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L.A. Council District 15: Buscaino (& the Grassroots) vs. Furitani (& the Mayor)

Tuesday night’s round of elections included a surprise upset in the 15th Council District of Los Angeles – but only for those who are not well connected with the grassroots of the district itself. For those with long-time, strong ties to the harbor communities of San Pedro, Harbor City/Harbor gateway, Wilmington & Watts, LAPD Officer and City Council Candidate Joe Buscaino has been considered anything but an underdog.

Those that underestimated his effectiveness and deep roots in the community will now be watching Buscaino from the sidelines as he takes on Democratic Party endorsed candidate, Assembly member Warren Furitani, in the runoff for the council seat scheduled for January 17th, 2012. Buscaino finished first on Tuesday night with 29.1% of the overall vote, and Furitani came in a strong second with 22.3%. The next closest challenger was San Pedro business owner Jayme Wilson with 12.0%; all other challengers finished in single digits.

While I have only been a resident of the harbor district for 5-1/2 years, my family’s rapid acceleration of community involvement has blessed us with strong connections to some of the best neighbors, community leaders and friends I have ever met. Through these connections, I have witnessed the type of community bonding that I had only seen previously from my New York relatives – where everyone knows your business and everyone looks out for you and your family.

What I witnessed during the first round of the race to fill the Council District 15 vacancy can be described as nothing short of locals throughout the district rejecting the mass quantity of mailers from political and special interests telling voters to support a candidate based on specific endorsements party organizations or a particular union. Instead, voters went to the polls to support those they had truly seen as part of their community. While the Democratic Party was successful in getting “their candidate” into the run-off, the overwhelming registration majority for Democrats in the 15th council district should have resulted in a landslide victory for their candidate.

Instead, political and community activists from both major parties broke ties to get behind a candidate with whom each had a story – a “Joe story”. I was a personal witness to many such stories as I walked precincts and made phone calls to homes that would have never been targeted in earlier campaigns, either due to lower turnout numbers or political affiliations for these voters. The 16.44% voter turnout resembled that of a regularly scheduled primary, which usually yields between 15%-18%.

Furitani, to his credit, is also one who resided in the district well before the election was declared, and has built strong ties to the communities in the northern portion of the district where he resides. Tuesday night’s election will be viewed by many, including myself, of a rejection of those who returned to the district from extended absences in order to run for the seat, making what this writer believes was an incorrect assumption that the harbor communities needed a stronger candidate than those already residing in it.

The final round of this race will now feature two distinct candidates. As Furitani stated in a Twitter message on Election Night: “Some people might prefer the fresh and new; others the tried and true”. Another view of this race was made apparent to those who saw the front page of the local paper, the Daily Breeze, which featured two photos: One was Buscaino hugging his mother and high-fiving local supporters; the other was Furitani high-fiving Mayor Villaraigosa, one of the biggest donors and primary influences of Furitani’s campaign. No doubt that voters throughout the district will see that front page set of photos over again between now and January 17th.

The decision on January 17th will likely be seen as a referendum on the harbor district’s support of the Mayor, and whether the district will be satisfied with a council member aligned with the Mayor’s agenda over the opportunity to elect a “fresh and new” representative who is anything but new to the communities that he is running to represent.

Mayor Villaraigosa & the political establishment vs. the grassroots & community activists.

Keep an eye on this race…

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