With the smell of backroom deals and corruption permeating the L.A. City Council chambers, residents and stakeholders of L.A.’s dynamic Koreatown/Wilshire Center community escalated their drive for increased self-determination and representation in city government by taking their demand to be made part of Council District 13 right into city hall.
About 200 Korean Americans wearing yellow t-shirts proclaiming “I (Heart) Koreatown” responded to a last-minute call for action to attend the morning council session only to be met with the oldest stall tactic in politics. Council President Herb Wesson, whose staff had been the target of graft and bribery allegations at L.A. Redistricting Commission meetings all last month, apologized profusely for having to delay the public comments 2½ hours until after several ceremonial presentations and perfunctory unanimous votes were finished.
However, despite their long wait, the Koreatown speakers thanked CD10 Councilman Wesson for the opportunity to speak and asked the council to rethink the redistricting body’s recommendation that their neighborhood be divided between two council districts. There was no chanting or shouting. Several speakers read passages from the Bible.
But the stick to the carrot wielded by Koreatown Wednesday is a plan to sue the city, alleging that the redistricting process has been illegally politicized. There is also talk of calling in the FBI to investigate charges made by Koreatown business owners of bribe-solicitation and shakedowns by Wesson Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Bai, a Korean American and a high-profile figure in the community.
As the 20th anniversary of “Sa-I-Gu” (the Korean American community’s cipher for the 1992 L.A. economic and race riots which decimated their businesses throughout the city) approaches, Koreatown is tired of pay-to-play, business as usual political corruption they have allegedly been subjected to by officeholders. After years of being represented by the controversial former 10th District Councilman Nate Holden (and his chief deputy Herb Wesson), Korean Americans, who supplied more than one-third of Holden’s campaign finances, are looking to eliminate the middle man, get more bang for their buck and elect a councilman of their own. Thus, the drive to be included in Councilman Eric Garcetti’s CD13.
Garcetti, son of former L.A. County DA Gil Garcetti, has already announced he will run for L.A. mayor in 2013. Political strategists say the election to fill the council vacancy created by a Garcetti victory next March would give a Korean American favorite son/daughter candidate a great chance to become the first Asian American on the L.A. City Council since Chinese American urban planner Michael Woo was elected over CD13 incumbent Peggy Stevenson 27 years ago.
From 1985 to 1993, Woo, the son of an influential Chinatown banker, was the first—and so far the only— Asian American on the L.A. City Council. Koreatown’s savvy new generation of political leaders are hungry and seem ready to make history, and nobody’s mentioned it yet, but it looks like the Holden-Wesson golden goose has flown.