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Get Out the Erasers

July 10, 1986

Politics is a cynical game, nowhere made clearer than when politicians draw the lines for the districts from which they must be elected. The first rule is to "protect thyself"; the second is to look after those who will remember that you looked after them and who have been around long enough to have support worth wanting. Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre has followed the rules, but the city will suffer some unfortunate consequences.

Drawing new lines for Los Angeles' 15 City Council districts became necessary as the result of a federal suit that charged discrimination against Latino voters in the egregious 1982 redistricting in which council members also looked out for themselves. Indeed, the council finally got its first Latino member in two decades only when an incumbent resigned. In the meantime, Latinos had been growing in numbers and demonstrating steady ability to elect representatives to Congress and to the California Legislature--everywhere but the Los Angeles City Council.

The problem with the remapping that Alatorre proposes is that Latino gains come at the expense of the city's first Asian council member ever, Michael Woo. If cutting Hollywood from Woo's district were the only way to gain more equitable representation for Latinos, one might not complain as vociferously. But, to paraphrase Mae West, equity, like goodness, has nothing to do with it. A look at Alatorre's map shows that it is politics--plain and simple politics.

Under that plan, City Councilman John Ferraro's district looks like one of those puzzle pieces that are designed to show the skill of the jigsaw operator. Narrow at one corner in Hancock Park, it moves northeast, then narrows again near Griffith Park, flares out again and snakes into Eagle Rock. Surely contiguity, as well as protectionism, should enter the criteria that are used for redistricting.

Woo may well be able to use incumbency to retain his seat in the new district as drawn, but the obvious attempt to undermine a new voice of a people who deserve to be heard can have nasty consequences in a city that prides itself on embracing all people. The City Council must get out its erasers and undo some of the damage before it draws the final lines, with all the disharmony that they may bring.

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