Could Los Angeles lose a black congressional seat?

Rep. Karen Bass’ congress district includes some of the most historically important African American communities in the western United States, including the “Black Beverly Hills” in Ladera Heights, the West Coast rap scene Crenshaw, and the vibrant cultural center of Leimert Park.

But a coincidence of factors – the state’s impending loss of a congressional seat for the first time in its history in the wake of the 2020 census, the declining black population in this part of Los Angeles and Bass’ decision not to seek re-election to Congress as she stands to the mayoral nomination – gives rise to fears that the district will no longer be represented by an African-American as congressional boundaries are redrawn this year.

These concerns were heightened when a state panel released preliminary maps called visualizations last week that placed the Democratic reps. Bass and Maxine Waters – the only other elected black member of Congress from Los Angeles – in the same district, effectively eliminating a minority-led congressman. seat.

There is no doubt that these cards will change; at least three more iterations will be released before the lines are completed in December. But even before the first visualizations were published, there was fear among the residents of these neighborhoods of losing influence.

“I do not want this area to change. This is the only area that black people have in Los Angeles at the moment just to get together and mingle and feel safe,” said Seven Martin, who works at Hot + Cool Cafe in Leimert Park Village, he believes it is imperative that the neighborhood and surrounding areas continue to be represented by black politicians who know the community.

Martin, 30, spoke one recent afternoon at the coffee shop as men were playing reggae music outside, and a health clinic offered free coronavirus tests. Borrowers looked at the shelves at Eso Won Books, shopped for African and Middle Eastern fashion at Queen Aminah’s Clothing, and ate jerk chicken and goat curry at Ackee Bamboo Jamaican Cuisine.

The neighborhood is part of California’s 37th Congressional District, which spans communities that vary widely economically and racially, including West Los Angeles, Culver City, Century City, Cheviot Hills, Miracle Mile, Windsor Hills, Ladera Heights, Baldwin Hills and Crenshaw.

Bass, who did not respond to a request for an interview, has represented the district since 2011. It is one of two districts in Southern California represented by African Americans. The other is Waters’ district, which includes parts of Los Angeles and Torrance, as well as the towns of Inglewood, Hawthorne, Lawndale, Gardena, and Lomita.

Each of California’s congressional districts should be home to about 761,000 people, but the 2020 census showed that both of those districts are tens of thousands of residents shy of that number, one of several reasons why their boundaries will change over time. of the redraw once every decade of ongoing district lines.

Latinos are more than black in these districts, although the number of eligible residents varies. In the Bass’s district, the population of voting-age citizens is 28% black and 27% Latino. In the Water district, 28% are black and 35% are Latino.

Rep.  Karen Bass speaks with supporters at kickoff to her campaign as mayor of Los Angeles on October 16th.

Rep. Karen Bass, who was seen speaking to supporters at the kickoff of her Los Angeles mayoral campaign, is retiring from Congress.

(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times / Los Angeles Times)

Given the left-leaning slant in Los Angeles, Democratic incumbents are almost certain to win re-election no matter how the districts are set up. But with Bass retiring and the state losing a congressional seat, there is concern about the opportunities for African-American politicians.

“I hope people do not see her decision not to seek re-election as an easy attempt to either eliminate the district or change it in a way that drastically reconfigures it and reduces its influence,” said State Senator Sydney Kamlager, whose legislative district includes much of Bass’ district.

(Kamlager, 49, has been considered a potential successor to Bass, but she says she has not decided whether she will run for Congress.)

Before the provisional cards were released, concerns about Bass’s district were prompted by another set of cards – submitted by the Mexican U.S. Legal Defense and Education Fund – that some concerns had the potential to leave Waters the only black member of Congress from the Southern California.

MALDEF President Thomas Saenz agreed that Bass’ retirement from Congress is changing the odds.

