15
Sat, Jun

High Noon at LA’s City Council

Ysabel Jurado, center. Photo courtesy Ysabel Jurado.

CD 14's CURSE - In the classic 1952 Western High Noon, Katy Jurado portrays Helen Ramirez, former lover of Will Kane (Gary Cooper), the outnumbered, embattled Marshal at Hadleyville, who is being menaced by a looming shootout with a gang of gunslingers. Ramirez confronts Will’s newlywed, Amy Fowler (Grace Kelly), telling the bride that she should pick up a gun and fight alongside her new husband against the villains.

It seems that tenants’ rights attorney Ysabel Jurado is taking Katy Jurado’s (no relation) advice, and boldly entering the line of fire of the Los Angeles City Council’s own “High Noon” crisis, which was triggered by a secretly recorded conversation between three Councilmembers and a union leader making racist and homophobic remarks exposed on Oct. 9, 2022. In the March 5, 2024 primary election, underdog candidate Ysabel edged out incumbent Kevin de León – one of those Councilmen who’d participated in the controversial, clandestine recording – by about a percentage point in the race to represent Council District 14. Jurado scored 8,618 votes or 24.52% of the tally, to de León’s 8,220 votes, or 23.39% of the ballots cast in an eight-person race (see here.). Now Jurado is facing off against de León in the November 5 general election to serve a four-year term in office.

The 57-year-old, LA-born de León has been a professional politician, serving in elective offices since at least 2006, including stints in the California State Assembly and State Senate (where he served as President pro tempore 2014-2018). De León unsuccessfully ran against Dianne Feinstein for her U.S. Senate seat in 2018 and returned to office when he won a 2020 special election to represent L.A. City Council’s 14th District. In the fallout from the Council’s audio recording scandal, unlike the then-Council President Nury Martinez who resigned, despite calls for him to follow suit, de León apologized but refused to step down.

On the other hand, challenger Ysabel Jurado, who was born 1989 in Highland Park and raised there, is making her first run for elective office. The openly gay, 35ish-year-old Filipina has received endorsements from left-leaning sources, including LA Progressive, Our Revolution LA County and the Democratic Socialists of America, LA. Her candidacy, along with those of other left-of-center City Council candidates, raises complicated questions for U.S. radicals.

Should leftists vote for these contenders? Is it “ultra-left” not to vote in a bourgeois democracy or is it taking a principled stand? Is it better for activists to be outside of the system or inside the machinery of government, the belly of the beast? Can even the most high-minded, noble contenders remain honest and effective once they become part of the capitalist political system? Will our societal problems be solved – as Rosa Luxemburg put it about 125 years ago – by “Reform or Revolution”?

In considering these points, it’s worth remembering that Kevin de León, who is now arguably tainted by scandals, has been regarded as a darling of liberals who fancy themselves and him to be “progressive” (whatever that means nowadays). In any case, like Katy Jurado before her, Ysabel Jurado spoke forthrightly, uttering fighting words. In a no-holds-barred interview via Google Meet, where no question was off-limits, Citizen Jurado showed herself to be bright, engaged, committed, witty and charming as she discussed her personal background, politics, and the high stakes, “High Noon” campaign for Council District 14’s seat.

Mabuhay [Tagalog greeting]. Please tell our CounterPunch readers who are you? Why are you running to be a City Councilmember? What qualifies you to serve on LA City Council? 

Ysabel Jurado: Mabuhay! I’m born and raised in this district. I’m still living in the house that I grew up in [Highland Park]. I’m a daughter of undocumented Filipino immigrants and I was a teen mom. I had to drop out from a four-year university, went on food stamps… Transferred from community college [Pasadena City College] to UCLA to become a community lawyer. I defended workers against wage theft, just like my father’s case… I was an eviction defense attorney at the height of the pandemic representing low-income individuals, renters, small businesses, [against] gentrification. I want to make sure I serve my community.

Now I’m running for City Council because we need new leadership in this district [laughing]. We can’t keep electing the same individuals and expecting different results. We need change, so that’s why I’m running.

You have used the term the “CD14 curse.” What is Council District 14’s “curse”?

