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The Race to Washington: Who Will 37th District Voters Elect for the Seat Being Vacated by Karen Bass

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Keith DeLawder

In September of last year, six term Congresswoman Karen Bass made waves in the political world when she announced her retirement from the House of Representatives in order to mount a campaign for Mayor of Los Angeles in the following fall.

“Our city is facing a public health, safety and economic crisis in homelessness that has evolved into a humanitarian emergency,” said Bass in the announcement to her candidacy. “Los Angeles is my home. With my whole heart, I’m ready.  Let’s do this– together.”

Bass, who currently serves as the second vice chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, joins a wave of five other California Representatives who are leaving Congress ahead of the 2022 Midterm elections. While these departures aren’t expected to change the balance of power in the House, they will open the door for fresh representation for candidates of underrepresented communities to seek office and bring more stimulated voter engagement to the transfers of power.

As for Karen Bass’ California Congressional District 37, which stretches from Inglewood to Westwood and includes the neighborhoods of Mid-City, Culver City, Leimert Park, Ladera Heights, South Los Angeles, Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw, West Los Angeles, Exposition Park, among others– three top candidates have emerged to contend for the seat: former L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry, California State Senator Sydney Kamlager, and Culver City Vice Mayor Dr. Daniel Lee– along with Democratic candidate Sandra Mendoza and the field’s lone Republican Baltazar Fedalizo. Voters will get their first chance to weigh in on the candidates in the June 7th primary runoff where the top two vote recipients from either party will face off in the November midterm elections.

Sydney Kamlager was first to step up to the plate. In her relatively short time in public office, California Senator Sydney Kamlager has been something of a rising star among L.A. Democrats, accumulating in her 2021 landslide victory in the race for the 30th Senate District seat.

“Nobody is as popular with voters in this district as Congresswoman Karen Bass, but state Senator Kamalager ranks as a close second and is easily the frontrunner to replace Karen Bass in Congress,” says Kerman Maddox, a public affairs consultant and political commentator.

Sydney is not only very visible in the district, her children attend schools in the district and she’s accessible at public gatherings in a way many elected aren’t. In addition, she has endorsements from two of the area’s most well -nown elected officials in Congresswoman Karen Bass, and Supervisor Holly Mitchell. Her endorsements, visibility, name recognition and fundraising advantage give Sydney a substantial advantage over other candidates and makes her the candidate to beat.”

Hand-picked by Congresswoman Bass to fill her seat in Congress, Kamlager is calling on the same voters she’s represented in the State Senate and Assembly to send her to Washington so she can bring her vision of health and equity to the national stage.

“I currently represent 93% of the 37th District in the State Senate, so I would represent a district that already knows me,” says Kamlager. “I think whether it’s protecting our democracy from continuous assaults or making sure women have the right to choose or finding ways to have as many people as possible achieve the American dream, the needs of everyday people continue to be my north star.”

Kamlager says she is running for Congress so she can be in a position to help the most people, in the same ways she’s worked for the people in her districts in Los Angeles.

“I’m running on a platform that centers around health– the health of our economy, the health of our planet, and the physical and mental health of the people of my district and across the country,” says Kamlager. “I think we’re at a critical juncture in 2022 where we have to put those cards on the table and that’s why I’m running for congress– to work on the big stuff. National policy affords us to have deeper conversations about how we can become less dependent on fossil fuels, how we can use the leverage of this country to drive energy prices down, how to conserve water, drive down the costs of healthcare, and how we can have a national conversation about mental and behavioral health. We have a responsibility to talk about these things as national issues rather than leaving it up to individual states.”

Hailing from Chicago, Kamlager was exposed to politics early, working with her grandmother to help elect Chicago’s first black mayor, Harold Washington. Kamlager moved to L.A. to study political science at USC. In 1992 during her time at USC she was inspired by the tragedy of the riots following the Rodney King verdict to get involved in local politics and make the city a more just and inclusive place. In her early work, Kamlager was a District Director under now L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell at the early education nonprofit Crystal Stairs.

According to Kamlager it was Mitchell whose mentoring and support encouraged her to run for office.

“She has been an amazing friend and mentor,” says Kamlager. “It was because of her that I co-founded the Black Woman’s Democratic Club which helped give greater opportunities for black women to have a voice in the Democratic Party.”

Kamlager won her first public position in 2015 when she was elected to the L.A. Community College Board, and then went on to successfully run for the State Assembly in 2018 and the State Senate in 2021.

Kamlager points to her legislative and policy accomplishments over the last six years as proof that she has been a consistent force for helping create a more just and prosperous state for her constituents.

“I have a proven record which shows that I listen and lead with openness and I’m committed to the success of the district and I’m committed to economic justice,” says Kamlager. “I’m committed to the idea that if you focus on economic equity, you will be addressing the many other social inequities that all of us are fighting against. It’s important to feel that we all have access to the American dream, and we all have the ability to determine our own future and successes. I’ve worked really hard as an elected official to make that happen and I hope the people will believe in me enough to know that I will do the same if I’m elected to Congress.”

