Incumbents Lose Seats, New Faces Win Big at Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council Elections

Ruth Doxsee, Lake Balboa Neighborhood Council member (from left), Alisa Smith, poll manager, and Emma Nava, volunteer, sort out ballots from the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council elections. More than 300 people voted in this year's election, where 33 candidates were vying for 19 various council seats. Kris Fortin/LAStreetsblog

More than 300 people voted in this year’s Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council elections — three percent of the Boyle Heights population — making it the first election since it was almost decertified a year ago.

Only five incumbents are returning to the council, including Diana del Pozo Mora, Edward Padilla, and Margarita Amador. Five incumbents were not voted back onto the board, and a few others decided not to run for reelection. (For complete elections results, click here)

Of the 19 BHNC nominees, there are many first-time neighborhood council members, including 22-year-old Maryann Aguirre, a member of the Ovarian Psycos Bicycle Brigade, an all-women bicycle group with roots on the Eastside, and a board member with the Boyle Heights community and arts center Corazon del Pueblo.

“I feel taken aback and excited about being elected,” said Aguirre in an email. “Throughout the whole election process, I had numerous candidates approach me and tell me how thrilled they are to see someone ‘younger’ excited to be involved in the elections.”

Area 2 (bordered by Marengo, Soto, First, and Indiana Streets) was the closest race between two candidates for a single seat with Sierra Jenkins winning by 2 votes (25-23). Jenkins beat Jose Aguilar, the former BHNC board president when the council was nearly decertified in March 2011.

Teresa Marquez, a long-time Boyle Heights activist, won the last community seat by one vote, and was separated from the other candidates by only a handful.

The biggest surprise came from first time BHNC candidate Martha Pelayo, who took the most votes for a single candidate with 172. Pelayo, who won the factual basis seat, is a project director at East Los Angeles College and a Boyle Heights native.

Last year, the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council was at risk of being decertified because board members were failing to meet quorum at meetings, which is 50 percent of the board plus one. After this year’s election, there were more than 33 possible candidates vying for BHNC seats (only Area 3 and 4 seats candidates ran uncontested).

Citywide, there has been an increase in candidates running, said Stephen Box, acting Senior Project Coordinator for the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. The ratio of candidates to open seats citywide has increased by more than 30 percent since 2010.

The public has three days to call for a recount, and five days to challenge the election. The official elections results for BHNC won’t be confirmed until the end of the week, when all provisionals, recounts, and challenges are resolved, said Box.

While the elections only drew 303 votes — roughly three percent of the Boyle Heights population — not all voters were neighborhood residents. Almost anyone could vote, as long as they declared a vested interest in the community.

Stakeholders are difficult to quantify, Box said, because the title is not rigidly defined.

Limits on time, volunteers, and budget were a few of the challenges facing volunteers with regard to public outreach for the elections, said Edward Padilla, the incumbent BHNC board president. Moreover, with their exhaustive efforts to prevent the BHNC from being discredited only being completed in March 2012, the board spent a lot of time playing catch-up on other council issues and didn’t have time to prepare for the elections.

While the BHNC website provided details about the elections, it was difficult to direct people to the website. And, with the implementation of ideas such as over-street banners running into delays with the Bureau of Street Services, a large part of the outreach strategy relied on giving presentations at places with large gatherings — churches, zumba classes — and personal social media activity.

“This election highlighted for us the same challenge that the City of L.A. faces, getting people to care enough to get involved and vote,” said Padilla.

Surveys administered after people voted will be evaluated by DONE, and then be disbursed to the neighborhood councils for them to use. The surveys asked questions such as what voters thought the most important issues facing the neighborhood council were, and how people found out about the elections.

Here’s a video where I asked BHNC voters to answer the following questions:  What, to you, is the most important issue concerning Boyle Heights and why?