Toxic masculinity, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy! [Laughs.] All of the things that afflict all of us on a daily basis. Look, we have had a sordid history of leadership here in the 14th and they’ve all been men. Our current councilmember was caught on tape gerrymandering districts, engaging in homophobic and racist language. The one before that, José Huizar, ended up being corrupt, and sentenced to 13 years in prison for his corruption. The one before that [Antonio Villaraigosa] moved into the district, said he wouldn’t leave, and then left us to be mayor, so we were left for a term with no councilmember. The one before that [Nick Pacheco] also had to step down because of corruption, and the list goes on. We’ve had attorneys who’ve had their license removed because of fraud and bribery. And that’s the history of the leadership we’ve had in the 14th.

You’re currently running against Kevin de León. What do you think of his role in that recording scandal?

I think it’s an abomination, right? That was the catalyst for my even wanting to consider running for office. Which I never thought I’d do. I thought at best I’d be a public servant, like a chief of staff, never putting my face on a flyer to be the candidate. LA is supposed to be the progressive bellwether in the nation of local city politics. And though his record has been progressive, we want someone who is progressive not in name only, and has the values in front of the doors and behind the doors. We can do so much better. Frankly, the stakes are so high, coming from the pandemic and post-George Floyd, we have so much at stake, and we can’t just have these superficial allies on the Council or any level of government.

On that secret recording, does de León actually make any racist remarks himself?

You know, he was engaging in the conversation, right? He was engaging in the conversation that denigrates folks’ children, and being racist towards them and their gay parents. I take a lot of offense to that. This conversation was recorded without their knowledge, and the way people act privately is usually how they honestly feel. It was pretty disgraceful to see who they really are. As they say, when people show you who they are, we should listen.

When there are racist and homophobic remarks made on that secret recording, does de León try to shut it down and tell them not to say that? 

No, he doesn’t.

Your Council District 14 embraces Eagle Rock, it goes south to Downtown LA and embraces the Arts District. What’s your position on supporting the arts?

Yeah, this district is very broad. And it has a rich history of arts and activism. Like, I live in Highland Park, which is the home of Chicano muralism… I just feel honored to be able to represent not just these arts galleries, but these muralists and graffiti artists…

You’ve been a tenants’ rights attorney. Discuss what you see is the solution to one of the biggest problems we have in LA, homelessness? 

One of our biggest problems with homelessness is it feels like we’ve been pouring money at it, but the problem hasn’t gotten any better. It’s time that we focus on the lived experiences and center our unhoused neighbors in the policies that we put forward. It’s already hard enough for us as able-bodied people that have cell phones, that have support networks, to go to your doctor, your dentist, your therapist, take your kids to school, but when you don’t have a car, you’re not mentally okay all the time, then having those resources can really be not helpful if they’re not centered in one place.

I’m proposing community resource hubs which are one-stop shop, where our unhoused neighbors can take a bath, take a meal, go to sleep, without getting criminalized and can avail these resources. You can’t leave your home on the street where things might get stolen when you take a shower – you’re going to stay out there. And making sure there is a doctor on site and a housing navigator, as well. Making sure we have these centers, these drop-in places called community resource hubs, which are tried, tested and true. That’s what we need more of – not just on Skid Row, which is part of this district, but throughout LA to make sure unhoused residents can get housing-ready when housing is available.

Are you nonpartisan or a member of the Democratic Party or some other party? 

The race itself for City Council is nonpartisan because it has to do with quality of life, city services, but I am a Democrat. I’ve been a lifelong Democrat. I’m just a pragmatic progressive. [Laughs.]

You told LA Progressive that “Angelenos want radical change.” Can LA’s problems be solved through the electoral system and under capitalism?

I think that we cannot resolve it without it. Do I think it’s the ultimate solution? No. When I think about power, power has always been with the people. And that’s in communities. And that’s how we won this campaign [coming in first in the City Council primary]. Right? People haven’t always been engaged in electoral politics but have a life of their own. Mobilizing… in my community. For me, the state – as in the government apparatus – holds enough resources that is for the benefit of the commons. Yet, the way it is designed, it is at odds with the community people out there.

