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Frederick Sutton Headshot

Local Politics, Where Every Voice is Heard

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Dear Los Angeles,

I often hear people say their vote doesn't matter. They feel, in the grand scheme of things, they do not have a direct effect on their government. While this may be a common theme among some voters, I would challenge them to look more closely at local politics. Every single vote can make a difference in a local election.

Unlike the national government, your local government is responsible for keeping your daily life running smoothly. Have a pot hole on your cul-de-sac? Contact the Bureau of Street Services and they will be there with their asphalt truck to fill it in. Going to your child's Little League pancake breakfast on opening day? The Department of Parks and Recreation are making sure everything is sparkling and polished for the day's festivities. Are you in trouble and frightened? It is the police and fire department you depend on for safety. It is local government that regulates new development in your neighborhood and oversees that new gourmet sandwich shop on the corner. It is policies set forth in city hall that encourages or chokes commerce. Local government builds light rail to help people avoid spending hours behind the steering wheel, bogged down in traffic.

It is unfortunate that local elections draw so little attention. In the 2011 City Council elections, around 12 percent of the registered voters went to the polls. Turnout in municipal races is abysmal. Many people I meet are unaware that a large number of Los Angeles city representatives are turning over on March 5. The City of Los Angeles is facing many problems including large deficits, declining services and high unemployment rates. Local government should operate like the music of a movie, seamlessly interwoven and designed to keep everything flowing smoothly.

Unfortunately, L.A.'s soundtrack is worse than a 1897 Edison recording. It is through local elections that the voters have a chance to update and modernize the political system.

The greatest aspect of local government is the ability to effect change. A few votes can determine new representatives and new directions. Last November, a Los Angeles infrastructure measure fell short by a few thousand votes. City Council representatives have been known to squeak out wins with a few hundred votes.

There are so many ways for an individual to get involved. Los Angeles has a system of neighborhood councils formed by elected neighbors that weigh in on quality of life issues in their community. I served on one of these boards. They are a terrific way to meet your neighbors and learn what is happening in your own back yard. They also give you a forum to lobby your city officials. Business owners should seek out their local chamber of commerce or business improvement district, where they can have a unified voice and see their issues get the attention they deserve. There are home owner associations, political clubs and a wide array of interest groups that may be an excellent outlet for your local passions.

At a recent debate, I heard a candidate say "local politics is where it is at." I couldn't agree more. I am optimistic about the future of Los Angeles. As we enter the home stretch of the L.A. primary season, I urge everyone to get involved, do your research and, vote for the candidate who will take the city in the direction you desire. It really is up to you on March 5.