For almost two years, LGBT allies Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel waged an expensive battle over who would succeed outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. In the May 21 runoff election, City Councilmember Garcetti won with 54 percent of the vote versus 46 percent for City Controller Wendy Greuel. And, according to an exit survey conducted by the Center for the Study of Los Angeles, gays and lesbians turned out in a major way for Garcetti.
“More than seven in 10 gay men and lesbians in L.A. supported Garcetti,” said Gary Gates, the distinguished scholar at the Williams Institute who helped the center craft its survey question on sexual orientation. “Heterosexual and bisexual support for the mayor-elect was not nearly as lopsided—55 percent and 53 percent, respectively.”
The Center for the Study of Los Angeles, based at Loyola Marymount University, interviewed 1,227 voters through random exit polling questioning at 25 polling places and via a telephone survey of permanent vote-by-mail registered voters in L.A. Of all voters questioned, 92 percent identified as heterosexual or straight, while 4.4 percent identified as gay or lesbian, 1.3 percent identified as bisexual and 2.4 percent answered as “other,” which Gates construes as a group that probably did not understand the question or didn't want to answer it.
Combining the survey’s numbers for gay, lesbian and bisexual voters yields a voter turnout of roughly six percent. What that might mean is difficult to say. “We don't have a survey that can directly tell us the percentage of the LGBT population in the city of L.A., which would allow us to assess LGBT voter turnout,” Gates says. “In the absence of that data, it's very difficult to determine the meaning of the six percent LGBT vote.”
The center’s survey breaks down the numbers as: Garectti with 71.8 percent of gay and lesbian voters; 53.1 percent bisexual and 51.7 percent “other”; for Greuel, the numbers dropped dramatically with 28.2 percent of gays and lesbians voting for her, though she won 46.9 of the bisexual vote and 48.3 percent of “other.”
Though Gates points out there is no baseline data on the LGBT population in L.A. against which to measure the voting percentages for statistical meaning, it is not hard to extrapolate a political meaning—especially when considering that the roughly six percent LGB turnout is somewhat comparable to the survey’s Asian turnout of 6.3 percent.
In other words, during the historically low 19 percent voter turnout for the runoff elections, gays and lesbians turned out in a significant way for their ‘brother’ Eric Garcetti, the Harvard Law School grad and Rhodes Scholar who has been so ubiquitous in the LGBT community, he is considered an ‘honorary gay person.’ It will be interesting to see how the new mayor now acknowledges that family-of-choice support.
“We have our challenges before us as a city. Big challenges,'' Garcetti said at a May 23 meeting with Villaraigosa at Getty House, City News Service reported. “But there's no challenge in Los Angeles that cannot be met by the immense wellspring of talent and people and passion that's here in Los Angeles. Those folks who believe in Los Angeles, the people who are the most diverse, committed, creative human beings ever assembled on the face of the Earth—together we will make this not just a big city but a great city once again.''
And that “together” includes Greuel, Garcetti said, “my former opponent and my continuing friend,” with whom he vowed to “continue to work together very closely.”
Greuel was gracious in defeat. “After going toe-to-toe with him as political opponents for two years now ... you really get to know a person,” she said, adding that Garcetti “cares deeply” about L.A. and “will work tirelessly to be the strong and innovative leader we need at this critical moment in our history.” Greuel also took note of her almost historic achievement of being L.A.’s first female mayor. “You showed the daughters, sisters, wives and mothers of Los Angeles that one day we will have a woman mayor of Los Angeles,” she told a crowd of her supporters in her farewell news conference.
Garcetti is “a true leader,” Villaraigosa said. “I know I am leaving Los Angeles in good hands.”
Those good hands will have a lot to handle—including Villaraigosa’s $7.7 billion budget the City Council unanimously approved on May 23. But setting aside for a moment the looming battles over pensions and labor concessions, what the 42-year-old mayor-elect brings in with him is a sense of youth vigor, creative vision, a smart and current sense of innovation and possibility. Some have even dared utter the word ‘hope.’
The campaign promises and record posted on his election website give a sense of what direction Garcetti will lead the city. For instance, he “[a]uthored the nation's widest-reaching green building ordinance, the nation's largest local clean water initiative and legislation leading to the nation’s largest solar rooftop program to create healthier neighborhoods and position L.A. for clean technology and energy jobs. ... Created the DWP ratepayer advocate and a ballot initiative to ensure transparency and accountability at the nation's largest public utility,” and “[d]eployed the city's first constituent services ‘smart phone app,’ which allows residents to snap a picture of graffiti or a pothole and report them for city action anytime, anywhere—no waiting on hold and no call center infrastructure. The phone's GPS automatically sends location information.”
And presumably Garcetti will continue to engage in social media via his Twitter account @ericgarcetti and on Facebook, where he has posted a slew of photos from his election night at the Palladium (tinyurl.com/q3ar2sw).
That youthful spirit of change also seems to have impacted other citywide races, sweeping in low-key gay Century City attorney Ron Galperin as City Controller and former Assemblymember Mike Feuer as City Attorney and sweeping out Councilmember Dennis Zine and one-term City Attorney Carman Trutanich, respectively. Galperin stomped Zine 56 percent to 44 percent, while Feuer trounced Trutanich 62 percent to 38 percent.
Interestingly, according to the Center for the Study of Los Angeles survey, more gays and lesbians voted for Trutanich than straights—43.1 percent to 35.6 percent, with bisexuals voting for Trutanich by 66.3 percent. Straights voted 64.4 percent for Feuer to 56.9 percent of gays and lesbians and 33.7 percent of bisexuals.
