Can Jan Perry, the Underdog, Become Los Angeles' Next Mayor?

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  • Jan Perry, bidding to become Los Angeles’ next mayor, believes she will defy the odds and win the battle to preside over the nation’s second largest city.

    In a November 12 report, Los Angeles Times staff writer James Newton, said, “at this point in the Los Angeles Mayor’s race, Councilwoman Jan Perry lags behind front-runners Wendy Gruel and Eric Garcetti in terms of money and name recognition, but in recent weeks, she has found a potentially viable path.”

    With County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and businessmen Austin Beutner and Rick Caruso out of the race, Newton opined, “Perry finds herself with a surprisingly open shot at becoming the favorite candidate of business.”  Newton said the business community has not yet put its weight behind Perry.  Nevertheless, he noted, at this early stage of the campaign “they are without a standard bearer.”

    Campaign contributions from the business community would not only provide Perry, who said she will soon have substantial matching funds, with more cash, but perhaps give her an edge over in fund raising over Garcetti and Gruel as well.

    If she is victorious in both the March 5 Democratic Primary and May 21 General Elections, Perry would also break the gender barrier and become the city’s first woman chief executive and its third mayor of African descent.

    A victorious Perry would become the third black woman since 2012 to win a high profile, elective office in California.  That would be a stunning achievement, given that Blacks comprise less than 10 percent of the population in Los Angeles and the state.

    Kamala Harris, in 2010, defeated Steven Cooley, then the Los Angeles County district attorney and became California’s first black and first woman attorney general.  In a November 6 run-off, Jackie Lacey edged Alan Jackson and became Los Angeles County’s first woman and first black district attorney.

    Tom Bradley, elected in 1973, on his second attempt, was the city’s most recent black mayor, but not the first African American to occupy the seat.  A former councilman and attorney, Bradley was the city’s second black mayor and reigned for 19 years, until 1992.

    The honor of having been the first black mayor belongs to an Afro-Mexican, Francisco Reyes.

    Not only was Reyes the first chief executive of African descent to preside over Los Angeles, he was also the city’s first mayor.

    Reyes, who owned all of what today is the San Fernando Valley, served as mayor for three years, from 1792 until 1795.

    Perry’s most high profile supporter is Maxine Waters.  Although the wily veteran does not possess Reyes’ material wealth, she has enormous political capital, is a formidable warrior and has won a host of difficult battles.  Waters emerged relatively unscathed after her most recent one, an ethics allegation that threatened to stall, if not sink, her career in the House of Representatives.

    The congresswoman, along with Eighth District Councilman Bernard Parks, a former chief of police, have so far been the only major black leaders to publicly endorse Perry, who has been a city councilwoman for three sessions.  Term limits will force her to bow out of that body next year.

    To defeat the eight opponents who have filed formal declarations, including her most popular foes, Gruel, the current controller and Hollywood councilman Garcetti, many political analysts believe Perry must pull the lion’s share of African American votes.

    Without the overwhelming share of the black vote, which is approximately nine percent of the total number of ballots cast in citywide elections, Perry will have to increase her support among whites, Latinos and Asians.

    There are 1,767, 669 registered voters among the city’s 3, 792, 621 residents.  Some
    1, 188, 158 citizens are white, 1, 838, 822 are Latino, 426, 959 are Asian and 365, 118 are black.

    Both Gruel and Garcetti are liberal Democrats, and, like Perry, boast strong connections and popularity with African Americans and Jews.  Garcetti, who’s father, a former Los Angeles County District Attorney, is half Italian and half Mexican-American, is half Jewish. Gruel has a Jewish husband.

    In Los Angeles, where an estimated 20 percent of the voters are Jewish, many of whom, whom contribute large sums of money to political campaigns, that ethnic connection is a highly valuable asset.

    Perry, a convert to Judaism some years ago, hopes to match Gruel and Garcetti in contributions and support in the Jewish community.  But Gruel’s presence as a woman removes any gender advantage Perry may have had If Gruel were not a candidate and Perry thus could compete against an all male field.

    In an interview with blackamericaweb.com, Perry, who has spoken Spanish since age 15, articulated her accomplishments as a councilwoman since 2001.  In addition, blackamericaweb.com solicited comments from Councilman Parks, Leon Jenkins, president of the Los Angeles branch of the NAACP–and four other leaders who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

    Perry bills herself as “a business friendly Democrat.”  She told blackamericaweb.com that her candidacy is aimed at “continuing my work in seeing to it that this city rebuilds and recovers, that people are put back to work and that everyone’s child has a decent education, so there is no reason to leave anyone or any community behind.”

    In her city council district, the Ninth, Perry said in a recently printed campaign piece, she has “delivered results and has changed the way people view the city.”  Over the past decade, according to the piece, “Perry has supported major development projects in Downtown Los Angeles that represent over $15 billion in private investment and provided the city with over $40 million in new tax revenues.”

    Under her watch, the piece continued, Perry “downtown development led to the creation of over 90,000 full-time jobs in both permanent and construction” employment.

    Perry, the piece informs, has steered “catalytic developments, from ‘LA Live’ to iconic developments,  Our Lady of Angeles Cathedral and such major public buildings as the new Police Administration Building.”  She has been, the piece further said, “in the forefront of ensuring that downtown moves forward to meet its potential as the economic engine for the region and works to afford people living in the city with more employment and affordable housing opportunities.”

    In a mid-July article in The Downtown News, Perry was stroked as “the best, most effective and forward thinking council representative Downtown Los Angeles has ever seen.”

    Perry, the article enthused, “has set the bar high for all Downtown council representatives. The community is a much better place today than it was when she arrived.  Downtown has been fortunate to have her as a champion.”

    “Although Skid Row residents and service providers are not contributing much to her campaign and won’t provide many votes come election day,” the article predicted, “Perry has put more time, energy and resources into Skid Row than any politician ever.”

    One of the leaders blackamericaweb.com spoke to and who agreed to comment, but without attribution, said, “she can win this race, give her time to roll out her campaign.  We just finished an exhausting presidential campaign and important Senate and House races; she’s raising her money and refining her message, she can win this seat.”

    Councilman Parks, in his interview, was even more optimistic in assessing her campaign. “Of course I believe she can win this race, if I didn’t believe she can, I wouldn’t have endorsed her.  I’ve been on the phone raising money and seeking commitments for her and I will continue to do that.”

    When Perry’s “story is told,” Parks predicted, “I believe people who may be leaning toward other candidates will decide to support her.  She has a very powerful story that touches everyone from women, to the Jewish community, Latinos, Asians and African Americans.”

    Jenkins, the NAACP branch president, echoed Parks’ assessment when he said, “one of the two leading candidates so far is Jewish and Latino, the other is an Anglo, but voters in these groups are not dominated by single mindset.  They are not homogeneous, so Perry has a real opportunity to reach across all ethnic and racial lines for their support and win liberals and moderates too.”

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