Only 175 days until the City of Los Angeles holds a general election for mayor and last night four of the 12 in-ballot mayoral candidates participated in the “Latino Equity Now: Mayoral Candidate Forum,” hosted by the L.A. Latino Equity and Diversity Initiative (LALEADI). The forum took place at Plaza de la Raza, a cultural center in Lincoln Park, and provided candidates an opportunity to share their plans to address current issues and challenges impacting the Latino community.

LALEADI is a non-partisan, Latino-led coalition with a mission to seek equity for Latinos via unification, advocacy and intentional action, according to its website. The organization encourages Latinos to seek positions at the city’s highest community and political levels, and the collective aims to hold city leaders “accountable and demand they pay special attention to the needs of a population that keeps Los Angeles running.”

LALEADI developed and promotes an election-related campaign called the “Latino Equity Five-Point Plan,” which seeks the commitment of mayoral candidates and the winner to commit to:   

· Equitable distribution of public investments

· Accountability and Measurable Impact

· Acknowledgement of the history of Latino people (US-born and immigrant) 

· Coalition-building with the intention of collective action

· Identify and highlight challenges Latinos face daily but are ignored

On hand for Monday’s event were: Karen Bass, representative for California’s 37th congressional district since 2011; Kevin De Leon, tLA city council member representing District 14 since 2020; Mike Feuer, LA City Attorney; and Mel Wilson, businessman and former LA Metro Board member. Joe Buscaino reportedly was invited but dropped out of the race last Thursday and is now endorsing Rick Caruso, a billionaire real estate developer who was also invited to yesterday’s forum but did not attend. 

The event was moderated by Armando Varela, Executive Director of La Opinion, and Claudia Botero, anchor for Univision and a Peabody & Emmy Award winning journalist. Each candidate answered questions about unemployment, immigration, housing rights, and police reform and was allotted one minute and 30 seconds to respond.

“If elected mayor, you will have a unique opportunity to directly impact and improve economic, educational and health outcomes for Latinos in the City of Los Angeles,” read the open-letter invitation signed by LALEADI, along with 29 other organizations, including CHIRLA, the Women’s March Foundation and the  Los Angeles Latino Chamber of Commerce.  

Tsi-tsi-ki Felix, an anchor for Univision, San Diego, opened the event by welcoming candidates, moderators, community members, in-person attendees and all those who attended via Zoom and YouTube Live. “I want to thank all of you, for showing up … and also for having the courage for running for this position, which is not an essay task,” Felix said to the candidates. 

The first topic that candidates discussed was water use. Recently, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced that it will work toward mandating local agencies to cut water usage by approximately 35 percent. Wilson indicated that he supported cutting back the water prices set by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. “The LADWP has ripped us off,” he said. “It is not fair when they squander $215 million of our money and then ask us to tighten our belts. We all know about the corruption that has happened in LADWP.”

Candidates also discussed the underrepresentation of Latinos in the leadership and workforce of city departments. For Feuer, this is an issue about offering Latinos positions such as general manager, city commissioner and city hall employees. “The next mayor can unlock opportunities in the city’s government,” he said. “The mayor will be appointing the general managers in the city, those managers need to reflect the demography of [LA].”

LA is home to some of the most expensive rental and housing markets on earth and candidates squared off on how to best create more affordable housing.

Bass intimated that thee issues of homelessness and affordable housing are closely related. “I think inclusionary zoning, even though I support it, is woefully inadequate,” she said. “We are never going to address what we need in terms of affordable housing by just saying every luxury apartment must have five or ten units. We need hundreds and thousands of units. It is not right that people have to have three jobs in order to afford rent.”

Bass said that if a developer comes along in the future who wants to build 100 percent affordable housing, then there will need to be a “fast track line” for them given that LA is also home to a full-fledged homeless crisis. 

Also, police violence and law enforcement reform was a primary topic during the forum.

De Leon said that reform must entail “treating people with professionalism, dignity and respect.” He pointed out that the majority of officers working for the Los Angeles Police Department are people of color, Latinos in particular. “With that being said, you have to change culture within the institution, starting off with the LAPD academy,” he said.

De Leon said that treating people with dignity and respect, regardless of who they are, where they come from, the color of their skin or their legal status is crucial. “Every Angelino deserves that type of respect and we can do that with the right leadership and the right police chief changing the culture in the LAPD Academy,” he said. 

In order to cast a ballot in this year’s primary election, LA voters must register by next Monday, May 23. The recording of the forum is available via YouTube

Brenda Fernanda Verano is a journalist born in Mexico and raised in South Central, LA. Verano is a two-time award winner in the California College Media Association Awards. At CALÓ News, she covers...