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L.A.'s Mid-Wilshire neighborhood could be election bellwether

The 2.8-square-mile area west of downtown has picked the mayor in every vote since 2001. This year, interviews suggest that it also shares the apathy and ambivalence of voters elsewhere in the city.

May 19, 2013|By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times
  • Monique Ruffin with her son, Zion James, 6, lives in the Mid-Wilshire. She says schools are important to her, and she plans to vote for Councilman Eric Garcetti.
Monique Ruffin with her son, Zion James, 6, lives in the Mid-Wilshire. She… (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)

It's a small swath of Los Angeles, near the city's heart, that hasn't received much attention from the mayoral candidates.

But a Times analysis shows that a 2.8-square-mile, Mid-Wilshire neighborhood has had an unmatched record of picking mayors in both primary and runoff elections since 2001. And interviews suggest it could again be a bellwether of the concerns, apathy and ambivalence voters take to the polls Tuesday as they choose the city's new chief executive.

Both Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti have supporters here, though most voters approached on a recent day voiced the sort of indifference that could keep turnout near record lows.

FULL COVERAGE: L.A. mayor's race

Nearly all served up plain-spoken advice for the mayor-to-be.

"There are a lot of potholes in the streets," said Bryan Thomas, 30, as he walked to his job waiting tables at Marie Callender's Grill on Wilshire Boulevard. "There's so much money with parking tickets and violations, I'd like to know where all that money goes because it seems like it's not going into streets being repaired."

Monique Ruffin was insistent about what she thought the city's top priority should be as she pushed her special-needs son on a swing at leafy L.A. High Memorial Park.

"Schools, schools, that's really all I care about," said the 44-year-old blogger. "I will fix my own pothole. Fix the schools."

Kim Cuomo, 25, lived in Boston and New York before and didn't buy a car until she decided to move to Los Angeles.

"Public transportation. It's a huge city," the actress said.

The three live in Mid-Wilshire west of downtown, a community of more than 47,000 residents, according to a Times analysis.

The most diverse of the city's 114 neighborhoods, Mid-Wilshire is a distilled version of sprawling Los Angeles. The Miracle Mile, high-end furniture stores and a Whole Foods mark its affluent northwestern edge, while auto repair shops, fast-food joints and a check-cashing business line its southern border. The western boundary includes the restaurants of Little Ethiopia, and the eastern perimeter is home to a growing number of Korean acupuncturists, spas and churches.

Garcetti and Greuel have paid more attention to the San Fernando Valley and South Los Angeles, places where swaying key blocs of undecided voters could determine the outcome of the election. But in political terms, Mid-Wilshire is a Los Angeles version of Ohio — the only neighborhood that has chosen winners in every contested mayoral election over the last 12 years, according to an analysis of community voting patterns. The last six times the city voted for mayor, this was the sole neighborhood to consistently pick a winner.

In a city where four out of five voters stayed home during the primary election, excitement here appears almost nonexistent as well. Most residents interviewed said they weren't planning to cast a ballot. Some said the candidates are too similar for their votes to matter.

"I feel like it's not really a choice, so I don't feel too concerned about the election," said Danny Mitchell, 31, as he carried groceries to his apartment. "I'm usually interested in politics, but this is not on my radar. I listen to NPR, I know about it. I don't feel like the policies are going to be that different."

Some of those planning to cast ballots said they liked both candidates but made their choice based on a particular accomplishment.

Ruffin said she plans to vote for Garcetti, impressed by the revitalization that has occurred in his district during his tenure as a councilman. She met Garcetti last year when he invited her and other "mommy bloggers" to the restaurant Campanile, where they ate gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and salads while listening to him speak.

"He was very heartfelt, and his mother was there," she said.

But Ruffin is torn. She would like to see a woman elected mayor, and friends and family where she grew up near Leimert Park, as well as many African American leaders such as Magic Johnson, are backing Greuel.

"That's my community, right? And they're all voting for her," Ruffin said. "I feel guilty. I feel like I should vote for a woman."

Jenny Rim, a 37-year-old attorney of Korean descent, said she was voting for Greuel because of her experience as the city's controller.

"She really would understand the numbers better, and I think she's more goal-oriented," said Rim, as she watched her two young children practice soccer drills under the shade of a jacaranda tree.

Michael Tarr, a silver-haired business executive, said he was backing Greuel because he finds it "crazy" that Los Angeles could have no women in elected office come June.

He said he likes both Garcetti and Greuel, but is disappointed Los Angeles doesn't have larger-than-life leaders, such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York or his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani. And he is frustrated that the debate between the duo hasn't delved deeply into issues such as the high unemployment rate for young African Americans, or the homeless sleeping on the streets of skid row every night, which he labels a "disgrace."

"The slugfest about Greuel and Garcetti has really been about who's the most wasteful and who's saved the most money. Neither one of them are necessarily demonstrating what makes a city," Tarr said, sitting in the airy living room of his Spanish-style house surrounded by eccentric artwork.

"We haven't had any kind of broad discussion on, so OK, we're moving out of this recession … how do you actually improve the overall fabric of the city?"

seema.mehta@latimes.com

Times staff writer Ben Welsh contributed to this report.

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