The redistricting battle in Los Angeles underscores how some big city leaders — often Democrats — have used gerrymandering for their political advantage, much the way Republican lawmakers have redrawn legislative lines to secure or expand their control over some statehouses. Similar fights have been waged in Boston, Miami and Chicago.
The conflict in Los Angeles became a national controversy last fall after audio was leaked that revealed the shockingly frank, racist language that politicians used behind closed doors to discuss where to draw district boundaries. Nury Martinez, the former council president, used slurs to describe the young, Black child of a white colleague, as well as Indigenous immigrants from Oaxaca, and was forced to resign.
But the uproar over the recordings obscured the more fundamental impact of Los Angeles’s 2021 redistricting process: the degree to which political interference by council members directly undermined some of the very goals the politicians said they were trying to achieve.
As the city prepares this fall to look closely at what lessons were learned from the scandal-ridden process, The New York Times conducted dozens of interviews with redistricting commissioners, council members, neighborhood leaders and experts on voting rights to understand the ultimate outcomes of the closed-door maneuvering. Maps of the various district configurations were analyzed to examine their impacts on race and other demographics.
In instance after instance, the review showed, the recommendations of the commission appointed to review district boundaries — advice based on months of neighborhood meetings, expert studies and comments from the community — were largely ignored as the council pushed through a map that would help re-elect the incumbents.