In the City Controller race, Galperin pulled in 47.4 percent of straights and 52.7 percent of gays and lesbians, with 36.9 percent of votes from bisexuals. Zine secured 52.6 percent of the straight vote, but garnered 47.3 percent of the gay and lesbian vote and 63.1 percent from bisexuals.
There were also four City Council races on the ballot, and strong LGBT allies won. Former Assemblymember Gil Cedillo won his race for the 1st Council District, and state Sen. Current Price beat his opponent for the 9th C.D. In a special election to replace current Congressmember Tony Cárdenas, former Assemblymember Cindy Montañez came in first but will wind up in a runoff on July 23 with LAUSD school boardmember Nury Martinez to represent the northeast San Fernando Valley. Additionally, Prop. D, a medical marijuana measure supported by Councilmember Paul Koretz bested two other pot measures to allow 130 dispensaries that will be heavily taxed and regulated.
But the race that mesmerized and at times riled the LGBT community was the race between openly gay Mitch O’Farrell, a former field deputy to Garcetti in the 13th C.D., and John Choi, a former Public Works commissioner and labor organizer who aspired to be the first Korean-American elected to the L.A. City Council.
With the election results posted by the L.A. City Clerk early on May 23, O’Farrell had 11,556 votes (53 percent) to Choi’s 10,224 votes (47 percent). However, as Frontiers goes to press, Choi has not yet conceded and may contest the absentee ballot count, according to his gay manager Shaun Daniels, who hopes that the District Attorney’s investigation continues into allegations of voter fraud.
“It remains our suspicion that the initial wave of votes that was heavy with absentee ballots may not have been fair, legal or even cast by a voter,” Daniels told Frontiers. “This has implications beyond just Mitch and John. We must consider the long-term integrity of voting by the entire immigrant community. I would hate to think that whomever might have done this thinks they got away with it and can do it again as if it does not matter.”
The allegations to which Daniels is referring involves charges of voter fraud and illegal electioneering in Little Armenia, which Choi’s campaign filed with the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division. Supporting evidence includes witness statements charging voter manipulation, intimidation, coercion and ballot theft with such head-scratching photos as the one above apparently showing roughly 75-100 ballots strewn on someone’s bed.
LA Weekly forwarded the photo to the L.A. City Clerk’s office to verify if they were city ballots. “Holly Wolcott, the clerk’s executive officer, said the photo does appear to show vote-by-mail ballots in their original envelopes— though she could not be certain of that. In other words, it appears the ballots were collected before they got to the voters,” The Weekly reported. “‘We don't know of any reason why—if they are in fact ballots—they would be on somebody's bed,’ Wolcott said. ‘The appearance in and of itself is cause for concern.’ Wolcott said she forwarded the image to the LAPD.”
Absentee ballots must either be mailed in or personally turned in by the voter, so the photo suggests something illegal is going on. If so, by whom and on whose behalf? And was the apparent ballot theft random or coordinated by a campaign or independently by a campaign supporter? And, since ballots are mailed to voters who request them, will the federal government investigate to see if there was interference with the U.S. mail?
O’Farrell’s campaign countered the Choi campaign’s official complaints with a cease-and-desist letter demanding the Choi campaign immediately stop “distributing false and defamatory statements”; violating the L.A. Times copyright laws (Daniels said they never received a similar complaint from The Times); and stop “violating state and local election laws by encouraging your agents to complete vote-by-mail ballots for unsuspecting voters,” among other demands.
In a subsequent formal complaint, O’Farrell’s attorney Cary Davidson writes, “John Choi and John Choi for City Council (“Choi”) have engaged in a systematic attempt to disenfranchise the Armenian community of Los Angeles and deny these citizens their right to vote. This conduct violates federal, state and local laws, as discussed below. ... Choi has specifically targeted the Armenian community in Council District 13 for a campaign of voter fraud and intimidation. The Choi campaign has illegally filled out ballots for voters, illegally collected absentee ballots, lied to voters and intimidated voters.” They, too, offered testimony from witnesses, including those who claim that Choi campaign canvassers were telling Armenian voters not to vote for O’Farrell because he is gay—a charge Choi vehemently denied.
“I’ve been very clear on this issue. I’ve told my staff, and I’ve said it publicly—if anyone in this campaign has been found to be spouting this kind of hate, they’ll be instantly gone—they’ll be gone that day. They will no longer be affiliated with this campaign,” Choi said.
Given these and other questions, Choi’s campaign wondered if the city clerk might pull any vote-by-mail ballots from specific Little Armenia neighborhoods for further scrutiny. (See the Frontiers story on this here: tinyurl.com/ppejnz4). The L.A. Times reports that “the city clerk's office still has about 82,000 ballots to count over the next few weeks.” D.A. spokesperson Jane Robison tells Frontiers that the D.A.’s investigation into the allegations of voter fraud is continuing.
Meanwhile, Choi supporter L.A. City Councilmember Paul Krekorian has also pledged to get to the bottom of the incident, no matter who’s to blame or what the outcome. “It's clear that in Council District 13, voter fraud and intimidation have taken hold in a clear attempt to steal this election. As someone who has worked for two decades to increase voter turnout and democratic participation, I will never tolerate anyone attempting to trick voters or subvert democracy. The public deserves an honest and open discussion on the issues affecting our neighborhoods. Instead, some especially vulnerable voters in C.D. 13 clearly have been swindled and defrauded, and I will not rest until all of the culprits are brought to justice, no matter who or where they may be.”