City Council (D8): Marqueece Harris-Dawson
Occupation: President and CEO of the nonprofit Community Coalition, a social advocacy group
What are your top three priorities if elected?
I plan to address the historically high unemployment in the district in several ways. Approximately 30% of the city’s workforce is scheduled to retire in the next five years; I will work to ensure that residents of the 8th District are trained and ready to be competitive for those jobs. I will also push to prioritize hiring of disadvantaged workers on MTA projects, such as the Crenshaw light rail line, which is now being built through the 8th District. I also plan to prioritize the revitalization of major commercial corridors, such as Western Ave, and Figueroa St. These areas have dire problems such as sex trafficking and nuisance businesses (liquor stores, motels, and illegal marijuana dispensaries). But they also have been severely underserved by the city. After cleaning up these corridors, I will be relentless in seeking out new businesses that can create jobs, and provide the services that these corridors once provided. Finally, I plan to open the doors of City Hall to residents in the 8th Council District. The greatest assets in the district are the people, who have a long history of activism. I want to re-establish and create mechanisms for resident engagement and make the city more responsive to our district.
What makes you more qualified than your opponents?
I am the candidate best poised to be an effective leader for the district. The fact that nine city councilmembers have endorsed my campaign is testament to that; they are looking for new leadership that they can work with, to address citywide issues, and get more results in the 8th District. I believe that my accomplishments of delivering change to South L.A. as a community organizer far surpass anything that my competitors can claim. For the last 20 years, I have worked to bring stakeholders from across the City of Los Angeles together to transform the economic and social conditions in South LA. I have involved thousands of South LA residents in direct action campaigns to influence education, criminal justice and child welfare policies. My leadership has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to South LA schools and neighborhoods. I have successfully lead collaborative efforts between residents, business, law enforcement, the faith community and local government to improve conditions in South LA neighborhoods.
I am also an effective organizational leader and employer. For the last 10 years, I have served as the President and CEO of Community Coalition which is nationally recognized as one of the leading organizations in advocacy and community organizing. I employ 40 employees and manage a $5 million budget. I recently purchased the organization’s building from the City and I am overseeing a $5 million renovation of the building. I have deep relationships with the residents in the 8th District and I have experience championing the policies residents have identified as solutions and priorities. I am the only candidate with over 200 donors in the 8th council district and overwhelming support from hundreds of volunteers. My experience and record is unmatched by any other candidate.
Would you consider offering incentives to attract more economic development to the Eighth District? If so, what type of incentives (be specific).
South LA is home to nearly 1 million people, who far too often have to travel outside of their community to access basic services and shop. If elected, I intend to stimulate economic development in the district by revitalizing our commercial corridors and improving neighborhood safety. Currently, the significant blight and criminal activity along the district’s major corridors in the district discourages investment and development. My goal is to bring the commercial corridors to the same standard as our residential areas through nuisance abatement enforcement; investment in basic city services like side walk repair and tree trimming and the implementation of land use strategies that leverage improvements to public transportation, like the Crenshaw lines.
City employee pensions
The cost of city employee pensions and health care have been a concern in City Hall. Do you support the 2012 vote that reduced pensions for new employees?
I would like to address how we act moving forward. I believe that public sector employees make sacrifices to serve the public, and should be rewarded with security in their retirement. Where pensions were once a norm in certain sectors of the American workplace, they have now become the exception to the rule - and it has only been the power of labor movement that has been able to protect these benefits. The key thing is that the key stakeholders must be involved in the decisions made. We must first make good on commitments that were made to workers in years past. Then city labor unions, the city council and the mayor must work together in looking at wages, healthcare, pensions and other benefits are fair and adequate for city employees.
Trimming pension costs
Does the city need to take further action in trim pension costs? If so, what actions do you support? If not, why not?
Pensions are a large and growing commitment in the L.A. City budget, with a large percentage of city employees are nearing retirement age in the next five years. The problem will only become more unwieldy, so there must be some level of reform. However, it should done in the context of other big-ticket budget items, including changes in city business taxes, and identifying new revenue sources. Taking on the city deficit, tax reform, the restoration of city services, and other budget areas in isolation is not the approach we need right now.
Do you support asking all city employees (unionized and non-unionized) to contribute a portion of their health care premiums (including the LAPD and LAFD)?
My general stance is that we should only do this as a last resort, to avoid actions such as furloughs, eliminating positions, or reduction in staff levels. Health care costs have had a huge impact on families and individuals, which is why the President proposed a massive overhaul of our nation’s healthcare system – including the issue of affordability.
City Hall workforce
During the recession, City Hall cut its work force by about 5,000 positions. Do you support adding back jobs to return to that level?
I support the City adding back positions cut during the recession and prioritizing city service positions that enhance the quality of life in local neighborhoods. I believe in a robust city government, and restoring many programs and services that had been cut during past years. We need to find additional revenue sources from our vital local economy, for example the growth of the shared economy, which is largely untaxed. I plan to play a leadership role in resolving the city budget, with an eye at prioritizing city workers and the services they provide.
The district’s boundaries were redrawn in 2010 and litigation contesting various aspects of the changes is still onging. Do you support the litigation, or is it time to move on?
I gave input into the state and federal line drawing, and it was clear that you cannot make everybody happy in redistricting. There was a thorough process for community input into defining communities of interest, and potential boundary changes during the last redistricting. I’ve heard some complaints about the shift in districts of some South L.A. communities, but I don’t believe this is one of the top issues we have to address. We are now halfway to the next census and reapportionment, and I believe we should take up changes at that time.
Tensions with LAPD
Recent police actions against black citizens have sparked rising tensions with the Los Angeles Police Department (and other law enforcement agencies across the U.S.). Do you believe that the LAPD improperly targets black residents for enforcement? If yes, what changes should the LAPD take to mediate this problem? If no, what can the LAPD do to quell this perception?
Chief Charlie Beck and law enforcement leadership have advanced significant reforms within the department that has helped improve the relationship between the department and the community. Under my leadership, Community Coalition has partnered with local precincts in South LA to monitor nuisance businesses and implement crime prevention strategies in local parks. However, racial profiling remains a persistent practice among officers. I visit with residents regularly and many African American and Latino men and youth in particular tell accounts of being targeted and harassed by police officers patrolling their neighborhoods. Residents also complain of long response times when they are in need of assistance from the police. I believe increased recruitment and targeted hiring within communities of color and poor and working communities will improve the culture of local police departments and policing in communities, like South LA.
Do you support an increase in the minimum wage to $13.25/hour (as proposed by Mayor Garcetti) or $15/hour (as proposed by some council members and outside labor/social equity groups)?
I support the demand for an increase in the minimum wage to $15 and want to work with my colleagues on council, labor leaders and local business partners to identify strategies to help small business meet the minimum wage increase. I currently employ approximately 40 employees and appreciate the wage increase will create challenges for small business; nevertheless efforts to increase the minimum wage will benefit millions of workers and improve the quality of life in local neighborhoods.