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#MakeAlCare: Al goes to the candidates' forum, gets heard (Election 2015)

Los Angeles County has the worst voter turnout in the state. As part of an effort to tackle voter apathy, we chose one person who doesn’t usually vote and we're trying to make him care about the March 3 primary elections in Los Angeles.

I’ve been trying to #MakeAlCare for a couple of weeks now. You'll remember Al Gordon from Part 1 of this series. He’s a chef at a restaurant called Community in Los Feliz, where he also lives.

He’s part of a demographic of registered voters who don’t usually turn out for local elections in Los Angeles: a non-white renter under age 45. And he didn't have much of a sense of how city politics affect his life.

In Part 2, I tried to #MakeAlCare by bringing him an expert: Mara Cohen-Marks, a political scientist at Loyola Marymount’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles.

RELATED: Need your own expert advice? Check out our 2015 Election Guide

By the end of his conversation with Cohen-Marks, it was clear he cared about a lot of issues that relate to the election: keeping his neighborhood affordable and creating an environment for his small business to thrive.

In this installment of #MakeAlCare, I take Al to a candidate forum to hear from the politicians themselves.

Al lives in L.A.'s Council District 4 (CD4), where 14 candidates are vying for the city council seat currently held by Tom LaBonge, who has been termed out after 14 years in office (see their bios):

  • Steve Veres
  • Ross Sarkissian
  • David Ryu
  • Jay Beeber
  • Teddy Davis
  • Tomás O'Grady
  • Sheila Irani
  • Tara Bannister
  • Charles Craig Jackson
  • Step Jones
  • Wally Knox
  • Joan Pelico
  • Carolyn Ramsay
  • Mike Schaefer
  • Fred Mariscal

By the time the forum rolled around Tuesday night, we'd aired the first part of our series, so Al was already a local celebrity.
Candidates had been tweeting at him, making videos and stopping by his restaurant to chat.

“It’s been very mentally draining,” he said. “But I don’t mind. I like getting a face-to-face meeting.”

At the candidate forum (held at Ivanhoe Elementary School and organized by the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and The League of Women Voters), candidates were lining up to introduce themselves, pitch their plans for the district and encourage him to vote.

And that's exactly what it's like for you when there's an election, right? Candidates show up at your job to woo you, too, don't they?

Of course not.

“Obviously, in Al’s case, this is a totally manufactured experience,” Cohen-Marks said.

CD4 covers more than 30 square miles, from Sherman Oaks and Toluca Lake in the San Fernando Valley to Hancock Park, Mid-Wilshire, Silver Lake and Los Feliz.

It would be impossible for candidates to go to every business and knock on every door of the more than 150,000 registered voters, she said.

And, even if they did, each one of those door knocks would get one or two votes. But Al now has access to a microphone, and that makes his vote extra special.

“In a giant city like Los Angeles, one [regular] person is not ever going to have that kind of influence like Al has,” Cohen Marks said.

Our experiment reduced local politics to its most elemental: magnifying the concerns of a single constituent. And as a renter and restaurateur, Al's got two concerns: his business and rising rents. And they're related.

He wants the neighborhood to stay affordable for the young, entertainment industry workers and other creative freelancers who eat at his restaurant.

Al's voice gets heard

The forum's organizers agreed to ask his question Tuesday night. He wanted to hear their ideas on how they would keep the neighborhood affordable.

Al listened intently, scoring the candidates’ answers in his notes with either a plus or a minus symbol.

 (Al Gordon's scoring system for candidate answers during the forum)

He complained that it felt like the candidates weren’t really responding to his question, but pivoting to address the concerns of homeowners, who make up the majority of voters in city elections.

By the end of the night, Al said he had narrowed the field down to three or four candidates he was interested in. He didn't say which.

So it’s safe to say we have succeeded in our mission to #MakeAlCare.

But what will he do with this new civic fervor?

We’ll find out on March 3 — Election Day — when Al heads to the polls for the primary election. Not that he knows where his polling place is. Do you?


This is Part 3 of our series to try to #MakeAlCare about municipal elections. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Read Part 4 here.

Do you vote? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter (@KPCC)