GUEST COMMENTARY - As the sun went down June 7, Dr. Rocío Rivas refreshed her phone at her Election Night gathering in Highland Park.
What the candidate for a pivotal open seat on the L.A. school board saw on her handheld screen delighted her, along with dozens of supporters who dropped by her safe outdoor reception at the top of Avenue 51. “She’s winning!” announced a member of East Area Progressive Democrats (EAPD) in attendance. The club and its more than 1,000 members in the neighborhoods of the Greater Eastside and adjacent parts of Glendale, Pasadena, and L.A. County emerged as a backbone of Rivas’ base of grassroots volunteers. Many were on hand to cheer.
The first returns showed Rivas taking more than 38 percent of ballots in District 2, which stretches from East L.A. and City Terrace to Downtown to Silver Lake and Los Feliz. Her lead stood at 6 percent. In the days ahead, as the L.A. County Registrar Clerk Recorder counted the 1.3 million ballots mailed in by voters, Rivas’ percentage of the total crept over 40, then 42, and finally above 44 percent. Her advantage over second-place contestant Maria Brenes ballooned to nearly 14 percent. This outcome was all the more striking in that Rivas collected just 1/6 of the money of her runner-up — about $50,000 versus $300,000 — to wage the primary campaign.
The dividends of robust volunteer muscle from EAPD—and of neighbor-to-neighbor voter contact by club members for candidates endorsed by the club—were far from limited to Dr. Rivas’ showdown.
In the contest for L.A. Mayor, Karen Bass trailed billionaire Rick Caruso in the early vote totals by as much as 5 percent. But as official tabulation continued, Bass, who garnered the EAPD endorsement with support of 86 percent of members’ votes, took the lead with 43 percent of the vote to Caruso’s 36 percent.
EAPD members were front and center in Bass’s volunteer army of “am-Bass-adors,” hosting events, calling and texting voters and knocking doors, and distributing hundreds of blue yard signs. Combating the false stereotype of her as a detached machine politician, club members rallied neighbors around her service as a physician’s assistant, her know-how from coalition-building in the community and in Congress, and her forward-looking 7-point plan to fight homelessness and prevent Angelenos from falling out of housing.
Several other EAPD-endorsed candidates finished a very formidable second, putting them in strong position to win competitive runoff elections on November 8.
EAPD members voted to endorse Robert Luna, the retired police chief from Long Beach, for L.A. County’s top public-safety job and replace the disgraced incumbent widely derided as a rogue sheriff. To ensure that Luna stood out from the field of little-known challengers, EAPD hosted get-out-the-vote events featuring Luna in Eagle Rock and Highland Park, with ample time to question the candidate and learn about his leadership in the Major Cities Chiefs Association and experience in being held accountable by elected civilian overseers.
Also at the County level, EAPD members chose West Hollywood Councilmember Lindsey Horvath for the open seat in District 3. When voters weighed in, Horvath edged out Henry Stern to qualify for a runoff against state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a moderate Democrat widely criticized for his embrace of fossil fuels and police groups. The runoff outcome will determine if progressives retain a working triumvirate on the Board of Supervisors.
In state contests, Mia Livas Porter, a gun-violence prevention leader long active in EAPD, earned an impressive 39 percent in her 3-way contest against incumbent Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, sponsor of a bill defeated in 2021 that would have sabotaged rooftop solar in California.
Malia Cohen, a former San Francisco Supervisor with a record of environmental advocacy and independence in fiscal oversight, was endorsed by EAPD members to succeed Betty Yee as State Controller. Cohen outperformed 3 other Democrats, including outgoing L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin, to make the runoff against a Republican she is on course to vanquish in the fall.
In the race for Insurance Commissioner, EAPD-endorsed Marc Levine, a 5-term Assemblymember, appears to be drawing enough votes to overcome two Republicans and qualify for the statewide runoff against Ricardo Lara. The Democratic incumbent remains plagued by a series of ugly scandals involving his official actions that favored wealthy donors to his campaigns.
Some of the most striking evidence of EAPD members’ influence in the primary came in Glendale. EAPD member and math educator Suzie Abajian, endorsed by the club for City Clerk, won the close contest to oversee public access to government records and meetings and local efforts to improve civic participation. In addition, Ingrid Gunnell, another club member and longtime public-education activist, won a razor-thin election for a seat on the 5-member School Board.
The biggest stakes of all may be at City Council, where EAPD member Elen Asatryan ousted incumbent Vrej Agajanian, who on Nov. 30, 2021, had voted to industrialize the city’s dump at Scholl Canyon by approving an unpopular biogas plant at the site. Asatryan’s win, finishing second among 8 candidates vying for 3 seats, came as fellow EAPD member and environmental advocate Dan Brotman finished first, winning re-election. Together with mayor Ardy Kassakhian, progressive Democrats with deep roots in the city and a strong coalition behind them will hold 3 of 5 seats on Council. This new reality could transform city governance, in tone, symbolism, and substance.
Throughout the pandemic, EAPD leaders have urged hundreds of members to request and cast ballots in the club’s vote-by-mail endorsement process with the question, “What kind of Democrat do you want to represent you?” and the reminder, “Better representation starts with better participation.” Several club priorities—environmental justice, protecting public education, safe and affordable housing, and women’s empowerment—scored breakthroughs in this primary due to concerted hard work by EAPD members and victories by club-endorsed candidates.
(Hans Johnson Is President, Progressive Victory, “Turning Data Into Power”.) Follow on Twitter: @HansPJohnson