Progressive groups fanned across the western San Fernando Valley to knock on doors and sway voters during the last competitive Los Angeles City Council race in this pocket of L.A.
Their candidate, a climate change activist, ultimately lost. Still, the 2019 race showed that groups such as Ground Game Los Angeles and Sunrise Movement LA could be a potent force in Valley elections.
But in this year’s City Council race, an election to fill the Valley seat left vacant by council President Nury Martinez’s resignation, some big progressive groups have been staying on the sidelines.
Ground Game hasn’t endorsed in the April 4 primary. Neither has Sunrise Movement, a youth-oriented climate-justice organization. The Los Angeles chapter of Democratic Socialists of America also isn’t backing a candidate.
Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles doesn’t endorse in elections, but some of its members are urging support for a write-in candidate.
The lack of unified support for any of the seven candidates isn’t due to a lack of progressive views. All but one of the candidates is a Democrat. There’s also a police abolitionist running.
Many of the candidates also talk about the environmental injustices in this majority Latino council district, where residents want more parks and trees and fewer private jet flights from Van Nuys Airport.
Still, some of the city’s most well-known progressive groups are staying out for now.
Some far-left activists admit that they don’t have a deep network in District 6, which extends from Lake Balboa to Sun Valley. Others say they don’t have the resources to support a candidate in the special election, which was prompted by leaked audio that revealed Martinez making racist comments.
“A lack of an endorsement does not necessarily mean a 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 Democratic Socialists of America endorse in every race. A lack of endorsement from Ground Game may mean that “no single candidate stood out so far from any other and cleared all the criteria” to earn the group’s support, said Przylucki. However, the group will do voter engagement around homelessness and housing ahead of the primary, he said.
Ground Game has seen a string of wins in recent City Hall elections. The group endorsed the campaigns of Nithya Raman, Hugo Soto-Martinez, Eunisses Hernandez and Kenneth Mejia, who all won their races against incumbents or longtime City Hall politicians. All those politicians want big changes to the city’s handling of policing and homelessness.
Loraine Lundquist, who ran for the San Fernando Valley City Council seat ultimately won by John Lee, had support in her race from Food and Water Action Fund Cal PAC. That group helped recruit volunteers from Sunrise Movement, the Democratic Socialists of America and Ground Game. A focus in the race was local anger over the 2015 methane leak in Aliso Canyon.
But she doesn’t see the same mobilization from progressives in the District 6 race.
“The progressive movement is fractured to some extent,” 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 movement “is not as cohesive as it could be” but said that it’s “better” than 2019.
The People’s City Council isn’t advocating for any one candidate, said co-founder Ricci Sergienko. The far-left collective, which is focused on anti-racism and abolishing the police, has used its popular Twitter feed to attack and prop up candidates in past elections.
When it comes to support in the District 6 race, the People’s City Council’s dozen members don’t live in the district and the candidates aren’t well-known to the group, Sergienko said.
Progressive groups that have weighed in include LA Forward Action, a nonprofit focused on housing, environmental justice and government reforms. The group endorsed candidate Marco Santana, but for now won’t be spending money, said David Levitus, executive director of LA Forward Action. Lundquist is also a board member.
Another candidate, Isaac Kim, is endorsed by Sunrise Movement at Occidental, which is affiliated with students at Occidental College. Kim also has some campaign workers helping him who also worked on Mejia’s City Controller campaign, he said.
Antoinette Scully, the police abolitionist in the race, is backed by Feel the Bern San Fernando and East Valley Indivisibles. Scully, who is Black, said that anti-Blackness and patriarchy are influences when it comes to election endorsements.
“It’s actually really frustrating,” said Scully, of large 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 that many members are individually supporting Pastor James Thomas, a self-described activist, as a write-in.
Sunrise Movement, meanwhile, wants a climate champion to lead the district, said group hub coordinator, Nico Gardner-Serna, who pointed to Van Nuys Airport and a Superfund site in the northeast Valley. A years-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, Sunrise Movement isn’t endorsing in the primary because it’s focused on developing broader advocacy campaigns, Gardner-Serna said, adding that it hopes to make an endorsement in the general election.
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