When the Los Angeles City Council torpedoed a high-level political appointee last week, it all happened quickly and quietly.
No one on the council offered a reason Friday for the swift, and some say brutal, 14-to-0 vote rejecting Jamie York, who had been nominated by City Controller Kenneth Mejia to serve on the city’s five-member Ethics Commission.
But after days of complaints from York’s allies and a number of neighborhood council leaders, the explanations have come tumbling out.
City Council President Paul Krekorian said Monday he was troubled by York’s past professional work raising political contributions for candidates, including former Mayor Eric Garcetti, U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-San Pedro) and state Sen. Henry Stern (D-Calabasas). The Ethics Commission issues penalties for violations of the city’s campaign finance laws, among other things.
A day later, he questioned whether York, a vocal proponent of stronger ethics laws, would show a willingness consider opinions that differ from her own “without devolving into invective.”
Councilmember Tim McOsker said he too was concerned by York’s fundraising past, and the fact that neither Mejia nor York had contacted him about her appointment. Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martinez offered yet another argument, saying through a spokesperson that he disagreed with her on the types of lobbying restrictions that should be placed on union leaders who seek to influence city decisions.
“The council member doesn’t think that labor unions or their workers should be treated the same as lobbyists for corporations, so he decided not to support the nomination of Jamie York,” said Soto-Martinez spokesperson Nick Barnes-Batista.
York, president of the Reseda Neighborhood Council, has been an outspoken presence on city issues, weighing in on the 2021 redistricting process and spearheading efforts to strengthen the city’s lobbying ordinance. In an interview, she said she deserved to have a full airing of her nomination during last week’s meeting.
York described her fundraising knowledge as an asset and said her experience with neighborhood councils shows she can work well with others. She drew a connection between her advocacy on ethics laws — including her call for city lobbying rules to apply to organized labor — and the vote to deny her appointment.
“The system that was used to block my nomination is the shadow lobbying system that I have been railing against for so long,” she said.
The council’s treatment of York was highly unusual for City Hall. Political appointments are rarely rejected outright, and when controversy arises around an appointee, those nominees tend to withdraw from consideration.
The vote against York comes as the council is considering major changes to the city’s lobbying ordinance, including a recent proposal from Krekorian that would reclassify union employees who seek to influence city decisions, placing them into a new category with some rules that are different from those imposed on lobbyists.
York helped organize neighborhood councils against Krekorian’s proposed changes and submitted a letter calling for an ordinance “that does not grant loopholes for special interests.”
Mejia and his team have denounced the council’s rejection of York’s nomination. Diana Chang, a spokesperson for Mejia, told The Times that that Mejia’s office was “blindsided by the City Council’s decision, just like our nominee and the public were.”
Still, Mejia did receive at least one last-minute warning, according to one account.
York said Soto-Martinez aide Josh Androsky told her that Soto-Martinez warned Mejia during Friday’s City Council meeting that York did not have the votes to be confirmed to the commission. Androsky provided that information days after the vote, she said.
Neither Soto-Martinez nor Androsky would comment on that assertion.
Chang, the controller’s spokesperson, said that Mejia’s team sent York’s nomination “through the proper official channels.”
York’s biography, a copy of which was placed into the official council file, said she was responsible for raising “a record setting $3.9 million” during Garcetti’s 2017 reelection campaign. The biography also said York was involved in raising $150,000 for Garcetti’s officeholder account.
Mejia, in his letter nominating York, pitched her past fundraising work as a benefit, saying it was “an eye-opening experience for her.”
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“After witnessing firsthand the power and pitfalls of money in Los Angeles politics, Ms. York left that work behind to spearhead a citywide coalition in support of strengthening city ethics laws,” Mejia wrote.
York’s rejection has left the Ethics Commission unable to meet, since it currently lacks enough members to obtain a quorum, said Jeffery Daar, president of the commission. Daar called the council’s treatment of York “disrepectful,” saying she attended Friday’s council meeting on assumption that her nomination would be approved.
Daar said it’s typical for commission nominees to meet with the council member who represents the neighborhood where they live ahead of their council confirmation vote.
York said she asked Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, who represents the west San Fernando Valley district where she lives, to support her nomination during a July 4th event in Woodland Hills. Blumenfield said he would, York said.
Blumenfield confirmed that he had such a conversation, and intended to vote for York when he walked into Friday’s council meeting — despite some reservations about her appointment. During the meeting, he said, he became aware of his colleagues’ opposition and concluded that she was too “divisive” a pick.
Blumenfield said “a number of labor groups” also voiced concern about York’s appointment before the vote.
Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who represents part of the Eastside, was the only council member to express regret about voting against York, saying she has a background that would benefit the Ethics Commission. She apologized for what happened to York last week.
Hernandez said Friday’s vote “happened very quickly,” right after she and her team had spent hours focused on a high-profile issue — the city’s purchase of a hotel in her district that will be used to house homeless residents from Skid Row.
“I wish we had more capacity. I wish my team had more capacity. But we were very much tied up with that situation,” she said.