One of the most competitive elections in years for neighborhood councils brought a few surprises as well as the city’s biggest turnout from one of the Westside’s most politically active communities.
Several new faces will be seen on local councils as a handful of incumbents were turned back in their reelection bids in the 2012 campaign, which was back in the hands of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment (DONE).
In 2010, the Los Angeles City Clerk’s Office was in charge of the local council elections. Neighborhood council elections typically occur in April but were delayed until last month due to municipal budget concerns.
Voters in Venice cast 1,622 ballots on Oct. 28, the highest among this year’s races, according to election officials. The council also had one of the highest voter turnouts in 2010.
The Mar Vista Community Council, which has established a reputation as one of the city’s leaders in sustainability, saw a slight increase in voting totals from two years ago, with 480 ballots cast.
There was a large uptick in candidates in all of the councils within The Argonaut coverage area – Venice, Mar Vista, Del Rey and Westchester-Playa. In Venice, 55 candidates competed for 21 seats and some races went down to the wire. And three incumbents – Jed Pauker, Mariana Aguilar and Joseph Murphy – lost their seats.
In the race for the last two seats on the council, incumbent Cynthia Rogers and newcomer Sevan Geard tied at 46 votes each. But as The Argonaut went to press, there were still 23 provisional votes that had not been counted, which is why the totals are unofficial until they are certified by DONE.
That could alter the dynamic of the last two seats, because only two votes separate Gerard and Rogers from the next seat, won by Erin Sullivan-Ward. In addition, candidate Lisa Green trails Rogers and Gerard by only two votes.
Mar Vista also featured a couple of close finishes. The majority of the incumbents ran unopposed, but in the Zone 6 director race Roy Persinko came in only four votes behind Valerie Davidson, 54 to 50. They were competing to replace Maritza Przekop.
In the race for at-large directors, incumbent Chuck Ray lost his reelection bid, falling by one vote to Bill Duckett. Newcomers Mitchell Rishe and Melissa Stoller will join Davidson and Allison Park, who ran unopposed for Zone 5 director on the council.
Tony Wilkinson, the independent elections administrator for the West Region, said the Venice turnout, coupled with over 1,000 voters in the Westwood local council race, was proof that when there is competition in neighborhood council races turnout will increase.
“I’m ecstatic,” he said the day after the elections had been completed. “Part of (DONE’s) overall core belief is that you cannot advertise for votes… Competitive races bring voters.”
Matthew Kline, who won his first election as outreach chair for the Venice council after being appointed to the position last year, thinks the combination of more competitive races and a concerted effort to contact more people about the election drove up the voter participation numbers. He believes the advantage of living in a historically politically engaged community was a factor as well.
“It was a combined effort between candidates and the council,” he said.
In Westchester, there were no surprises. All of the incumbents won their races and only seven of the 15 seats were contested. In the only close race, John Loizeaux defeated Christopher Baker for the District 6 seat, 65 votes to 60.
In Del Rey, four new members joined the board after three incumbents decided not to seek another term in office.
While the turnout in Venice was better than what many expected, that was not the case in Westchester-Playa and Del Rey, where only 214 and 149 voters cast ballots, respectively.
In a stark indication of the low turnout in Del Rey – the least populated community of the four – Peter Hsu defeated Phillippa “Fifi” Klein in the race for Area B director in a 2-1 vote nail-biter.
Neighborhood Council of Westchester-Playa President Cyndi Hench thinks there are many factors that influence voter participation.
“What I believe drives people to vote is when they are unhappy with the job that is being done by their electeds,” Hench said. “In the case of (our neighborhood council) election this year, all of the incumbents who ran won. This tells me that people are happy with the job that we are doing.
“We do not currently have big contentious issues, aside from LAX, or dissatisfaction with the neighborhood council. I think this is a good thing.”
Wilkinson feels there is a chasm among those who participate in Hench’s council and the rest of its three communities: Playa Vista, Playa del Rey and Westchester. “My observation is that there are some very engaged people on the neighborhood council and the rest of the community is unaware that there is an opportunity for them to participate,” Wilkinson said.
He cited a candidate who ran in the Westchester-Playa race who said that as she was campaigning, several people told her they had not heard of the neighborhood council.
That is where outreach can be a factor, said Kline.
“Although not all of our races were contested, we really made a conscious effort through our website and our newsletter to let the community know that there was an election and we wanted their participation,” he said.
Hench said her council’s outreach included promoting the election on the board’s website as well as on community blogs and offering the candidates the opportunity to campaign at local venues such as First Friday and the Westchester Halloween Town Fair.
“We held our candidates forum and some candidates also went door to door campaigning and handing out flyers,” she added.
Wilkinson said outreach has to be constant and meaningful in order to attract more participation. “Outreach is a program that you do that the community cares about,” he explained. “They have to believe that the neighborhood council is looking out for their interests.”
Kline bristled at suggestions that he had only targeted a narrow demographic of young, single adults. “We did outreach at churches, schools and businesses. We even looked at regional diversity by looking east and west of Lincoln (Boulevard),” he countered. “We had a very diverse group of candidates and we still want to look at ways to grow.”
A first time candidate, Tommy Walker, outpaced all challengers and incumbents in the race for the 12 at large community officers’ slots in Venice. Representing the historically African-American neighborhood of Oakwood, Walker received 184 votes and ran “a very good campaign,” said Kline.
Wilkinson said outreach is not an election-year gambit. “In order to keep a community interested, it has to be done often. It’s a 365-day effort,” he said.
The elections administrator said the Venice volunteers who assisted at the polling location were indispensable. “Without them, we could never have been able to process 1,622 votes.”
The newly elected councils are slated to be sworn in later this month. §