Todd Royal was a distinct minority while sitting on the Studio City Neighborhood Council for years. He was a young white man, but he was also a conservative Republican in a community known for its activist liberalism.
Now, Royal is challenging Democrat Mike Gatto in the State Assembly District 43 race in November in a state where Republicans have become an endangered species.
But, he says to not think of himself as a Republican. In many interviews, including a wide-ranging hours-long talk at a Studio City eatery, Royal pointed out that his concerns are often the same as his liberal counterparts when it comes to traffic, education and children.
Our interview took place when his wife Joy was about to give birth to their daughter Grey Elizabeth, and now they also have a son, Cole. He moved to La Canada, and therefore could no longer be a part of the Studio City community activism, but he remains in contact with many of the people there.
The district includes Silver Lake, parts of Hollywood and two major parks, Griffith Park and the Angeles National Forest. It includes Burbank, Glendale, Los Feliz and La Canada-Flintridge. The state assembly district, in different reconfigurations, is 44 percent Democratic and 24 percent Republican with was held in the past by Paul Krekorian, now on the Los Angeles City Council.
It was obvious during the past interviews that Royal was cut out for higher office. Now he's giving it a try.
Some of Todd's concerns still remain quite valid now.
Here are excerpts of our interviews:
It wasn’t until he came out to California from his family ranch in Crowley, Texas that Todd Royal truly became conservative.
He moved to Studio City to become an actor, but along the way, he found a wife, started a business, joined a church and got involved in local politics. And, he and his wife Joy are expecting their first child, a daughter they’ve already named Grey Elizabeth.
“All of that and just getting older, you know, kind of made me more conservative,” says Royal. “And I know that I’m in the minority in this community, but I find that if I’m very honest with people about where I stand and how I believe, then we can all get along.”
Royal is the youngest of the 15 members of the Studio City Neighborhood Council (except the student member of course), and he is the face of a growing group of conservatives in this part of the San Fernando Valley.
“I know this area is known for its more liberal leanings, and I understand that, but what I’ve found is that we can push aside a lot of the politics and come together to fill a pothole in the road that we all drive on every day,” Royal says.
Royal may be part of a larger trend of Republicans moving to Studio City, as evidenced by voting trends in the past four elections. Los Angeles Times statistics that graph precincts by their declared political parties show that the Studio City corner of the Valley is, while not Republican by any means, less Democratic than in decades past—and conservative-leaning propositions and local issues have also polled more strongly in the 91604 ZIP code than in other surrounding neighborhoods.
Royal’s church, Morning Star of Studio City, is growing so fast that they will soon be moving by the end of the year to a much larger building in Van Nuys. This Christian conservative ministry is where Royal met his wife, and where they married in 2007.
“It was my wife, really, who got me into the political arena,” Royal explains. Next to the place that they rent, Royal saw a five-unit building and a 10-unit building get torn down and replaced with “a huge monstrosity” of an apartment building.
“I started to question how the infrastructure could handle a big place like that, and she finally turned to me and said, ‘Todd, why don’t you go do something about it,’” Royal laughs.
Little did she know that she’d never see her husband again. That launched a spark of community activism, and Royal sought out volunteering for the fire department or the police. He worked for a congressman (Pete Geren, a Fort Worth Democrat), and talked to government agencies and civic organizations.
Then, he printed up 500 flyers and walked up and down Ventura Boulevard and Moorpark in his neighborhood and ran for the Studio City Neighborhood Council, where only fellow renters could vote as stakeholders for one of three positions reserved for residential renters. He won, and eventually became a very active chairman of the Transportation Committee that dealt with one of the most common complaints by local residents–traffic.
Royal comes from a family of LBJ Democrats who mostly worked for General Dynamics as sheet metal workers. After studying economics and playing a lot of sports, a few key acting coaches encouraged this guy with the Tom Cruise good-looks and good sense of humor to head to Hollywood to try some acting.
He landed a role in the Western Rough Riders as well as bit parts on General Hospital, Big Love and other parts—enough to get him into SAG and AFTRA. He laughs, “I’m not so conservative I don’t believe in unions. I mean, I have some issues with them, but I’m in two unions.”
He helped start a catering and bartending company called Scarlette Bartending, a business based in Studio City.
“When I moved to Los Angeles, I thought this was the best place to be,” Royal reflects. “I didn’t want to be down at the beach where there’s too many distractions and no one can get motivated. Everything was here, it was close to the 101 and 405 and Beverly Glen, Coldwater and Laurel Canyon boulevards. It is really the heart of the city, with some of the best parts.”
He laughs, “You have George Clooney living up the hills and the world’s best shopping along Ventura Boulevard. There’s Colfax Meadows and the hiking trails.”
Then, he adds, “Studio City is not only the heart of the Valley, but it’s the heart of the county itself.”
He joined the Studio City Residents Association, where he met Alan Dymond, who became sort of a mentor to him. And, he closely watched John Walker as vice president of the Neighborhood Council.
“Those two guys are my mentors, I really love working with them,” Royal says about Dymond and Walker. “They are both about 20 to 30 years older than me and are successful in their own right, so I am learning a lot from them—and I think we have very different political beliefs.”
This year, with the new Neighborhood Council, Walker became president and Royal was voted in as vice president, following in his mentor’s footsteps.
“Like any community group, you need fresh, younger blood, and Todd has always handled himself professionally and above board,” says Walker, who considers himself an Independent.
“Todd knows how to compromise and he knows that it’s better if both sides are somewhat dissatisfied than if one side wins and the other side is really pissed,” Walker says. “He has taken a quiet see-and-observe position, and that is good.”
Royal could see himself running for a state assembly seat someday, or eventually the U.S. Congress.
For now, he’s a registered Democrat, and says he voted for Bill Clinton twice, but he says, “That will have to change.”
Although he doesn’t believe in some of the extremes of the Tea Party movement, Royal does understand the anger and frustration that is supposedly going to lead to Republican gains in the political spectrum in Tuesday’s mid-term elections.
He disagrees with the Birthers who think President Obama isn’t legitimately born in the country, but he does listen to Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly and links to things that Sarah Palin endorses on his Facebook page.
“I think you can put aside issues like abortion and gay marriage and work together to get things working,” Royal says. “You can have your differences and still work together.”
Others on the Council have told Royal, “I don’t always agree with you on very much, you’re tough, but I know you are honest and will not try to undermine me and talk behind my back.”
Royal says, “I’m more conservative because I’m following Jesus. I’ve not told that to a reporter before.”
He is an avid reader, and says he has read Mao’s Little Red Book, Mein Kampf, the Koran, Karl Marx, Fidel Castro and many other diverse thinkers and philosophies.
For now, Royal is thinking locally.
The first issue of concern is the Universal Expansion project. He said that expanding Universal Studios to add hundreds of new apartments is impossible because Studio City doesn’t have enough sewers, schools and road to take care of all that excess.
Then, he is concerned with crime and safety issues. He is concerned that congested traffic in Studio City is going to be an ever-growing issue, especially with threatened expansion at Universal Studios and other areas.
He praised the volunteer work of Bill Harmon and the Studio City Beautification Association (a branch of the Residents Association), and said, “They have kept the area green and looking beautiful.”
“I know I am in the minority with my beliefs now, but I would like to run for public office someday, and I want to stay here in Studio City,” Royal says. “Of course, the first time I try I might get obliterated, but at least everyone will know how and where I stand.”