What to Make of Last Night’s Election Results

Apparently, Los Angeles’ voters think everything is going pretty well in Los Angeles right now.  How else to explain the “clean sweep” that incumbent Councilmen, and in one case a hand-picked successor, enjoyed.  Not even one of the races went to a runoff, meaning that even in crowded fields incumbents garnered over 50% of the vote.  You can read the election results, here.

Tom LaBonge celebrates at last week's Bike Plan signing. Photo: Carter Rubin

As a matter of fact the only “bad news” of the night for denizens of City Hall was that Proposition O, which would have placed a $1.44 tax on every barrel of oil extracted from the ground in Los Angeles, was narrowly defeated.  The rest of the city-wide ballot measures passed overwhelmingly.

So what to take from this election?

The first is that even though it’s apparent that Americans need to figure out a way to reduce oil dependence, the majority of people are desperate to keep gas prices as low as possible.  Nevermind that Prop. O would have had no impact on gas prices.  Just read the arguments against Prop O. at Smart Vote and consider these were hand mailed through out the district.  Personally, my household received Prop. O misinformation pieces three times.  In a time when gas prices are climbing towards historic highs, it was smart politics to falsely portray this ballot measure as an attempt to raise gas prices.

Much will also be made about the results in Council District Four where Tom LaBonge cruised to victory over Tomas O’Grady and Stephen Box.  While the favorite of many livable streets advocates, reformers and The Daily News and L.A. Weekly, Box finished a distant third garnering just under 14% of the vote.  Lacking good polling data, it’s hard to say whether or not some of the dirty tricks in the last days of the campaign put LaBonge over the top or dampened Box’s support.

But what we do know is that the CD4 results shouldn’t be viewed as a repudiation of the gains that cyclists and Livable Streets advocates have made in City Hall in recent years.  While Box was repeatedly referred to in the press as a “bike advocate” and he’s been decorated by the Eastside Bike Club and Streetsblog for his advocacy, unseating an incumbent Councilman is a nigh impossible task and his electoral loss doesn’t diminish the popularity of the work Box has done.  When you consider that LaBonge hasn’t faced true opposition in a decade and hasn’t been the poster child for any disastrous vote or project, the task became even taller.  Despite his celebrity within transportation and Neighborhood Council circles, Box was a fresh face to too many voters.

Ron Kaye, noted political commenter and former editor at the Daily News, noted that the move to fight incumbency at City Hall is actually relatively new.

Four years ago, incumbents ran unopposed in (Greuel now Krekorian) District 2, (LaBonge) District 4, (Parks) District 8, and (Wesson) District 10. This time they all faced challengers and their portions of the vote fell from 100 percent to 76 percent, 55 percent, 51 percent, and 74 percent respectively.

Turnout in those races jumped by 30 percent, 80 percent, 70 percent and 25 percent respectively.

In other words, our non-incumbents did have a major impact yesterday, Box included, even if they didn’t make it to the winners circle.

On top of that, LaBonge has a reputation for bike friendliness and progressive views on transportation that make his re-election anything but a repudiation of Livability.  It was just a week ago that LaBonge held court at the Bike Plan signing ceremony wearing a German cycling jersey and already talking about the 2011 Tour LaBonge.