So, my job as an actor of the state is to unleash the resources to the folks who need them most, and not withhold it, so they can live life more easily. It’s part of the solution, it’s not the end-all, be-all. My goal as a state actor is to make people’s life easier, instead of harder, with the resources the government collects.

If you win the general election race in November, do you see the possibility of there being a left-leaning wing of the City Council, a City Council “Squad,” similar to the “Squad” in Washington, D.C. in the House of Representatives?

Yeah, yeah, definitely. The progressive bloc is growing; I want to join them. Councilmember Nithya Raman, Councilmember [Hugo] Soto-Martinez, my girl Eunisses Hernandez. These people are pushing the progressive agenda for homelessness; for climate sustainability; labor; and public safety. I’d happily join them. And hopefully Jillian [Burgos]… To make sure we can stop chipping away at change and start pushing the progressive agenda and hopefully setting it, at some point. [Laughs.]

You have an impressive list of endorsements, including the [LA chapter of] Democratic Socialists of America. What do you think of socialism?

You know, look, I come from a rich socialist tradition. I’m a Filipina; you know the woman, the presidential candidate, who lost in the Philippines to Bong Bong [Ferdinand Jr.] Marcos is a proud socialist. Her logo is “hot pink.” [Laughs.] It’s hot pink socialism, baby! That’s the history I come from and learning about Third World socialism, conceived of in the developing countries around the world. That is really my point of departure. My family had to leave an authoritarian regime so they could have economic opportunity in America, in order to make things happen and how their privilege gets inverted here even further as undocumented immigrants.

For me, socialism is about workers’ rights, housing rights, being able to have a sustainable local economy. So, I don’t think those things are crazy, I think they are things we should be fighting for. Especially in our local government.

Are you saying your family fled the regime of Pres. Ferdinand Marcos?

Yes.

So, what do you think about his son Bong Bong being back as president of the Philippines? 

I’m a Leni [Robredo] fan. I was very disappointed at the outcome [of the 2022 presidential race], but not very surprised. Despite Pres. Marcos’ history as a dictator, you ask Filipinos and they do love him. There’s lots of work that needs to be done in the Philippines cleaning up government over there, but if you ask Filipinos who moved to America with the election of Trump, and the corruption at LA City Hall and they’re facing government, they’re pretty disillusioned.

They’re like, “I moved from the Philippines to America, to LA, but it doesn’t seem that different from what we know there. They’re stealing money from our home country – apparently four councilmembers are being indicted for corruption, they’re stealing here. Why should I even care?” Right? Trying to reinvigorate people’s faith in government, even at this local level, with that sordid history, is tough.

There have been recent moves to change the City Council’s ethics rules. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this may be a reflection of the whole audio recording scandal, among other things. What do you think about efforts to change the Council’s ethics rules? 

Look, I mean, we definitely need some reform, right? When you look at how many councilmembers have been indicted in the last four or five years, I think it’s four councilmembers, and then three that were caught in gerrymandering districts – that’s seven out of 15. That’s almost half of the City Council – there’s corruption, a stain there. That’s not a good look for us.

I believe in taking corporate money out of elections because it should be the people that decide, not just money that decides. Really, we need to look at that more carefully. I do have ideas how to change the system and I’m relatively supportive of them. I’d vote to increase the number of council districts to at least 25. We should strengthen our corporate, ethics rules, on who can give, and when and how. Because, again, clean money campaigns, then you’re beholden to the people.

We raised $230,000; we didn’t accept any corporate, big oil, big pharma, cop money. So, it’s possible, but through the City’s public financing ordinance, the matching funds, we’re able to be competitive, and even get to this place. Without that, I don’t think we’d even be here.

 

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(Ed Rampell was named after legendary CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow because of his TV exposes of Senator Joe McCarthy. Rampell majored in Cinema at Manhattan’s Hunter College and is an L.A.-based film historian/critic who co-organized the 2017 70thanniversary Blacklist remembrance at the Writers Guild theater in Beverly Hills and was a moderator at 2019’s “Blacklist Exiles in Mexico” filmfest and conference at the San Francisco Art Institute. Rampell co-presented “The Hollywood Ten at 75” film series at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and is the author of Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States and co-author of The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.  This article was first published in CounterPunch.org.)