself as a “pragmatic progressive.” At one point in the primary campaign, she wouldn’t say whether the city needed more police officers. Another time, she relied on former Councilman Paul Koretz — who has drawn the ire of the L.A. left — to vouch for her with the Los Angeles County Democratic Party.

Attorney Edgar Khalatian, who represents real estate developers at city hall, said he views Raman as pro-business. Raman, whose district stretches across the Hollywood Hills, has shown “a strong backbone” in the city’s efforts to build more housing while also working to address the homelessness crisis, he said.

“The reason real estate prices are so astronomical is because elected officials have not supported the development of more housing for decades,” said Khalatian, chairman of the board Central City Assn., a group of companies based in the city center. “She supports housing construction and will take the political pressure off the people in her district if she supports this housing construction.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León leans against a doorframe.

Los Angeles City Councilman Kevin de León touts his work on climate change, immigrant rights and measures to prevent tenant evictions in his Eagle Rock office in September.

(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Raman won despite more than $1.3 million in outside spending by the firefighters union, police union, landlords and others for one of her opponents, Deputy City Atty. Ethan Weaver. Those groups mounted a similar effort in the Northwest Valley, spending a combined $1.1 million to help Lee fend off a challenge from nonprofit leader Serena Oberstein.

In South LA’s 10th District, law enforcement agencies spent a total of $103,000 Show In it, Reggie Jones-Sawyer, one of the five candidates, is portrayed as soft on crime. Jones-Sawyer, a state assemblyman, finished fifth.

“We had some goals for the base of the league” in this year’s city elections, said Saggau, the spokesman for the police union. “One of them was to make sure that Reggie Jones-Sawyer didn’t bring his brand of criminal justice reform or his ideas to the city of LA, and we succeeded in doing that.”

The 10th District will instead see a runoff between Councilwoman Heather Hutt and attorney Grace Yoo, who share similar views on some of the city’s more contentious issues. Both support the city’s package of police increases and 41.18.

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America said it was unlikely her organization would participate in the contest, in part because none of the candidates were DSA members. Given that both support police pay increases, it would be “remarkably difficult” for either to win DSA’s support, said the spokeswoman, who declined to give her full name.

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