meet the LA mayoral candidates not fit for t.v.
A 20-year-old Zoomer, a global marketing guy, a former metro board member, and a person named Gina Viola are also running, but they haven't been included in the upcoming debate at Cal State LA
This is part one of a series on lesser known mayoral candidates in LA.
There are a total of 12 candidates for mayor of Los Angeles who will make the June 3 primary ballot, but you wouldn’t know that if you follow the news. Instead, we hear a lot about five of them—Karen Bass, Kevin De Leon, Mike Feuer, Joe Buscaino, and Rick Caruso.
While the LA Times’ own poll this week says nearly half of likely voters remain undecided as to who they want for mayor, it’s still pushing Karen Bass and Rick Caruso as the dead-heat frontrunners. A black, self-described progressive female candidate versus a white billionaire-man so rich he thinks it’s too dangerous to walk around in Brentwood.
But there are other candidates running who have qualified for the ballot that haven’t gotten much attention. On Tuesday, they got together to speak out on their exclusion from the debate on the campus of Cal State LA. The next mayoral debate will be held there on May 1, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, that venerable group of supposed liberal acceptance. Specifically, the mayoral candidates said Raphael Sonenshein, director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA, arbitrarily pre-selected who would be on the debate stage. (To be fair, there are three other candidates who haven’t objected to not being included in the debate. I guess they are okay with it.)
In response, the school and the League of Women Voters told me they went through a process in February to select candidates. Aside from registering with the city clerk and doing all the needed paperwork, criteria for making the debate included, “Demonstration of significant voter interest and support as evidenced by publicly available polling data, media coverage, endorsements, and fundraising.”
Note: Gina Viola, one of the candidates who wasn’t invited to the debate, polled at 2 percent, which is higher than Buscaino and on par with Feuer, two candidates who get a lot of press attention and are always on the debate stage.
One of those candidates speaking out is Alex Gruenenfelder Smith, a 20-year-old, self-described, “social justice advocate, community organizer, and Echo Park Neighborhood Councilman.” He claims to be the youngest person ever to run for LA mayor (I have no idea if that’s true).” He’s also autistic. Gruenenfelder was born after 9/11, and the Great Recession is probably something he had to read about. Instead, he is from a generation that will most likely be deeply impacted by Covid-19. Going forward, their thing will be public health and the environment.
“It is difficult to receive media coverage without participation in a debate. And it is hard to tell how your name recognition among voters will increase without participation in a debate,” said Gruenenfelder.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Give me your elevator pitch. Why people should vote for you?
I think the reason that people should support the Alex Gruenenfelder campaign for mayor is that we're fighting for a future based on fresh voices and fresh ideas. We don't need to lean into these polarized sorts of extremes in order to make real actionable change. It's the idea that crime is a problem affecting Angelenos, but that the LAPD doesn't need more money. We need to invest in more social services in the community. The idea that homelessness is a problem and the solution is not criminalization. The solution is putting money into housing, permanent supportive housing and transitional housing, as well as into social services. And it's the idea overall that this new leadership coming in has to invest in communities rather than putting more money into corporate welfare.
So there's a lot of talk about corruption, but not so much in the debates. And it seems like LA hasn't had a corruption problem like this in a while. What would you specifically do to address this?
In order to end corruption at City Hall, we cannot expect to keep electing the same corrupt insiders and wait for them to change. We need new voices, we need new leadership. And we need this new leadership to bring in folks who haven't been at city hall in lobbying firms and in organizations that directly profit off of city business. The mayor personally appoints hundreds of positions. And you can bet that when I'm elected mayor of Los Angeles, we're not going to be bringing in lobbyists, we're not going to be bringing in folks who have been profiting off of city business.
Regarding city corruption and DWP. One of the big questions is whether Mike Feuer knew about what was going on in terms of the billing lawsuit, the contracts and kickbacks. Do you have an opinion on whether he knew about the fraud that was going on under his watch? For the record, he says he didn't know about it.
At the end of the day, I think the question of what Mike Feuer knew, when he knew it, should be left to our city's great justice system. A lot of the evidence coming forward, though, is showing that at the very least, Mike Feuer knew more than he has claimed. And I think he has not accurately and publicly spoken to his connections to this scandal. And so, whether or not his actions rise to the level of a crime or criminal negligence, that's for the courts to decide, for city prosecutors to decide.
How old are you?
I'm 20 years old.
So you’re a Zoomer, nice. I’m a geriatric Millennial. I feel like Zoomers are putting us on blast, especially on Tik Tok. Are Millennials doing a good job so far?
Yeah, I think I think millennials were handed a really, really hard set of environmental and societal factors. And I think in our campaign, we've shown that, you know, this idea of tension between Gen Z and Millennials, that's not what we're experiencing as organizers on the ground. So I think, you know, I think we really need to come together because at the end of the day the younger generations have suffered at the hands of ill-informed action, sometimes by the older generations and policies that didn't think in the long term. So we need to come together and work together to fight for a better future.
Birds are real — the folks behind the "birds aren't real" satire have, however, done a great job at parodying the silliness of real world conspiracy theories.
What's your favorite date spot in LA?
I would put that in the same category as my favorite restaurant period, which is Palms Thai in Hollywood.
I also read that you are diagnosed autistic, and I am wondering how, if at all, that factors into your identity, politically or personally? Because you don't hear that being talked about by candidates for office much.
Being autistic is a part of who I am. I think that mental health needs to be discussed more openly in politics and, as I talk frequently about mental healthcare on the campaign trail, I care greatly about this issue. I am proud to be endorsed by Burbank Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony, who is also openly autistic and serves as Chair of the California Democratic Party's Disabilities Caucus. Having autism does not define me as a politician or a person, but if I have the opportunity to share my experiences and use them to advocate for the community of folks with disabilities, I'm going to do so.
Is weed overrated, underrated or properly rated?
It is a legal substance in the state of California that I think individuals like City Attorney Mike Feuer have been responsible for the over regulation and over taxation of it. I think at the end of the day, you know, politicians personal feelings towards narcotics shouldn't have that much of an effect on it if it's deemed safe and legal. We should be working to make sure it stays safe.
Last question, for those who vote according to the cosmos: What's your astrological sign?
I'm a Capricorn.
To find out more about Gruenenfelder, check out his campaign website.