Could Los Angeles lose a black seat in Congress?

Representative Karen Bass’s Congressional District includes some of the most historically significant African American communities in the western United States, including the “Black Beverly Hills” of Ladera Heights, the West Coast rap scene. of Crenshaw and the lively district cultural center of Leimert park.

But a confluence of factors – the impending loss of a seat in Congress by the state for the first time in its history following the 2020 census, the decline of the black population in this strip of Los Angeles, and the decision to Bass about not being re-elected to Congress as she runs for mayor – raises concerns that the district will no longer be represented by an African-American as the boundaries of Congress are redrawn this year.

Those concerns were exacerbated when a state panel last week released preliminary maps called visualizations that placed Democratic Reps Bass and Maxine Waters – the only other black member of Congress elected from Los Angeles – in the same district, thus eliminating a member of Congress led by a minority. seat.

There is no doubt that these cards will change; at least three more iterations will be released before the lines are finalized in December. But even before the first visualizations were made public, residents of these neighborhoods feared losing their influence.

“I don’t want this area to change. It’s the only neighborhood black people have in Los Angeles right now to get together, mingle and feel safe, ”said Seven Martin, who works at the Hot + Cool Cafe in Leimert Park Village. He believes it is imperative that the neighborhood and its surroundings continue to be represented by black politicians who know the community.

Martin, 30, spoke on a recent afternoon at the cafe as men played reggae music outside and a health clinic offered free coronavirus tests. Customers browsed the shelves of Eso Won Books, purchased African and Middle Eastern clothing at Queen Aminah’s Clothing, and dined on jerk chicken and goat curry at Ackee Bamboo Jamaican Cuisine.

Seven Martin, 30, is worried about the representation of blacks in the redistribution of seats in Congress.

(Seema Mehta / Los Angeles Times)

The neighborhood is part of California’s 37th Congressional District, which spans economically and racially diverse communities 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 an interview request, has represented the district since 2011. It is one of two districts in southern California represented by African Americans. The other is the 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 is expected to be home to around 761,000 people, but the 2020 census showed that those two districts have tens of thousands less than that number, one of multiple reasons their boundaries will change. during redesign once a decade. neighborhood lines currently in progress.

Latinos outnumber blacks in these districts, although the number of residents eligible to vote varies. In the district of Bass, the population of citizens of voting age is 28% Black and 27% Latino. In the district of Waters, it is 28% blacks and 35% Latinos.

Given the left leaning in Los Angeles, incumbent Democrats are almost certain to be re-elected regardless of the configuration of the districts. But with Bass’s retirement and the state’s loss of a seat in Congress, there are concerns about the opportunities for African-American politicians.

“I hope people don’t see his decision not to get re-elected as an easy solution either to wipe out the district or to change it in a way that drastically reconfigures it and reduces its influence,” the senator said. of Sydney Kamlager State, whose legislative district includes a large part of the Bass District.

(Kamlager, 49, has been widely seen as a potential successor to Bass, but she says she has not decided to run for Congress.)

Ahead of the release of the preliminary maps, concerns about the Bass District were sparked by another set of maps – submitted by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund – that some concerns could leave Waters the only black member of Congress in the south. from California.

MALDEF President Thomas Saenz agreed that Bass’s retirement from Congress changes the odds.

“I think you can still have two constituencies where it is possible for black voters to elect candidates from [their] choice, ”he said. “Having said that, with Karen Bass retiring, there won’t be an incumbent in any of those districts – that’s where it gets more difficult.”

The historic black heart of Los Angeles will likely be represented by Latino politicians in the future due to the steady growth in the number of Latinos as the African American population shrinks, Saenz said.

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

But in recent years, black families have sought housing elsewhere in Los Angeles or outside of the city or have moved out of the state. Gentrification also pushes families to sell houses in these neighborhoods.

Former city councilor Jan Perry, who was the second black woman to serve on council when she represented parts of the district from 2001 to 2013, said it was essential not to dilute the voice of African Americans in Los Angeles at all levels, from Congress to the state legislature 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,” said Perry.

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

“The historic leadership in this siege has been profound, not only for African-Americans Angelenos but for all under-represented groups across the country,” said Holly Mitchell, Los Angeles County Supervisor, who represents a large part. of the district. “Their attention to the needs of this community has not gone unnoticed in so many areas: public transport, infrastructure, health care.”

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

The early visualizations received so much criticism at a recent town hall meeting that a commissioner said, “We are not the enemy,” said Matt Rexroad, GOP redistribution expert.

“For the first time, the commission is undergoing a real setback and that is having an impact,” he said. “This is how the newly elected members of the municipal council behave. In the countryside, everything is theoretical and everyone is happy, but as soon as you have to draw a line on a map or approve high-density housing, you start to upset people.

The first duty of the 14-member body is to create districts of equal size, and its second duty is to comply with the voting rights law to avoid depriving minorities of their rights. Subsequent considerations include creating contiguous districts, trying to respect community boundaries and drawing geographically compact districts.

The independent commission, created by state voters in 2008 to end gerrymandering and partisan redistribution, is said to ignore incumbent protection, party politics and political expediency.

Paul Mitchell, an expert on Democratic redistribution, said it was essential for the commission to address demographic changes without diluting the voting power of minorities, and that he still believed it was possible to draw two districts of Los Angeles. in the following maps. 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. Ultimately, however, “it’s not just a math problem. It is a question of fairness.

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

“It would really set us back by not allowing the black community to exercise its voice as widely and strongly as it really has the potential to do,” said Malloy, who is African American. “It’s really unhappy and really muffled timing at this time right now.”

Malloy predicts a Voting Rights Act lawsuit if the commission removes one of the seats held by an African American.

Community participation is essential because the commission creates maps.

Kirk Samuels, director of civic engagement with the Community Coalition, said the recall election, a likely undercoverage of black residents and the pandemic have created additional challenges for residents to voice their opinions on their priorities and concerns in the redistribution process.

The nonprofit – founded by Bass in 1990 to improve social and economic conditions in South Los Angeles – submitted card proposals to the commission on October 23.

“The fact that we have candidates who reflect our underserved and marginalized groups is definitely very, very important to communities especially in South Los Angeles,” Samuels said. “It’s about wanting to be able to elect someone who comes from the community, who looks like them, who understands their concerns and issues.

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