Monday, June 24, 2024

2023 Preview: Under-the-Radar Leaders to Watch in Los Angeles

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In the new year, no one in Los Angeles will be under a brighter spotlight than Mayor Karen Bass. Her every move will be scrutinized. Expect “report cards” well before the traditional 100 days in office.

She is not the only leader who will garner attention. A pair of progressive new City Council members, Eunisses Hernandez and Hugo Soto-Martinez, will be watched closely in person and on social media. So will corgi-loving City Controller Kenneth Mejia, and Lindsay Horvath, who now represents 2 million people as a member of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

Get beyond the headline grabbers and there are other figures, some with far-lower name ID, whose work will impact Los Angeles in 2023. Here are a handful of them.

Mercedes Márquez

Bass’ primary challenge in 2023 is addressing the homelessness crisis. Whether she succeeds or fails will depend in part on Márquez, who on December 7 was announced as the city’s Chief of Housing and Homelessness Solutions.

Márquez may be little-known by the general public, but she is no stranger to L.A. power circles, and has a strong reputation. She is a former general manager of the City of Los Angeles Housing Department and was Deputy Mayor for Housing under Antonio Villaraigosa. She served in the Obama Administration as Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Those are a lot of big words and big jobs, but cut away the fluff and it means she has high-level allies, as well as experience navigating multiple tiers of government.

That is vital, given the need to help the almost 42,000 unhoused people in the City of Los Angeles. Márquez’s to-do list includes propelling Bass’ Inside Safe strategy to reduce tent encampments, getting the most out of Measure ULA dollars, and enacting strategies to prevent people from becoming homeless in the first place. It’s a tall order.

Hydee Feldstein Soto

It’s bananas that Feldstein Soto is on this list of low-profile figures. City Attorney is the second-highest elected post in Los Angeles and the office employs more than 500 lawyers. But the contest to succeed Mike Feuer garnered little attention given all the headlines dedicated to the mayor’s race and other contests. People barely know Feldstein Soto.

Expect that to change. Although Feldstein Soto has never held elected office, she carries extensive private sector legal experience, and a number of intelligent observers credit her smarts and abilities. Although the city prosecutes only misdemeanors, she arrives pushing a “Community Justice Initiative” built on looking at alternatives to incarceration for those charged with low-level crimes.

The office can be a minefield for outsiders, but there are a lot of capable, experienced staffers, and she’ll get help navigating City Hall after wisely bringing former Board of Public Works President Kevin James onto her team. Feldstein Soto will also try this year to make the public forget the office’s role in a nasty DWP scandal.

Kristin Crowley

Last March, Crowley became the 19th fire chief of Los Angeles. Her appointment was widely celebrated—she rose through the ranks over 22 years in the department that employs more than 3,500 people. Her position was also historic: Crowley is the LAFD’s first female and first LGBTQ leader.

She has generated few headlines since then, which is probably a good thing. But she has multiple challenges in the year ahead, including increasing the number of women in the department, and ensuring that a firehouse culture that has been criticized for pranks and sexual harassment continues to become more welcoming and equal.

Crowley has another key task in 2023: building a strong working relationship with Bass. While Crowley runs a public safety department, her position also makes her a politician, and it’s crucial that she has allies at the top.

Yvonne Wheeler

Among the careers tanked by the leaked audio scandal of last October was that of Ron Herrera. The head of the L.A. County Federation of Labor was forced to resign after the world heard him on the recording low-lighted by the hateful speech of then City Council President Nury Martinez. Making matters worse, the bile-filled meeting to discuss hijacking the redistricting process took place in County Fed headquarters.

In November, Wheeler was chosen to succeed Herrera; she is the first Black female head of the region’s most powerful labor organization. Representing 800,000 workers and 300 unions, the Fed is a force in many aspects of county life, including elections. As the Los Angeles Times noted last November, both Karen Bass and then Long Beach Mayor-elect Rex Richardson joined Wheeler on stage when her selection was announced. That’s some sway.

In 2023, Wheeler, a veteran labor leader and civil rights activist, who most recently worked with an IATSE chapter, faces numerous challenges: she has to bolster the Fed’s reputation in the wake of the scandal; soothe relations with African Americans angered by Herrera’s comments; and ensure that the Fed maintains its leading role in local power circles.

April Tardy

On Nov. 8, Robert Luna was elected the 34th sheriff of L.A. County. The former Long Beach police chief soon made what may be the most important hiring decision of his career: He tapped 28-year Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department veteran Tardy to be undersheriff, the second-in-command.

Tardy’s elevation was widely praised. She has experience at all levels of the department, starting as a deputy at the Sybil Brand Institute for Women. She served as a gang investigator and rose to sergeant, lieutenant, captain and chief. Even amid the circus atmosphere of previous Sheriff Alex Villanueva, she managed to operate with integrity—last summer she testified before the department’s Civilian Oversight Commission about staffers who were members of sometimes violent cliques.

Tardy in 2023 will be crucial to Luna’s effort to rebuild public trust in the department. She also becomes a vital conduit to a department staff notoriously cool to outsiders, and someone who can advise him on where the real problems lie, and who his true allies are. If Luna is to make progress this year, he will need Tardy’s expert hand.

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