Get Ready for a Fight In CD 1: Joe Bray-Ali Cleans Up Nice!

EASTSIDER-The smart money crowd (Democrat insiders, lobbyists, developers and their progeny) have already basically claimed victory for incumbent Gil Cedillo. You can tell by the fact that they are warehousing campaign funds and, so far, are not going to engage in any debates. 

As I have written before in CityWatch, the political math is all in their favor. Less than 10% of the voters in CD1 even bother to vote in municipal elections, and these days a majority of them are vote-by-mail voters. With a few hundred thousand in the war chest (and bags more available if needed), Gil has the hip, slick and cool mainstream dems/political consultants and democratic party insiders all already lined up. They’ve got the machine, the incredibly detailed voter databases, and we can look for the usual postcard deluge just prior to the vote-by-mail start date in February. 

In terms of deep-pocket backing, they are secure in the belief that Giovany Hernandez, Jesse Rosas, and Joe Bray-Ali won’t be able to make the race competitive and Gil will cruise to victory in March with over 50% of the vote. 

I say this because the last race for CD1 was a doozy. Ed Reyes was termed out, and it was a race between his Chief of Staff Jose Gardea and Gil Cedillo, recently termed out from the California legislature. Between the primary and runoff elections, they spent close to $2 million dollars in the race! The final margin was 52% for Cedillo vs. 48% for Gardea. 

Of interest here is the fact that the only reason we had a runoff was because Jesse Rosas got 7.2% of the vote, forcing it to happen. There’s a message there. 

So Who is Joe Bray-Ali? 

I have met Joe Bray-Ali (photo above) three times. The first time was during what I call the “Bicycle Wars” in CD1. And I do mean war. To give you a taste of how bad it was, here’s a quote from my CityWatch article from last year: “These 2014 meetings were ugly -- somewhere between the Jerry Springer Show and a really bad hair day meeting of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council. For example, at the Highland Park NC meeting, they voted to cancel advertising in the Boulevard Sentinel (our local newspaper) on the grounds that the editor, Tom Topping, was anti-bike. There were a number of comments casting aspersions on his person and character. Public comments were simply a litany of “pro” and “anti” sentiments regarding bike-lane people. And there was virtually no discussion on the merits of the plan before the NC reversed its position.” 

At the time, I recall referring to Joe as “one of the loudest and least civil pro bike-lane supporters.” 

The second time I met Joe was at a Northeast Democratic Club meeting. He was a new person, coat and tie civil, enthusiastic, and talking about more inclusive issues like the environment, land use, and neighborhood public policies. The Northeast Dems, of course, largely ignored his presence. 

The third time I met Joe was last week at the Bowtie Parcel of the Los Angeles River. He was there to announce his Endorsement from Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters. It was presented by their director, Stephanie Molen, and was streamed on Facebook live. Again Joe was civil, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable about the issues facing voters in Council District 1. He is also a small businessman whose business actually lies within the boundaries of the District. 

I’ll admit it…I was impressed. 

Does Anyone Stand a Chance Against Gil? 

My initial cynicism about the race has been based on the “‘normal” math of beating an incumbent with huge resources and the ability to lock up the overwhelming lions’ share of vote-by-mail during the primary election in March. 

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. I remembered that seven percent Jesse Rosas got the last time in the battle of the giants, and the fact that his percentage of votes denied Gil the 50% plus 1 he needed to win. 

I have also noticed that there is a generational issue going on. The party insiders know how to crush someone using the traditional tools of targeted outreach, bags of money and phone banking. But it’s all old stuff, sorta like Hillary vs. The Donald. 

The Bray-Ali folks are betting on serious use of social media. Not just putting up a Facebook page, or sending out some emails -- serious social media. It’s something new and it’s a wildcard. Just ask Hillary. Let’s see if a candidate can effectively use the media to fire up younger voters who mostly don’t participate because they know the system is rigged. Lessons from Bernie and The Donald. Also something that the traditional consultants like Parke Skelton (aka SG&A Campaigns) aren’t that good at. 

For someone who’s not a part of the Democratic Party establishment, this is an advantage. Also, actual progressives are starting to step up for a change -- witness the results of the recent AD51 Delegates Election where Bernie folks scored big, and a poll was conducted by Latino Decisions for who’s who in the upcoming Congressional District 34 election to replace Xavier Becerra. You can check out the posts from January 6 and 18 at MayorSam.  

The Takeaway 

Look at it this way: it isn’t as if Mr. Cedillo is beloved in the District. He’s mostly loved by big real estate developers and the Democratic Party machine. And most of them don’t live in the District. As readers of CityWatch know, there is a large sentiment of “throw all the bums out” among the City’s electorate. The trick is to get some of them to the polls. 

Also, as reported in a couple of recent CityWatch articles by Beth Cone Kramer, the Cedillo campaign has had some troubles with the Ethics Commission.  While there may or may not be violations that are ultimately upheld by the City Ethics Commission, the behavior complained about seem to be beginners’ errors for a big bucks, professionally-run campaign. 

Helping the challenger is Joe’s recent announcement that he is the first candidate for CD1 to have qualified for 2:1 matching funds from the City. In order to do this he submitted over 1000 signatures of registered voters and raised contributions from over 270 CD1 donors. 

So is it a long shot? Sure. But if Joe Bray-Ali can force Cedillo into a runoff, all the electoral math changes in a hurry. If an incumbent with all the advantages can’t put the election away in the primary, he’s viewed as wounded meat and all bets are off. 

So for now, all Jesse Rojas and Joe Bray-Ali have to do is attract some new voters, get some more of the “regular” voters to simply vote against Gil Cedillo (or not vote at all), and try to deny the incumbent 50% plus 1 of the vote on March 7. 

Maybe they can even force Mr. Cedillo to have a public debate or two. Should be interesting. And, like I said, Joe Cleans Up Nice!


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.