DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - A political election is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s as true in Los Angeles City Council races as anywhere else, and the performance of one entrant early on may not mean a thing after the votes are counted.
That said, when it comes to the race for the Ninth District seat, which is being vacated by a termed-out Jan Perry (she’s running for mayor, in case you haven’t heard), the early leader may be surprising. By June 30, according to documents filed with the City Ethics Commission, the frontrunner was Terry Hara, who had raised $117,541.
If you just said “Who?” you’re not alone.
Right now, some better known figures are eating Hara’s financial dust. State Assemblyman Mike Davis has pulled in just $50,005 (including a $15,000 loan to himself). Ana Cubas, the former chief of staff to Councilman José Huizar, has $51,353. In fact, the four other people who reported having any money in the bank by June 30 had raised a combined $118,172.
In other words, one Terry Hara almost exceeds the rest of the field.
This by no means guarantees Hara victory when voters head to the polls next March. However, it does make him a force in the race.
This is intriguing not just because of the money, but because of the district’s makeup and Hara’s background. Although the Ninth once contained much of Downtown Los Angeles, it was filleted during the redistricting process. It now contains the Staples Center/L.A. Live/Convention Center area, then extends down the Figueroa Corridor and encompasses a large portion of South Los Angeles. The new Ninth is exceedingly poor.
The area is historically African-American, though in recent years it has become increasingly Latino. It includes neighborhoods that were decimated by the 1992 riots, and places where relations with the police have, at times, been notably tense.
This is worth mentioning because Terry Hara is a 32-year-veteran of the LAPD. This is worth mentioning because Terry Hara is a Japanese American.
This means the man running for the seat doesn’t, at first glance, seem to have much in common with voters in the district. So how, really, does he expect to fare.
“I’m going to do well,” Hara told me last week as we sat in a high-backed booth in the DoubleTree Hotel (formerly the Kyoto Gardens) in Little Tokyo. “I’m going to do very, very well, because it’s about respect and results.”
Hara grew up in Long Beach. His father was a commercial fisherman on Terminal Island and his mom was a homemaker who also did work for the local school district. Both parents were sent to internment camps during World War II.
Hara, who has a twin brother, was president of his sixth grade class (biggest accomplishment: helping get the playground equipment painted) and was part of the Kiwanis while at Long Beach Polytechnic High. He attended Long Beach City College and, in 1980, joined the LAPD.
It was an unlikely career choice on three fronts: 1) His parents thought it was dangerous and wanted him to pick something else, 2) His primary inspirations were the TV shows “Dragnet” and “Adam 12,” and 3) When he joined, he said, the approximately 7,300-member force only had 66 Asian Americans.
Hara takes pride in the changing face of the department over the past 32 years. He mentions that there are now about 850 Asian Americans on the force. Like former Chief William Bratton and current top cop Charlie Beck, he proudly points out that the LAPD these days reflects the city.
Hara has steadily climbed the ladder, rising from a foot beat to become a sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander and, ultimately, the department’s first Asian American deputy chief. He is the highest-ranking Asian American in the history of the LAPD.
His voice is quiet yet also sturdy and confident, his mannerisms efficient. He wears a watch with a huge face and, during our meeting, sports a red tie over a white shirt. He’s friendly though not jovial. While repeated references to an affinity for public service and the cliché “I’m a people person” often ring false in others, when he says them he sounds sincere.
While a sergeant, Hara worked with a commander to literally write the book on the LAPD use of force guidelines. He has held command posts in divisions including Newton, 77th, Southeast and Southwest, which all fall in the Ninth District. He helped create the current training regimen for department recruits and today is the commanding officer of the Personnel and Training Bureau.
His background, Hara believes, will prove an advantage come election day.
“Protecting and serving the streets of Los Angeles will bode well [for me] because contrary to what people believe, the negative side of policing that you hear, the community is very supportive of LAPD,” Hara said. “They need public safety and they need the police department. Knowing that a candidate has over three decades of police experience will ensure that public safety will remain a priority for that district.”
There is a well-established precedent for Hara’s run. Eighth District Councilman Bernard Parks was a former LAPD chief. New 15th District Council rep Joe Buscaino grabbed his seat, beating out several heavily favored challengers, from a post as a senior lead officer. Third District Councilman (and current City Controller candidate) Dennis Zine was also an LAPD officer before getting elected.
Still, like everyone running for the seat, Hara faces challenges. His include geography: Hara is among several candidates who have to move into the district to qualify for the ballot. Although his Bunker Hill home was long part of the Ninth, it shifted into the 14th after redistricting took effect. He said he just got the keys to a residence near Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard.
While he has a fundraising advantage over his competitors, it does not necessarily equate to votes. He admits that a lot of his donors are people he has built relationships with over the decades, figures who live outside the Ninth.
He is also not the first rookie candidate to struggle with the gut-punch discomfort of having to headline fundraisers and to spend hours in a room with a phone and a list of names, calling friends and acquaintances and asking them for money.
“You have to ask,” he says. “That’s the toughest thing to do.”
Nor is he close to done: He thinks he needs to raise about $350,000 for the primary (if no one gets a majority, the top two finishers will move on to a May runoff).
Hara recognizes that the race is, indeed, a marathon. He has started contacting community leaders he worked with during his stints in South Los Angeles police stations.
Public safety can play big at the polls. The question for Terry Hara is, will that be enough to transcend differences that others describe as challenges.
“The community is smart enough to select somebody that they will trust,” he said, “somebody they believe in who will serve their interests, and not just because somebody looks any particular way.
“Wouldn’t it be a great story though?” he adds. “For the Ninth District, with the ethnic makeup, if they elect a Japanese American, it’s a statement in and of itself that maybe Los Angeles has gone beyond ethnic politics.”
Contact Jon Regardie at email@example.com.
©Los Angeles Downtown News.