The city of Long Beach, California, my hometown, is divided into nine council districts. The house where I grew up, and where my dad still lives, is in the eighth district. After participating in neighborhood activist groups and being very involved in city politics for many years, my dad finally decided he’d run for councilman of his district, now that the well-liked current councilwoman is termed out.
However, in the past several years the Democratic political machine has visited itself upon Long Beach. The city’s mayor, Bob Foster, is a former Sacramento lobbyist, and he’s used his clout to bring young, lockstep Democrats onto the council. One of those is James Johnson, new councilman for the adjacent seventh district. If you want proof that a motivated political machine can take over your local politics, observe how Councilman Johnson enjoyed a nearly quarter-million dollar warchest for what is one of the poorer areas of Long Beach. Yet, only 4% of the $228,000 in contributions he received came from his constituents. The vast majority—73%—came from out of the city altogether.
Moreover, the seventh district sits on the 710 freeway and is plagued by pollution in connection with the busy Port of Long Beach. Johnson campaigned on reducing Port pollution, but recently joined a law firm whose clients are key advocates of Port expansion. There’s more good info about James Johnson here.
Now, my dad’s a Democrat, but his independent streak makes him unpopular with career politician types. That he was the first and only candidate to announce candidacy for the eighth district, then, posed a problem for the Foster camp.
Anyway, here’s the really scandalous part. A July 5 council meeting was set to decide redistricting in the city due to population shifts in the 2010 census. Although discussions and proposals had been circulated and discussed several weeks beforehand, Johnson presented a last-minute new proposal, on a “substitute-substitute motion,” that swept my dad’s home into his district, thus barring him from running for the eighth district. Despite clamorous boos from a packed audience, the Foster pack rammed it through on a 7-2 vote. Two days after ousting my dad from his district, a new candidate announced for the eighth district—with Foster’s endorsement.
Crooked, divisive stuff.
Because of all this, my dad’s been getting some local attention that’s been fun to watch, despite how depressing the politics. There’s a saying somewhere about the mischief in government being inversely proportional to its size.