Councilwoman Nithya Raman’s reelection is a crucial test for L.A.’s progressive movement


Four years ago, the two candidates running to represent the Hollywood Hills on the Los Angeles City Council spent several months trying to show who had the strongest credentials as political progressives.

Urban planner Nithya Raman, then looking to oust Councilmember David Ryu, discussed her volunteer work on homelessness, touted her refusal to accept corporate money and called for the defunding of the LAPD. Ryu, a one-term incumbent, ran on his legislation barring real estate developers from making campaign donations, while voting to help renters whose lives had been upended by COVID-19.

Raman prevailed, becoming the first member of the Democratic Socialists of America to oust an incumbent at City Hall.

Now, as she seeks a second four-year term in Tuesday’s election, the political environment is a bit more complex, with two opponents assailing her from the right, some activists criticizing her from the left, and a deluge of outside money making it the most expensive L.A. City Council contest this year.

The outcome of the race — which now tops $2.6 million in overall spending, two-thirds of it for Deputy City Atty. Ethan Weaver — will help determine the future of the “progressive vision” embraced by Raman and her allies at City Hall, said Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez.

That vision, Soto-Martínez said, includes newly enacted measures to reduce the number of evictions and expand renter relocation payments; “compassionate” efforts to move homeless people indoors, such as Mayor Karen Bass’ Inside Safe program; and transportation initiatives such as Measure HLA, which would require bus and bicycle lanes on designated boulevards.

Raman, who describes herself as a “pragmatic progressive,” supports all three.

“What’s at stake is the direction of where the city goes,” said Soto-Martínez, who has been helping Raman with her reelection bid. “Nithya has been a steadfast champion on tenant issues, on homelessness and housing. She’s really brought a different perspective, one that is being used citywide now.”

Weaver, who is running to unseat Raman, argues that his opponent has veered too far left on key issues. Weaver, a self-described “pragmatic Democrat,” said his opponent’s views on homelessness, public safety and other topics are out of step with voters in the district, which stretches from Silver Lake to the San Fernando Valley.

“City leadership shouldn’t be about right or left,” said Weaver, who lives in Los Feliz. “It should be about moving things forward in a practical, effective way.”

Ethan Weaver, a candidate for City Council, greets Dr. Suzanne Wenzlaff, 80, while door-knocking in Los Feliz in December.

Ethan Weaver, a candidate for City Council, greets Dr. Suzanne Wenzlaff, 80, while door-knocking in Los Feliz in December.

(Michael Blackshire / Los Angeles Times)

On the campaign trail, Weaver has repeatedly emphasized his support for a city law that bars homeless encampments near schools. Raman voted against it, calling it ineffective. Weaver has endorsed Bass’ package of police raises, saying they are needed to boost recruitment in a city that has lost about 1,100 officers.

Raman opposed the LAPD salary deal, saying the raises were too expensive and would trigger a budget crisis.

Weaver, while voicing support for Inside Safe, also argued that the city has been spending more than$1 billion per year on homelessness without making a serious dent in the crisis. The city needs to rectify that by pulling out of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, he said, and replacing it with an entity that is directly accountable to city leaders.

Raman said city leaders are already taking steps to make LAHSA more effective, and warned that a pullout would jeopardize federal funds for homelessness.

As he wages his first run for public office, Weaver has received huge financial support from police and firefighter unions, residential and commercial landlords, and other types of donors. By midday Friday, those backers had spent a combined $1.2 million on mailers, campaign videos and other “independent expenditures” promoting Weaver or disparaging Raman — the most ever spent to unseat an incumbent L.A. council member.

Raman, who lives in Silver Lake, has sought to turn that money against Weaver, saying she is being targeted for her willingness to stand up to special interests.

In a message to voters, Raman said the police officers union, a billboard company and a Westside landlord who is seeking to evict hundreds of tenants are helping Weaver because they do not like her record fighting police raises, opposing digital billboards and passing pro-renter legislation, respectively.

That money, Raman said, could have a ripple effect beyond her race, discouraging council members from acting independently in the future.

“It’s nice to be seen as impactful, but I worry a lot about the chilling effect on real change,” she said.

Supporters of Raman have portrayed Weaver as part of a “right-wing takeover” — an allegation that Weaver, who supports gun control and abortion rights, denies.

Raman said that despite the deluge of outside money, the organizations looking to oust her have failed to puncture her record, which includes what she called the strongest package of tenant protections to be approved in L.A. in more than 40 years.