In her endorsement of Kamlager, Bass said: Sydney Kamlager has the backbone we need in a Congresswoman. She’ll pick up when I leave and will help get important laws across the finish line. She will boldly stand up to the attacks on voting rights across our nation, protect democracy and help unite our nation, so we can more forward and address the crisis we are facing.”

Along with Congresswoman Karen Bass and Supervisor Holly Mitchell, Kamlager has received endorsements from California Governor Gavin Newsom, Senator Alex Padilla, California Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Webber, L.A. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, L.A. Councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Curren Price, the California Legislative Black Caucus, State Senator Steve Bradford, California Attorney General Rob Bonta, the California Democratic Party, Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and SEIU California, just to name a few.

Former City Councilwoman Jan Perry is poised to represent a community she has served a sizeable part of for decades. Known for her three terms representing L.A. City Council District 9 between 2001-2013, Perry then worked for the next six years as General Manager of the City of Los Angeles’ Economic & Workforce Development Department. She currently acts as the Executive Director of two non-profit organizations– Infrastructure Funding Alliance and Shelter Partnership, Inc.

Throughout her career Perry has made issues of homelessness and affordable housing a top priority, something she plans to continue if given the opportunity to represent her district on the national level.

“What distinguishes me is that I’ve had over twelve years of experience working with federal, as well as state and county governments on many publicly funded programs and I’ve been able to see what works and what doesn’t work,” Perry tells L.A. Focus.

Perry refers to her time in City Hall and in the nonprofit sector working with federal agencies such as Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor and the Department of Education as vital to her ability to get things done on the inside.

“I’ve interacted with all those agencies over the years and I’ve seen the programs that come out the other end of their pipeline– many have been highly successful, and some have not, but I have that experience,” said Perry.

Born in Cleveland, Perry was exposed to politics and civic duty at an early age as her parents were civil rights advocates who both served their municipality as Mayor. Perry came to L.A. to study Public Policy at USC, and never left– working under four different public leaders before mounting her own successful campaign for City Council in 2001.

Perry is confident that her track record of experience and accomplishments in the city is evidence of effective leadership in government.

“I’ve built over 6,000 units of housing over my time, including housing for people who are unhoused, and I know how to use financing tools to subsidize the creation of more units,” says Perry. “I also know what good housing policy looks like and what it doesn’t look like. When I see areas of our district where high volume premium apartments are being erected and rented out for $3,000 a month, that’s not going to solve our affordable housing crisis, it’s only going to deepen it. So, I think I have the experience to be able to make those distinctions on how policy and legislation is created because I’ve done it.”

Looking forward, Perry preaches a message of inclusion of those who have been systematically marginalized as the cornerstone to prosperity for everyone.

“We’ve all come through a very dire situation, not just as a country, but globally, and we need to learn the lessons that this pandemic has exposed and close the gap in the disparities of housing, healthcare, food insecurity, and make a district and a country that is just and inclusive. We have to go forward, and we have to bring others along with us. That’s what I intend to do.”

Perry’s endorsements include Congresswoman Maxine Waters, former Congresswoman Diane Watson, L.A. County Assessor Jeffrey Prang, Reverend William Epps and the Martin Luther King Jr. Democratic Club, among others.

Dr. Daniel Lee, who in 2018 became the first African-American City Councilmember in Culver City’s history and is currently serving as Mayor, is also poised to bring his progressive agenda to Washington.

According to Lee, the pillars of his platform include creating legislation on the federal level to protect the right to choose, passing immigration reform which includes a path to citizenship, passing medicare for all, strengthening and protecting voting rights, and getting the government back into the process of actively building housing— but most crucially, Lee says he will be fighting in Congress to contain and prepare for an impending climate crisis.

“My chief motivation in running for Congress is so I can be on the federal level to push our government to do a lot more when it comes to addressing the climate crisis,” says Lee. “The effects of climate change hit low income people and people of color first both in the United States and around the world, and we’re already seeing the crisis of climate refugees which has the potential to only get worse. The climate crisis is the crisis of our time and we’re just not doing enough about it on the federal level, so I want to be that change.”

Lee is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and National Guard, was a twelve-year member of the Screen Actor Guild, and holds a PhD in social work. Lee is a self-described “unabashed progressive” and ran for city council on issues such as instating rent controls and lowering the police budget. He lists shutting down the Inglewood oil fields, passing rent control, being the second city in the country to to pass a form of reparations, and moving forward on a mobile crisis response pilot to help prevent violent interactions between police and citizens as some of his proud accomplishments since taking office.

“I am committed to do the things we know we need to do as a country,” says Lee. “We know that we need to address the climate crisis, we know there is not just an affordable housing crisis in L.A. but in many places across the country, and we know that there is an assault on women’s rights. I firmly believe that we need a wealth tax and we need to get rid of the upper limit on income tax so that money can be used to rebuild public infrastructure and to build the green energy and internet infrastructure the country will need to be competitive in the future. I understand these problems, I’ve worked with a lot of these industries and I know how to push people to get things done.”

 


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