“I think one can still have two districts where it is possible for black voters to choose candidates for [their] election, he said. “That being said, with Karen Bass’ retirement, there will not be one established in one of these districts – that’s where it’s getting more cumbersome.”

The historic black heart of Los Angeles is likely to be represented by Latino politicians in the future due to the constant growth in the number of Latinos at the same time as the African American population is declining, Saenz said.

This part of Los Angeles attracted African Americans who migrated from the south after World War II in search of work, including in the defense industry. Black families were able to buy houses, in part because of the GI Bill, which enabled a generational accumulation of wealth that was not possible in many parts of the country.

But in recent years, black families sought housing elsewhere in Los Angeles or outside the city or left the state. Gentrification also causes families to sell houses in these areas.

Former city councilwoman Jan Perry, who was the second black woman to serve on the council when she represented parts of the district from 2001 to 2013, said it was crucial not to dilute the voice of African Americans in Los Angeles at all levels of Congress. to the State Legislative Assembly to City Hall.

“Our community is unique and should be represented by people who fully understand the depth and breadth of what it means to be African American in Los Angeles,” Perry said.

Various iterations of the district over the decades have been the starting point for a number of African-American pioneers in Congress, including reps. Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, Julian Dixon, Juanita Millender-McDonald, Diane Watson and Bass, who were considered by Joe Biden as a potential running mate.

“The historical leadership of that seat has been profound, not only for African-American Angelenos, but for all under-represented groups across the country,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who represents a large portion of the district. “Their awareness of the needs of this community has not gone unnoticed in so many areas – public transport, infrastructure, healthcare.”

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is scheduled to release another set of visualizations on Wednesday, draft maps in mid-November and final maps around Christmas.

The initial visualizations received so much criticism during a recent public meeting that a commissioner said, “We are not the enemy,” GOP redistribution expert Matt Rexroad said.

“The Commission is getting some real setbacks for the first time and it has an impact,” he said. “This is the way newly elected city council members behave. On the campaign track, everything is theoretical, and everyone is happy, but as soon as you have to draw a line on a map or approve dense housing, you start to disturb people. ”

The 14-member first charge is to create equal districts, and its second duty is to comply with the Voting Rights Act to avoid depriving minorities. Later considerations include creating cohesive districts, trying to respect community boundaries, and drawing districts that are geographically compact.

The Independent Commission set up by state voters in 2008 to stop gerrymandering and party use is supposed to ignore established protection, party politics and political expediency.

Paul Mitchell, a Democratic redistribution expert, said it was crucial for the commission to deal with changing demographics without diluting the voting power of minorities, and that he still believes it is possible to draw two Los Angeles districts in subsequent maps. who are likely to elect African-American leaders. But he also said the task is not easy.

“It’s one of the hardest things they’re going to have to struggle with,” he said. In the end, though, it’s not just a math problem. It is an equity problem. ”

Connie Malloy, a Pasadena resident who served on California’s first independent redistribution commission in 2011 and currently works for a nonprofit organization, rejects any proposal that could reduce the number of black congressional seats as one that “misses the boat.”

“It would really set us back in terms of not allowing the black community to exercise its voice as broadly and strongly as it really has the potential to do,” said Malloy, who is African American. “This is really unfortunate timing and really tone deaf in this era right now.”

Malloy envisages a suffrage case if the commission eliminates one of the seats held by an African-American.

Community involvement is key as the commission makes maps.

Kirk Samuels, director of civil engagement in the Community Coalition, said the recall election, a likely minority of black residents and the pandemic have created additional challenges in getting residents to provide input on their priorities and concerns in the redistribution process.

The nonprofit, founded by Bass in 1990 to improve social and economic conditions in southern Los Angeles, submitted proposed maps to the commission on October 23.

“The fact that we have candidates that reflects our underserved and marginalized groups is ruled out very, very important to communities specifically in south Los Angeles,” Samuels said. “It’s about wanting to be able to choose someone who comes from the community, looks like them, understands their concerns and problems.”

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