Council District 15: About the district
City Council districts change every 10 years as lines are redrawn to reflect demographic shifts recorded in the decennial census. This decade's current redistricting effort is now underway. But except for gaining or losing a few blocks at the far northern end, where Watts joins South Los Angeles and the central city, Council District 15 doesn't change. It can't, and it won't, because it has nowhere else to go. It's fenced in by the harbor on the south and the very strange shape of the city boundaries from there northward. Unless more territory is annexed to or detached from Los Angeles, this district will look pretty much the same in 50 years as it does today.
Take a look at these maps of the City Council districts today, in the 1990s, the 1980s and the 1970s (maps courtesy of the city's excellent Bureau of Engineering online map gallery). Not much change, save for some gradual addition in territory linking Watts to Harbor Gateway.
Politically, too, it's a somewhat odd district. San Pedro may be in some respects the city's most conservative enclave after the far northwest San Fernando Valley. But it's a conservatism built on and tempered by a strong union presence in the port, and when joined with more liberal voters in Watts and Wilmington, this district is one of the few in the city that is just as likely to choose a liberal Democrat, a conservative Democrat or a Republican.
Janice Hahn, a Democrat who left the office earlier this year after her election to Congress, was one of the council's most liberal members. She was elected in 2001 in the same election that made her brother, Jim Hahn (also a liberal Democrat), mayor. Janice Hahn succeeded Rudy Svorinich, a Republican; Svorinich in turn defeated Republican Joan Milke Flores in 1993 in the post-riot election that saw voters elect Mayor Richard Riordan, Los Angeles' first GOP mayor in decades.
Flores had been secretary, planner and then chief of staff to City Council President John S. Gibson Jr. before succeeding him on the council in 1981. Gibson, a Democrat, represented the 15th District for 30 years, from the 1950s into the 1980s. In the early part of his term he was deemed one of the council's few liberals. The city's politics changed over the decades, but his didn't, and Gibson left the council as one of its more conservative members.
Both candidates vying for the post in the Jan. 17 runoff -- LAPD officer Joe Buscaino and Assemblyman Warren Furutani -- are Democrats. Furutani has the support of much of the Democratic Party establishment, including the Los Angeles County Democratic Party and elected Democrats such as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, City Council members Bernard C. Parks and Paul Koretz, and a bevy of lawmakers in Congress and the Legislature. He also has labor backing from the politically influential UNITE HERE Local 11, representing hotel and restaurant workers. On Thursday, he won support from the city's largest civilian public employee union, SEIU Local 721. The union, a major player in City Hall, backed firefighter and union activist Pat McOsker in the Nov. 8 nominating election.
Buscaino is backed by his own union -- the Los Angeles Police Protective League -- and decline-to-state-party City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and Councilman Dennis Zine. Add support from Democratic council members Tom Labonge and Jose Huizar, and the Los Angeles County Young Democrats.
The candidates split endorsements from construction and building and trade unions and teacher unions; United Teachers Los Angeles is going with Buscaino, which is interesting given that Furutani is a former school board member. But all in all, does Buscaino's backing represent a slightly more conservative shade of Democrat than Furutani's? Yes. And no. But perhaps we can say Furutani's people are more the entrenched political establishment and Buscaino's are more the insurgents, or at least the outsiders? Kind of, sort of. It's the 15th District. It's complicated.