Monday, July 28, 2014
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Councilmember Jan Perry

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With voting for the next Los Angeles mayor set for March 5, five mayoral candidates attended the 21st Annual Empowerment Congress Summit on Jan. 19 to discuss a variety of issues at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium.

The five candidates currently vying for the outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s seat are L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti, L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, L.A. City Controller Wendy Greuel, former Assistant U. S. Attorney Kevin James, and technology company executive Emanuel Pleitez.

The mayoral candidates fielded questions supplied by members of the Empowerment Congress that covered the arts, housing and homelessness, mental health services, public transportation, gun control and the economy.      

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who founded the Empowerment Congress, was pleased to see the capacity community turnout and intoned to the crowd, “I say it with regularity—if you don’t vote on Tuesday, you forfeit your right to complain on Thursday.”

David Mack, co-chair of the Empowerment Congress Arts and Culture Committee and Managing Director of the Watts Village Theatre Company, pointed out that the city had a woefully poor track record when it came to doling out funding to support the arts. “With unemployment in the double digits in South Los Angeles, how will you better utilize the power of the arts to revitalize our most neglected communities?” Mack asked the candidates.

“I was a beneficiary of those arts programs growing up,” said Pleitez. “The pension system is currently choking the life out of our budget and forcing us to cut the upkeep of our parks, arts programs and the maintenance of our public works.” He added that people needed to be empowered to help each other and to attract private capital to create other venues for arts programs.

“We need to harness the talents of all Angelenos,” said Garcetti.  “I’ll see that a greater percentage of hotel fees is given to the arts. As mayor, I will restore the arts to being the heart and soul of L.A.”

Perry pointed that she has supported the arts for the past 11 years. “I will take the public arts fees that developers currently have to pay and direct it to arts programs and afterschool programs so that we will have a new revitalized stream of revenue,” she said.

James urged, “We must make the arts our priority. We are in the heart of Hollywood, the backbone of our community and our economy.” He pointed out that the one thing that keeps at-risk kids coming to school were the arts. “When you cut those arts programs, you’re cutting out the kids,” he said.

“We are in the creative capital of the world,” said Greuel. “Arts in schools should be an everyday experience. I was proud to have been part of L.A.’s Best, an afterschool program. Let’s make sure we have arts programs for the city of L.A.”  

All of the candidates responded that locating funds to provide housing for the homeless and mentally ill would be a priority as mayor, as well as implementing a Leimert Park stop in the predominately African American cultural hub of Los Angeles and working to provide more jobs.

The Rev. J. Kevin Murphy, a minister at the Alondra Church of Christ and an assistant principal at Lynwood High School, shared that he had officiated at the funeral services of countless victims of gun violence.  “What will you do to reduce gun homicides?” he asked the candidates.

James responded, “I support a comprehensive ban on assault weapons, including high frequency and high capacity magazines. We must also close the mental health records gap. In addition, I would provide additional safety nets in our schools. Like the air marshal program, I would like to implement a school marshal program. There has to be a background check for weapons as well,” he said.

“We all agree that we must support the ban on assault weapons that Senator Diane Feinstein proposed and support president Obama’s efforts to get guns off our streets, because Newtown is our town every single day, said Greuel.  “It’s about prevention, intervention and enforcement.”  Greuel felt that it was imperative to work closely with the LAPD to deter youths from gangs.

Pleitez responded, “I lost my best friend to gun violence. There were multiple drive-bys last year near my home. We are locking up more people than we are saving. We need to create positive outlets so that our young people can grow and learn.  That will be my priority as mayor.”

Garcetti recounted several incidents of young people who had been gunned down. “We’ve got to get ammunition out of people’s hands, not just guns,” said Garcetti.” Over 50% of guns are given to people who shouldn’t have a gun. We must continue to support the GRID and Summer Night Lights programs so that young people don’t get into guns.”

“I’ve been [around] way too many families affected by gun violence,” said Perry. “I support the ban on assault weapons, that’s a no brainer. I’ve introduced a motion to divest from investment in companies that produce ammunition and guns and to break the chain of commerce so that gun manufacturers cannot profit from people’s lives.”

 The Empowerment Congress’ morning plenary session was followed by a workshop with community residents which covered such topics as coalition building, neighborhood councils, and civic engagement.

The Empowerment Congress is a grassroots organization dedicated to teaching L.A. area residents how to access and influence government.

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