Email prompts new flare-up over downtown L.A. redistricting
In the latest controversy over redrawing Los Angeles City Council districts, an email circulated among downtowners this week said a “deal” had been made to secure a meeting with a key aide to Councilman Jose Huizar on an iconic Central City project if people spoke out in favor of shifting much of the area into Huizar’s district.
A Huizar spokesman said any suggestion of a quid pro quo is “ridiculous.” But Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents most of downtown, took issue with the email's implications.
In the message sent Tuesday, consultant Josh Gray-Emmer encouraged fellow downtown residents to show up at Wednesday’s Redistricting Commission meeting and voice support for the panel's proposal to move much of downtown from Perry's 9th District to Huizar's 14th District.
Gray-Emmer, 33, wrote that property owner Michael Delijani would reward those efforts by arranging a meeting with Huizar aide Jessica Wethington McLean to discuss downtown projects, including an effort to illuminate an old rooftop radio tower. Wethington McLean heads Huizar's initiative to revitalize Broadway, where Delijani's family has multiple properties.
"I made a deal with Michael," said the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Times. "If I show up, and bring people to support me (and therefore him and CD14), he will take LaTanya, Francie and I to sushi with Jessica from CD14 to discuss FUNDING and pushing forward the re-lighting of the KKRD Tower. This is one of our THREE projects selected to push forward. Let's make it happen. IT'S ALL ABOUT BODIES!!"
Both Delijani and Huizar spokesman Rick Coca said the email’s contents were untrue. Delijani said he made no such offer and simply informed Gray-Emmer that the redistricting meeting was taking place. "If [Gray-Emmer] wants to have a meeting, he can call the council office" to arrange one himself, Delijani added.
Contacted by The Times, Gray-Emmer said he was "disappointed" the email was being circulated beyond the intended recipients. Asked if bringing people to testify at the hearing was part of a quid pro quo, he initially responded: "I would just say that that email was completely internal, and intended for a small group of people."
Gray-Emmer would not specify what type of funding he expected to discuss with Huizar’s aide, insisting the money would never have come from Huizar's office. Hours later, he called The Times to apologize for the email's contents, saying it "wasn't factually accurate" and that Delijani never offered any deal.
"I knew that Michael would take me to sushi regardless," he said.
Huizar was the first speaker at Wednesday’s hearing, which was attended by 800 people. He lobbied the commission to approve the plan to put most of downtown -- a rich source of funds for political campaigns -- in his district.
Perry, who testified against the proposed map, told The Times the email showed that redistricting has become "just another venue" for political horse-trading at City Hall. "I don't understand why representatives of an elected official would have to offer their constituents favors to come in and testify," she said.
For weeks, the process of redrawing council district boundaries has been stirring controversy, with residents in Koreatown, Westchester, Sunland-Tujunga and other communities criticizing proposed changes.
Gray-Emmer, who lives downtown, said he brought as many as 15 people to Wednesday night's hearing but left before his name was called to speak. LaTanya Spann, a property manager who received the email and was mentioned in it, said the matter is being blown out of proportion, noting neither Gray-Emmer nor his friends provided any testimony.
Spann said she wants downtown to stay in Perry’s district. Although she is friends with Gray-Emmer, she said she sent him an email chiding him for sending an email that linked community projects with public testimony.
“Sometimes people do things in a rush, without thinking,” she added.
-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall
Photo: Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times