If the Los Angeles City Council passes the redistricting plan of Councilman Richard Alatorre, Mayor Tom Bradley should veto it. The plan causes conflict and division among minorities; it does not increase minority representation, and it helps to further consolidate the power bases of the entrenched incumbents at the service of the city's Establishment.
The Alatorre plan is one of four that have been introduced in the council. Alatorre, chairman of the council's Reapportionment Committee, drafted it in response to the U.S. Justice Department lawsuit seeking to overturn the 1982 redrawing of council boundaries. The lawsuit charges that the 1982 redistricting violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting strength of Latinos. (The other plans were introduced by the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Councilman Michael Woo and Council President Pat Russell.)
The Justice Department filed its suit in 1985, the same year in which Woo was elected as the city's first Asian-American council member and Alatorre became only the second Latino in a century to sit on the council. Both elections were hailed as historical milestones in the city's snail-like pace toward change and minority representation.
Equally important was the fact that the election of Woo and Alatorre dramatically changed the council's composition--increasing the number of minorities among the 15 members from three to five. But, rather than adding even more minorities to the council, the Alatorre redistricting plan will most likely cement the number at five--to cover the the city's 50% minority population--and may result in eliminating the only Asian voice in the council.
The objective of the Justice Department's suit is to remedy a wrong to the Latino community. However, by making Woo's 13th District predominantly Latino, the Alatorre plan would make the defeat and unseating of an Asian councilman a pre-condition to the election of a Latino. A just and necessary gain for one disfranchised community would thus be tainted with a loss to an equally disfranchised community. All Latinos of good will must reject the plan as an effort to remedy a wrong to our community by doing a wrong to the Asian community.
Alatorre and other supporters of his plan have argued that it does not target the Asian community and that Woo should not worry about losing his seat; if he is a good councilman, Latinos will elect him regardless of his race. These arguments ignore the fact that while Woo was not elected by an Asian majority, he has become a symbol and the voice of the Asian community. They smack of the same "colorblind" arguments that racist and misguided people use to attack affirmative action when it is obvious that discrimination in employment is the result of racism. Moreover, they ignore the fact that the very purpose of this reapportionment is to give Latinos every opportunity to be elected to office.
The city cannot escape one fact of the Alatorre plan. For Woo to remain in office, the Latino community would have to prevent one of our own from running against Woo--an unlikely option--or Woo would have to defeat any Latino challenger. Either way one community will lose. If Woo wins, Latinos will not be able to reap the fruits of reapportionment; if a Latino wins, the Asian community loses its only voice on the City Council.
The Alatorre plan would perpetuate the business-as-usual tradition of protecting the entrenched incumbents and their powerful backers at the expense of the city's minority populations and their needs.
Some have supported the plan on the ground that it would protect the seats of black council members. However, the numbers and the historical contributions of all minorities to this great city merit respect and recognition. We all deserve fair play. The Alatorre plan would not give it to us across the board. Just as the aspirations of blacks and Latinos and Native Americans can best be voiced by their own representatives, so the aspirations of Asian-Americans can best be voiced by an Asian councilman.
The Asian, black and Latino communities should not be split by this political game. Let us close ranks in our common struggle against racism and for equality and justice. Increased Latino representation is overdue. But it must be accomplished without pitting us against another minority. Equality for one minority at the expense of another maintains the essence of inequality. Only the color of the unequal change.
By vetoing the Alatorre redistricting plan, Bradley would be promoting harmony and good will between the Latino and Asian communities--indeed, among all racial and ethnic groups in the city. Let us continue the search for a fair and just redistricting plan.