It was a campaign that rewrote the rules — and underscored voter anger at the lack of transparency and accountability at Los Angeles City Hall. For the job of city controller, a 32-year-old tenant organizer (and CPA) is on track to beat the power of the political establishment, which backed a politician who has been in office longer than the winner has been alive.
“The first thing you need to know about the controller job is that it doesn’t control much,” quips Kenneth Mejia, who leads termed-out Councilmember Paul Koretz by over 100,000 votes. “The city controller serves as the watchdog over city finances. Want to know how the city spends our money? Ask the city controller. Want to know where the city’s money comes from? Ask the city controller.”
At a time when rising government spending seems to be making little dent in rising homelessness, crime and the cost of living, Mejia’s victory shows voters want change.
Mejia ran an unconventional campaign. With billboards, social media and his innovative website, he put a spotlight on L.A.’s $11 billion budget. “Public trust is earned when government is accessible and accountable,” Mejia maintains. “Right now, with three councilmembers under indictment or in jail, the public wants to know what’s up at City Hall. Too often city financial data is confusing and overwhelming. The people of L.A. not only deserve to know where their money is going, they deserve a voice to ensure city government better addresses their needs.”
In the June primary, Mejia carried 14 of the 15 City Council districts, racking up more votes than mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, who spent 80 times as much on his campaign. Mejia even won the district that Koretz has represented for the last 12 years.
Koretz served 32 years as a councilmember in both West Hollywood and L.A. as well as a state assemblyman. With little to show for that long tenure, he relentlessly attacked Mejia for months, denouncing him as a “radical,” seizing on Mejia’s controversial (since-deleted) Tweets attacking then-candidate Joe Biden. Koretz’s campaign mail portrayed Mejia as “out of control.” “There’s a very stark difference,” Koretz insisted. “He’s an active leader in the defund the police movement. I’m a supporter of maintaining criminal justice and law enforcement.”
Mejia has opposed throwing more money at the LAPD, taking a data-driven approach instead. “Since 2014, when crime was lowest, spending on the LAPD has risen by 25%, while crime has increased by 18%,” he notes. “The police union campaigns for more cops, more overtime and higher salaries and benefits for their members. It’s the controller’s job to audit how effectively that money is spent. That’s what I intend to do on behalf of Angelenos and their safety.”
Mejia applies the same lens to affordable housing and homelessness. “Politicians talk about how much money they’ve devoted to these issues. I want to measure the results we’re getting for our spending. When a single unit of affordable housing costs over half a million dollars, we need to find out why — and fix it,” Mejia maintained.
Koretz blamed his loss on incumbency, telling the Daily Breeze that voters were inclined to vote against any member of the council. But it was Mejia’s stress on transparency and accountability (and an army of young volunteers) that powered the 22-point landslide.
“The controller’s job is to provide financial transparency without regard to politics,” Mejia insists. “Our campaign stayed positive, focusing on ensuring that Angelenos’ tax dollars are working for them. There are 4 million L.A. residents — I’ll work to deliver effective results for every one of them.”
Rick Cole is a former mayor of Pasadena, deputy mayor of Los Angeles and city manager of Azusa, Ventura and Santa Monica. firstname.lastname@example.org.