From the Classroom

Imelda Padilla and Marisa Alcaraz’s positions in the Special Election runoff were imminent

A combination of their experience, policies and demographics gave them each a big advantage over their fellow candidates

Members of the Southside Bethel Baptist Church gathered Monday to call for the resignation of Nury Martinez from her role as LA City Council President.

Following the April 4 special election for Los Angeles City Council, District 6 residents now know that their choice in the June runoff is between Marisa Alcaraz and Imelda Padilla. These candidates, the only two that represent the majority of the district’s population, are already working for the city and are tough on policing.

While most of the crowded field of first-round candidates were activists or involved community members, Alcaraz and Padilla stand out for being the two candidates with direct political connections and a more formal understanding of the system. Alcaraz is the Deputy Chief of Staff for Councilman Curren Price, and Padilla has worked on several community projects with the council, including with Nury Martinez. While neither of them are elected officials, their resumes and connections differ significantly from those of the other candidates, such as Isaac Kim and Rose Grigoryan, who are both small business owners with no previous professional experience in politics.

Alcaraz and Padilla also have more conservative views when it comes to the L.A. Police Department and public safety.

In the post-George Floyd climate across the country, governments and communities are asking for a more community-based approach to policing, and Los Angeles is no exception, having reduced its police budget in 2020 (although Mayor Karen Bass has now proposed to expand it). A survey, conducted by Loyola Marymount University in 2022, found that 52% of Los Angeles residents supported proposals to redirect money from the LAPD budget. 

But those opinions are not necessarily shared by many District 6 residents.

Panorama Neighborhood Council Executive Chair Lanira Murphy agrees that Padilla and Alcaraz’s more conservative views on policing are one of the reasons why they were favored by the voters.

Murphy believes that the result of the race is “indicative” of how District 6 thinks about policing.

“The anti-police like ‘get rid of the police,’ that’s not CD6 people they’re like ‘no, we need the police. We don’t feel safe,’” Murphy said.

And then there is candidate Marco Santana, who was favored to at least win a spot in the election runoff after receiving the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times. Although Santana received enough votes to put him in the third position overall, only the first two candidates went to the runoff.

While not the most progressive candidate in the race, Santana still upheld some liberal ideas. When the L.A. Times endorsed him back in March, Santana had noted that he would consider taking resources from LAPD if no other funding was available. Santana also opposes Section 41.18, known as the anti-camping law which criminalizes sitting, sleeping or blocking a sidewalk.

Santana was not the only candidate who publicly opposed the section, in fact, Alcaraz and Padilla were the only ones who publicly supported the controversial “sit-lie” section.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) spent over $70,000 in mailing opposing Santana. They did not report any other expenses supporting or opposing any other candidates for this race.

“He was the only one who was targeted with negative mail,” said Fernando Guerra, professor of political science and director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at the Loyola Marymount University. Guerra also serves as one of the authors of the previously mentioned Police and Community Relations Survey.

Although other candidates had more direct plans to defund the police and establish alternative safety measures, Tom Saggau, from the LAPPL, says that they “felt it was important to highlight where his positions were being that he had more funding and on paper more support than some of the other candidates.”

The LAPPL is the LAPD union. They have not endorsed anyone for this race, although they have reported expenditures in support of other candidates in the past.

“We thought [it] was best to ensure that candidates that supported law enforcement, that supported the encampment ordinance, made it to a runoff,” Saggau said.

In terms of crime rates, District 6 is placed in an average position compared to other districts in L.A., with their rates not being the highest nor the lowest.

Crime rates differ drastically from neighborhood to neighborhood in the district, but some areas do have medium to high rates of crime, particularly in Lake Balboa, Panorama City and Sun Valley.

In regards to homelessness, District 6 does have a significant population of unhoused people, with the district having a little over 3,300 unhoused people, both sheltered and unsheltered, and over 2,100 unhoused households, which they describe as at least two members of a family group–at least one adult and one minor.

The district with the largest number of unhoused people was District 14, which includes Downtown L.A., and has a total of 7,600 unhoused individuals and over 7,100 unhoused households.

Multiple District 6 Neighborhood Council Presidents mentioned crime and homelessness as key issues for their voters.

However, Sun Valley Neighborhood Council President Wendy Thum does not believe that views on policing had a great impact on the race. The council, however, does have a strong relationship with LAPD, which Thum describes as “excellent.”

Instead, Thum accredits the success of Alcaraz and Padilla to them being part of the system and having connections.