Raman said her office has made serious progress on street homelessness, moving unhoused residents indoors from more than a dozen major encampments. Shootings, robberies and homicides dropped by double digits in the district last year, according to figures from her campaign.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Nithya Raman, left, talks with Mayor Karen Bass at a campaign event in Sherman Oaks.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Nithya Raman, left, talks with Mayor Karen Bass at a campaign event in Sherman Oaks.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

“Crime has gone down. People are more secure in their homes. Homeless encampments have gone away” in many locations, Raman said during a campaign event with Bass. “They’re not saying any of that is not true. They just don’t like the fact that I care about people.”

Weaver offered a more bleak assessment, saying residents and business owners in Hollywood, Studio City and elsewhere remain frustrated with the ongoing homelessness crisis and concerned for their own personal safety. He said statistics offered by Raman also do not reflect certain crimes that are frequently not reported, such as car break-ins and low-level theft.

“The crimes that impact people the most are the day-to-day crimes that are dramatically under-reported,” he said. “People tell me, ‘Why would I call 911 when it takes 20 minutes to get an operator and 40 minutes to get an officer?’”

Under the city’s election rules, any candidate who secures more than 50% of the vote will win the race outright, avoiding a November runoff. That outcome has been made less likely because of the presence of a third candidate, software engineer Levon “Lev” Baronian, who sits on the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council.

Baronian has voiced alarm at the money being spent for Weaver by the city’s police and firefighters unions. At the same time, he pointed out that Raman is also benefiting from outside spending, which reached $400,000 on Friday.

Those pro-Raman donors include Unite Here Local 11, the hotel workers union, which has sought to shape planning and zoning decisions. Another is Service Employees International Union Local 721, which has been negotiating a package of raises for city workers.

Baronian says he believes the costly campaigns are turning off the public.

“Voters have looked at these two special-interest candidates and said, ‘No, no thank you,’” he said.

Raman’s district looks quite different from the one she won in 2020. A year after she took office, her colleagues dramatically redrew the boundaries, taking out such areas as Hancock Park and renter-rich Park La Brea, while adding Encino and parts of Studio City and Reseda.

Meanwhile, the city’s progressive politics have gotten trickier.

Some activists criticized Raman last year for voting in favor of Bass’ budget, which called for the hiring of 1,000 police officers. Meanwhile, one of Raman’s long-standing supporters has sent mixed messages.

The L.A. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America has been assigning volunteers to knock on doors for Raman. Yet that same group also censured Raman in January over her decision to seek the endorsement of Democrats For Israel-Los Angeles. DSA-LA accused that group of supporting “settler colonialism and violence against the Palestinian people.”

“Elected officials endorsed by DSA-LA are expected to co-govern with the chapter to realize the Democratic Socialist Program (DSP), which includes a commitment to overcoming imperialist capitalism and the exploitation of working people across the world,” the group said in its letter censuring Raman.

Raman, asked about the letter, said she has been trying to create “safer, more supportive conditions” for all of the city’s residents.

“In this time of immense pain and division for so many people around the world, I’m trying to act in ways that acknowledge everyone’s grief,” she said in a statement.

Democrats For Israel-Los Angeles ultimately issued a dual endorsement, supporting both Raman and Weaver.

Weaver and his allies have sought to highlight Raman’s DSA’s ties, telling voters the group holds “radical” stances, such as support for police abolition and removal of federal funding from Israel.

That message has resonated with Kristin Glushon, who lives in Encino and has hosted two campaign meet-and-greets for Weaver.

Glushon, a self-described liberal Democrat, said she is troubled by DSA support for Raman. She also spoke in favor of the LAPD raises, saying the city needs more officers to address burglaries and car thefts in her neighborhood.

“Right now, the community is not feeling heard and not feeling safe,” she said.

Raman has described DSA-LA as one member of a broad coalition of supporters, one that includes Bass and 100 others. That message has been echoed by her supporters.

Former City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represented Encino for several years, said he initially feared Raman would be too extreme. But he said that, after she took office, he found her to be an effective legislator on climate change and other issues. Koretz delivered that message in January to the county’s Democratic Party, which then voted to endorse Raman.

“There are plenty of people that have the wrong impression of her, that she’s a crazy radical and a strong DSA-er,” Koretz said in an interview. “I think DSA was just one of many supporters of hers.”


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