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Why are some progressive groups left out of this race for Los Angeles City Council?


Progressive groups fanned out across the western San Fernando Valley to knock on doors and influence voters during the latest competitive Los Angeles City Council race in this corner of Los Angeles.

Their candidate, a climate change activist, ultimately lost. Still, the 2019 race showed that groups like Ground Game Los Angeles and Sunrise Movement LA could be a powerful force in Valley elections.

But in this year’s City Council race, an election to fill the Valley seat left vacant by the resignation of council president Nury Martínez, some large progressive groups have stayed on the sidelines.

Ground Game has not endorsed in the April 4 primary. Neither did the Sunrise Movement, a youth-oriented climate justice organization. The Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America also does not endorse any candidate.

Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles does not endorse elections, but some of its members are calling for support for a write-in candidate.

The lack of unified support for any of the seven candidates is not due to a lack of progressive views. All but one of the candidates is a Democrat. There is also a police abolitionist race.

Many of the candidates also speak of environmental injustices in this majority-Latino borough, where residents want more parks and trees and fewer private jet flights from the Van Nuys airport.

Still, some of the city’s best-known progressive groups are staying on the sidelines for now.

Some far-left activists admit they don’t have a deep network in District 6, which stretches from Lake Balboa to Sun Valley. Others say they don’t have the resources to support a candidate in the special election, prompted by leaked audio showing Martinez making racist comments.

“Lack of endorsement doesn’t necessarily mean lack of interest in the race,” said Bill Przylucki, executive director of Ground Game LA, which works to elect progressive candidates.

Neither Ground Game nor the Democratic Socialists of America endorse in every race. Ground Game’s lack of endorsement may mean that “no candidate stood out so much from the others and passed all the criteria” to win the group’s support, Przylucki said. However, the group will engage with voters around homelessness and housing before the primary, he said.

Ground Game has seen a series of victories in recent municipal elections. The group backed up the campaigns of Nithya Raman, Hugo Soto-Martinez, Eunisses Hernandez and Kenneth Mejia, all of whom have won their races against incumbents or longtime City Hall politicians. All those politicians want big changes in the city’s handling of police and homelessness.

Loraine Lundquist, who ran for the San Fernando Valley City Council seat ultimately won by John Lee, had career support from the Cal PAC Food and Water Action Fund. That group helped recruit volunteers from the Sunrise Movement, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Ground Game. One focus in the race was local anger over the 2015 methane leak in Aliso Canyon.

But she doesn’t see the same mobilization of progressives in the race for District 6.

“The progressive movement is fractured to some degree,” Lundquist said. “They don’t have a historical base of people working in the Valley who know the candidates.”

Ground Game’s Przylucki agreed that the progressive move “isn’t as cohesive as it could be”, but said it’s “better” than 2019.

The City People’s Council does not advocate for any candidate, said co-founder Ricci Sergienko. The far-left collective, which focuses on anti-racism and police abolition, has used its popular Twitter account to attack and support candidates in past elections.

When it comes to support in the District 6 race, the dozen or so members of the People’s City Council do not live in the district and the candidates are not well known in the group, Sergienko said.

District 6 candidates from left to right: Antoinette Scully, Isaac Kim, Rose Grigoryan, Douglas Sierra, Marco Santana, Imelda Padilla, Marisa Alcaraz.

(Myung J Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Progressive groups that have intervened include LA Forward Action, a nonprofit focused on housing, environmental justice, and government reform. The group endorsed candidate Marco Santana, but for now it won’t spend any money, said David Levitus, executive director of LA Forward Action. Lundquist is also a board member.

Another candidate, Isaac Kim, is endorsed by the Sunrise Movement at Occidental, which is affiliated with Occidental College students. Kim also has some campaign workers helping him who also worked on the Mejia City Comptroller’s campaign, he said.

Antoinette Scully, the police abolitionist in the running, is endorsed by Feel the Bern San Fernando and East Valley Indivisibles. Scully, who is black, said anti-blackness and patriarchy are influences when it comes to electoral endorsements.

“It’s actually really frustrating,” Scully said, of the big progressive groups staying out of the race. “I have the receipts, I’ve been doing the work.”

Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah said many members are individually supporting Pastor James Thomas, a self-described activistlike writing.

Meanwhile, the Sunrise Movement wants a climate champion to lead the district, said the group’s center coordinator, Nico Gardner-Serna, who pointed to the Van Nuys airport and a Superfund site in the northeast Valley. A year-long methane gas leak at a Sun Valley power plant also outraged residents.

“We urge everyone who cares about the climate to get involved in this election,” Gardner-Serna said.

Still, the Sunrise Movement does not endorse in the primary because it focuses on building broader advocacy campaigns, Gardner-Serna said, adding that she hopes to endorse in the general election.

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