“They were both aware from their political connections early on that the race was going to happen and they had political structures in place, particularly with unions,” Thum said.

Murphy of the Panorama neighborhood council also agrees that because Padilla and Alcaraz are within the system, they have a big advantage.

“I do think that it was not an even playing field, which is like usually the political landscape,” said Murphy.

Murphy also believes that the race was “ill-timed,” since candidates had to submit signatures by January 4 in order to be on the ballot, meaning they likely had to work on the campaign during the holidays.

By comparison, for the 2022 Los Angeles Mayoral race, candidates started filing signatures in February for the election in June.

Guerra also agrees that having government experience was one of the main reasons Padilla and Alcaraz won the most votes.

“In my mind, it was quite predictable that they would come in first or second place. Number one, they had the most money. Number two, they had the most endorsements. Number three, they already had government experience. And then number four, they fit the majority of the profile, meaning that they were Latinas,” Guerra said.

The latter point was essential.

Being Latinas helped Padilla and Alcaraz (and also Santana, to some degree) because the majority of the District 6 residents are also Latine, and voters tend to favor those with similar demographics.

“As a Latino voter, you say someone with my same experience is most likely to pursue the policies that I’m interested in, most likely to understand my experience, most like to understand what I want from [the] government, therefore, all things being equal, and [the] information I have, I’m going to vote for a Latino,” said Guerra, explaining the voter mentality.

The same thing happens with people from other ethnicities and races, voting for someone with your same demographic entails familiarity, which is particularly important in a small, local race where voters are not receiving a lot of information.

“[If] I have no other information other than the name on the ballot. I’m going to assume someone’s Latino because they have a Latino last name,” said Guerra.

Being a woman also helped both Padilla and Alcaraz, as the majority of voters are women, according to Guerra.

Women voting in larger percentages than men is a national trend, as women have voted at higher rates than men in all presidential elections in recent history, with this turnout gap growing in every presidential election, according to the Center for American Women And Politics at Rutgers University.

Guerra also mentions how voters tend to assume that women are more responsive to certain issues such as family issues and education, they also assume that women are less combative and more collaborative, which favors them for elections like the one in District 6.

“These, of course, are generalizations that don’t always happen, but that’s how voters make up their minds. And so the majority of voters are Latino and the majority of voters are [women],” said Guerra. “It makes perfect sense that a Latina is going to be the number one choice.”

And number two choice, in this case.

The April 4 special election ended with Alcaraz getting 21% of the votes and Padilla leading with almost 26% of the votes. Because there was no candidate with 50% or more of the votes, Alcaraz and Padilla will move on to a runoff election on June 27.

Padilla’s percentage of the votes represented 3,400 votes, while Alcaraz received 2,800 votes.

Only 11% of the eligible voters cast a ballot, representing about 13,500 people.

The low number of votes is not uncommon for the district, Nury Martinez, the previous District 6 City Councilmember, won her 2013 election with a little over 5,000 votes.

This is not the first time the District has seen a special election to elect a council member in recent history. In 2013, Nury Martinez won her council seat in a special election. The circumstances, however, were very different as Martinez got her seat after her predecessor Tony Cardenas was elected to Congress. But this special election is happening due to protests and civil calls for Martinez’s resignation, which occurred in October 2022.

The protests took place at City Hall and extended to the White House, with President Biden calling Martinez and the other councilmembers to resign. This was in response to a leaked audio that showed Martinez making racist comments towards Black people, indigenous Mexicans and Jewish people. The original audio, its source still unknown, was posted on Reddit, although the story got traction after the Los Angeles Times broke the story.

District 6 comprises Sun Valley, Arleta, Panorama City, Lake Balboa, and Van Nuys. The district’s residents are mostly Hispanic people, representing 72% of the population, Asian people represent 9%, while Black people are 3% of the population. The median household income is a little over $40,000, and about 17% of the population live in poverty.

Since the results of the primary elections were announced, Padilla has reported a larger amount of monetary contributions and expenditures than Alcaraz, as of May 13. Padilla also has reported more endorsements on her website than Alcaraz has reported on hers.

With Padilla already leading in votes from the election in April, she seemingly has a slight advantage over Alcaraz in the runoff election this June, but with a month left until the election, both candidates have time to leave a bigger mark on the race.

Mail-in ballots for the runoff election will begin to be distributed this week on May 30. Polls will close at 8 p.m. on June 27 to decide who the next Los Angeles City Councilmember representing District 6 will be.