“If this was a race just about money, then you might as well hold it… (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)
Despite her rivals raising more money and garnering more attention in Los Angeles' mayoral race, City Councilwoman Jan Perry said Saturday she should not be counted out.
“People focus on money as a measure of status, and if this was a race just about money, then you might as well hold it today and elect the one who has the most money. But I think this is not about that,” Perry told The Times. “It's about the democratic process and about empowering people and energizing them and getting them to turn out and whether or not you have a message and a record and whether or not you connect with people.”
Perry recalled her first run for office, and how the conventional wisdom was that she had no shot at success. “I basically just ignored them, OK, and I went on and did what I had to do. And today's emblematic of that,” she said, standing at a boisterous campaign rally in the parking lot of her campaign headquarters near USC.
Moments earlier, Perry had rallied supporters, danced to a youth band's cover of a Sly and the Family Stone song and snapped pictures with politicians, longtime backers and volunteers. The councilwoman and several high-profile endorsers, including Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Councilman Bernard C. Parks, urged the few hundred attendees to volunteer, donate, knock on neighbors' doors and phone their friends to get the word out about Perry's candidacy.
“I'm running for mayor because I think I'm strong enough and I'm tough enough to do what is right for Los Angeles, and I want you to join me,” Perry proclaimed.
Despite the optimistic tone of the rally, it was evident that many political observers are questioning her path forward.
“There are some people out there trying to say, ‘Oh, she can't win,'” former Councilwoman Ruth Galanter told the crowd. “And the answer to that is: Of course she can win. People vote for her, she gets enough votes, she wins.”
The race has been underway for more than a year, but now that the 2012 presidential election and the holidays have passed, the contest is shifting into high gear publicly. The election is in March, with a probable runoff in May.
Perry is among the top three contenders, with a long career in elected office and fundraising ability.
But Councilman Eric Garcetti and Controller Wendy Greuel have raised millions more than Perry. And their candidacies appear to have greater momentum: Last week, county Democrats knocked Perry out of contention for their endorsement by giving her only 8% of the vote. (The majority of their members backed Garcetti and Greuel, but the party did not endorse anyone because no candidate garnered 60% of the vote.)
Perry is banking on grass-roots supporters driving a surge at the polls. Many in the crowd said they were standing by Perry because of her longtime work on behalf of her constituents in downtown and South Los Angeles.
In 2007, Adela Barajas formed a nonprofit in South Los Angeles after her sister-in-law was slain in a drive-by shooting. When the founders reached out to five politicians for assistance, Perry was the only one to respond.
“She's been there for us. She comes to every event. She spends time with the community,” Barajas said. “She may be the underdog right now, but it doesn't mean she doesn't have an opportunity.”
By any political calculation, Perry must win the support of many black voters in order to win a spot in the runoff.
Greuel sought to tap into this voter base Saturday, opening an office in South Los Angeles and rolling out several high-profile African American endorsements.
Invoking the memory of the late Mayor Tom Bradley, with whom she worked for a decade, Greuel pledged to carry on the legacy of the city's first black mayor and to bring economic equity to struggling South L.A. neighborhoods.
Choking back tears, she described Bradley as the person “who taught me to fight for justice, who taught me that you should use your voice in a way that lets all boats rise, who taught me that you can be and should be a mayor for all of Los Angeles.”
Greuel campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski said the decision to locate the campaign's first field office in South Los Angeles was not an accident.
“Jan Perry has the natural support of African Americans,” she said. “We want to be their second choice.”
Kapolczynski said that if Perry does not make the runoff, black voters will choose Greuel.
Forescee Hogan-Rowles, who is part of the African Americans With Wendy group announced by the campaign, said Greuel won't have to work to make inroads in the black community. “She already has the roads in,” Hogan-Rowles said. “She has friendships here. She visits the churches when she's not campaigning, and she stays for the whole service.”