DTLA - What is the state of democracy in the city of Los Angeles? If you use the March 7, 2017, elections as a gauge, then it is somewhat depressing.

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Just look at the list of candidates who have cleared the bar to appear on the ballot. In a few instances key leaders will run unopposed. In other cases the incumbent will face barely more than token opposition. Only in a few City Council races is there something that seems like an actual choice.

This is bad news. When elections look like slam dunks, people often feel as if their vote doesn’t matter. Why bother hitting the polls, someone might ask, when the entrenched power on election morning will be the entrenched power the following morning?

According to the City Ethics Commission website, 10 people have qualified to appear on the ballot in the mayor’s race. This sounds positive, but check out the money: Mayor Eric Garcetti has raised $2.25 million. He is trailed by Mitchell Schwartz, who has pulled in about $250,000. One person has $1,315 and the other seven have yet to report raising any cash. 

While elections are about more than who has the biggest war chest, finances allow a candidate to communicate his or her message, and in this case it appears no one can compete with an incumbent who has nearly 10 times the cash of his closest rival. Credit Schwartz for running a serious campaign, but it is hard to see this contest compelling many people to the polls. A weak mayoral field reduces the number of voters in down-ballot contests.

The situation is even more troubling in the two other citywide races. According to the Ethics Commission website, City Attorney Mike Feuer and Controller Ron Galperin will both run unopposed.

This is not a critique of Feuer or Galperin. Both are hard-working and have been inventive in the context of their respective jobs. Feuer in particular has proved pugnacious and demonstrated a deep concern for Angelenos. 

However, no opposition means there is no one to pressure either candidate and to force them to defend their record. Feuer and Galperin will tell voters only what they want to tell. No one outside of a few reporters will be able to question any shortcoming or controversial moves. 

Some of the City Council races are legitimately competitive, but in others there is, again, no or only token opposition. 

Democracy works best when people feel engaged and believe their vote matters. Sadly, with the field set, we see little of that in Los Angeles.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2016