Watching Nithya Raman - Part 1

DEEGAN ON LA—-Six months ago, Nithya Raman was elected to represent Council District 4. Today, she’s facing a public, grass roots recall as well as a newspaper editorial that, after reading it, had many community members writing letters to the publication’s editor asking for Raman’s resignation

With only a few rocky months on the job, Raman could be asking herself just what did I get into here? The sentiment may be mutual. The prospect of having this neophyte politico, someone as she herself has said has zero political experience, represent them until election day in 2024 bothers many in the CD4 community who, CityWatch has learned, see Raman as being unprepared for the job. 

A twenty-year-plus veteran community organizer observes that "She doesn’t really care about the job description. She was surprised she got elected”. 

“Give me some space” could be Raman’s slogan for a while as she figures out how City Hall works; after all, she’s only been a visitor, never an occupant, because of the Covid closure. While her honeymoon period may have caused some alarm, her term is just beginning, and doubters will have lots of opportunity to harden or modify their position on the Councilperson as she unfolds her political personality and program priorities. 

Lots of people voted for Nithya Raman, who benefitted from being on the ballot at the time of a Presidential election, which turned out substantially more voters than a usual election to fill a council seat. Like voters blinded by Trump, those that voted for Raman may never be swayed into political objectivity; they represent a new generation of politically active local organizers that have had a freshman victory with her election. 

Raman can learn a lot about governing if she’s wiling to climb the steep learning curve. That would mean making a 24/7 dedication to the job by the $207,000 annually-salaried councilperson. 

Another observer who is a veteran of city and county politics, former Councilmember and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, contextualized Raman’s election as “a political earthquake” for City Hall. He may have been speaking more about the emergence of door-knockers for the political socialism movement, not the politico. 

There’s a difference between Yaroslavsky’s prescient alert about the direction of the Democratic political party and whoever gets elected. Moving farther to the politically progressive left is a nationwide trend in Democratic politics. Finding the right, qualified candidates to compete in primaries with Democratic moderates, and then go on to defeat Republicans, is trickier. The City Council race is non-partisan. 

As “AOC” (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and the “Squad” (AOC and Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, and Cori Bush) have shown, these six Democratic Socialists have taken up space on the far left and flexed their bona fide political credentials; they knew how to govern and what is expected of an elected official before going to Congress, and were attuned to politics before Nancy Pelosi swore them in. 

Raman, by contrast, arrived on the scene from out of nowhere as a total unknown with no political office experience on her resume. She ran an election campaign heavily backed by a coalition of capitalist Hollywood money and socialist-Bernie activists. One side, or the other, is ultimately not going to be happy with her. 

The money was possibly spurred by her producer-husband’s connections and people wanting to curry favor with him (and his wife if elected), “roughly a third of her $953,000 campaign haul came from writers, actors, directors and others in the entertainment industry”, according to Ethics Commission filings. 

Without them clearly spelling out why in their press release, Raman got the endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America-LA (DSA-LA). Their one-sentence statement on December 23rd, 2019, was “DSA Los Angeles proudly endorses Nithya Raman for Los Angeles City Council District 4!”. 

Some question if Raman is overly-beholden to the Democratic Socialists and the activist group Ground Game LA. Others wonder if DSA-LA and Ground Game LA are blurring the lines by attempting to leach their operations and leadership into CD4’s. Both groups seem to be inviting themselves into Raman’s inner circle. 

Ground Game’s most recent chief executive, Tabatha Yelos, has become embedded into Raman’s paid staff as a field manager. 

The vocally anti-cop Yelos allegedly recently “interfered with the work” of Park Rangers in Griffith Park who were enforcing rules against camping in the park by not allowing homeless (and anyone else) to camp there. Subsequently, Raman had to publicly distance herself from Yelos, her pro-defunding-the-police deputy, who says that all cops are bastards”.  

The Democratic Socialists, who Yarosvlasky calls the “movement that rallied for her — younger, grassroots activists who favored Bernie Sanders and are frustrated with City Hall”—have not been shy about their ambitions with Raman. At her victory, they stated that “We are excited to begin a co-governing relationship with Councilmember Raman...and to continue pushing for socialist policies and priorities in Los Angeles City Hall.”

It’s not unusual for a politico to be expected to reward supporters. That usually arrives in the form of patronage or favors, not as a covert seat at the decision-making table or, in the case of City Hall, the “horseshoe”. If that’s what the Democratic Socialists are looking for, they may be disappointed. 

Turning out a vote and getting the victorious candidate to vote your way can be mutually exclusive. Time will tell if the Democratic Socialists have been left at the alter by Raman. 

The DSA-LA’s proximity to power formulation does not seem to be how Raman’s office sees “co-governing”. So far, Raman has not publicly thanked the Democratic Socialists for their role in her victory or, using the coin of the realm in politics, posed with DSA-LA leadership in a photo-op. Nor has she made much public mention of them. 

As a Miracle Mile community leader pointed out, “Raman is a neoliberal, only posing as a socialist”. She may have used the Democratic Socialists more to get elected than they will be able to use her to push their agenda in City Hall. 

The “co-governing relationship” claim was made by DSA-LA, not Raman, so CityWatch reached out to the DSA-LA Steering Committee for a clarification of their statement, but received no reply by press time seven days later. 

Has Raman been misunderstood? Her Chief of Staff Najeeba Syeed, by occupation a professional mediator, has asked the community for a reboot, for a second chance, saying “the pandemic made the first few months difficult in terms of getting to know area leaders and constituents; the easing of public health restrictions are making building those relationships easier. The transition period between the winning of the election and taking office was a very fast timeline. The turnaround time was very quick. We also started in a period of COVID when we weren’t able to appear in person. It was really an unprecedented start to a new office in terms of the challenges that we faced. I’m excited that we are now out in the community, that we are engaging in service, that we are building modes for economic recovery.” 

June 15 is targeted as the date Raman and her staff (and all other City Hall occupants) get into their offices. How the next six months go will define Raman for the rest of her term, depending if she is able to take advantage of a second chance and turn around what’s becoming her negative image. 

Countering community allegations in the recall petition that Raman is righteous, reckless, and ruinouscan not wait for long without being addressed by the Councilmember through positive actions. 

Next, in Part 2 —Raman’s strategies for dealing with the homeless, and in Part 3—her role in the developer threats to neighborhoods that have homeowners saying to her “NIMBY”. Additional topics TBD.


This multi-part CityWatch series will continue. Readers in the CD4 communities of Los Feliz, Miracle Mile, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Greater Hancock Park and Toluca Lake are welcome to send tips and comments to the writer at [email protected]. Tips and comments from readers citywide are also welcome. Requests for anonymity will be respected as long as the writer is privately identified to CityWatch.