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Indian American Los Angeles Councilwoman Nithya Raman Faces a Possible Recall

Indian American Los Angeles Councilwoman Nithya Raman Faces a Possible Recall

  • A campaign committee formed last month, headed by Los Feliz Ledger publisher Allison Cohen, claimed Raman is “inexperienced,” “righteous,” “reckless” and “ruinous.”

Looks like it’s recall season in California. Along with Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is up for a recall election this year; there are recall bids for L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón as well as Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin. Now, Southern California voters are targeting Councilwoman Nithya Raman, who’s been in office for just six months.

Raman, 39, represents Los Angeles’ 4th Council District, which stretches from Hancock Park north to Sherman Oaks and east to Silver Lake. Last year, the Kerala-born, U.S.-raised Raman became the first woman to hold the District 4 seat. She ran on a progressive platform, and defeated Councilman David Ryu by a comfortable margin in November, becoming the first council candidate at City Hall to oust an incumbent in 17 years. She was endorsed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and had support from some influential leftist political leaders and groups, including San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin; labor and immigrant rights activist Victor Narro; civil rights activist and actor Kendrick Sampson; the Sunrise Movement, Working Families Party, the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

The Los Angeles Times reported that CD4 for CD4, “a campaign committee formed last month, served Councilwoman Nithya Raman with a recall notice” last week. On their website, organizers of the recall, headed by Los Feliz Ledger publisher Allison Cohen, claim Raman is “inexperienced,” “righteous,” “reckless” and “ruinous.” 

As per the LA Times, recall organizers must still obtain the signatures of 27,000 people in the 4th District to put the issue to a vote. Under the city’s rules, Raman has 21 days to respond to the recall notice, if she chooses, the LA Times reported. Jinny Pak, who manages the city clerk’s election division, told LA Times that the 120-day period for gathering signatures would begin July 7, “ as long as the city has approved the petition form.” As per the city clerk’s website, to qualify for the ballot, the recall committee would need to collect signatures from 15 percent of registered voters in Raman’s district.

In a statement issued on behalf of Raman to American Kahani, district liaison Armida Reyes said: “Councilmember Raman is focused on the broad progressive agenda that got so many voters in the district excited about her campaign: effectively moving people from the streets into housing, protecting tenants, supporting small businesses, fighting climate change, and improving our city’s response and engagement on the needs of all of CD 4’s constituents.”

Raman with husband Vali Chandrasekaran, and their five-year-old twins, Karna and Keveri, at a private swearing-in ceremony in December. (Photo, courtesy: Vali Chandrasekaran)

Cohen wrote about the reasons for Raman’s recall in an op-ed in the Los Feliz Ledger. “I have lived in Los Angeles City Council District 4, for the most part since 1994, and I believe Raman is not the right representative we need for our area, at this time,” Cohen wrote. Noting that “Raman seems a nice person, based on my limited interaction with her,” she said Raman “is not cut out to lead 250,000 constituents from the San Fernando Valley to Silver Lake at a time as precarious as this.”

She talked about Raman’s campaign, which she says “wasn’t about Council District 4 (CD4). It was ‘Nithya For the City,’ and “nearly every time Raman talks or has a spokesperson talk for her, her message always winds its way back to her penchant for talk therapy for the homeless or buzz words related to racial injustice and equity.”

Cohen wondered if Ram should’ve perhaps run for mayor. “Like former President Donald Trump, she believes that she, and she alone, can fix the city’s debilitating homelessness crisis. She can’t and there’s nothing heroic about ignoring her constituents trying,” Cohen writes. “Since she took office, I have been closely monitoring her engagement with constituents: a late launching website; a virtue-signaling transition team; inexperienced staff hires plucked from her campaign; and premature departures from constituent Zoom meetings–before 7 p.m.–to manage her children.”

There was criticism on social media as well. On Twitter, Cheryl Holland wrote: “Let’s get busy @RecallRaman! @cd4losangeles DESTROYED 12+ years of community work on zoning that would have saved RSO housing, small businesses on sunset, protected title 1 school @gardnerstschool and Hollywood neighborhoods.

Twitter handle Recall Nitya Raman said: “Nithya Raman CD4 CM, a Democratic Socialist of America supported a candidate who’s in bed with UTLA. Both organizations vocally state their main goal is to end capitalism and abolish the police. With crime up over 100% in some categories, is less Police what we really need in LA?”

Many rejected the recall and supported Raman. “Make no mistake, these recalls are being led by reactionaries who are standing in the way of progress,” tweeted labor organizer Hugo Soto-Martínez. “ I’m ready to do whatever it takes to defend @nithyavraman.”

Culver City Vice Mayor Dr. Daniel Lee tweeted: “I haven’t agreed with every single vote but this is yet another BS recall. Something in my brain makes me think it’s also meant to chill enthusiasm for some of the impressive young candidates for LA City Council in 2022. Don’t support this.”

I am more than 100% supportive of Councilmember @nithyavraman and the great work she is doing,” tweeted immigrant rights and labor activist Victor Narro. “We need her in City Hall!”

Some of Raman’s constituents pledged their support to their councilwoman in a column in Los Angeles Times.

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Suju Vijayan of Sherman Oaks wrote that she is “increasingly disturbed by the desire of a minority of our state, county and now city to subvert the will of the majority by attempting to overthrow the results of democratic elections through recalls.” She said as a supporter of Raman, she knows she is a political neophyte. “That’s one of the reasons I and so many others voted for her: We want a fresh perspective on the many problems plaguing Los Angeles that have only been made worse by politics as usual,” Vijayan wrote. “It takes time for any newly elected official to get up to speed, especially one who is stepping into this role for the first time.” Adding that she is “very impressed” by the work that Raman and her staff have done, Vijayan said “the people who want to recall Raman are doing it because she’s doing exactly what she said she would. She told us who she is, and we voted her in,” she wrote. 

“Enough with the recalls,” writes Although he didn’t vote for Raman last November, and does not agree with her policies, he says “that’s not a reason to recall her.” He noted that “recalls were designed as a remedy to remove elected officials from office due to criminal behavior or simply not showing up for work, not to remove someone from office simply because you don’t like their policies and want a second bite at the electoral apple before the next scheduled election.” He said Raman is doing exactly what she said during her campaign. “Those who do not like this will have their opportunity to vote her out in 2024,” Forbes wrote. “That’s called democracy.”

Raman moved to the U.S. when she was six years old. Until then, she was raised by her grandparents after her father came to the U.S. “in search of better work,” and her mother “had to move for work.” The family first lived in Louisiana, then settled in the suburbs of Boston. “My experience as a young immigrant to this country, and as one of the only people of color in my classrooms, shaped my decision later in life to focus on social justice in my work,” she writes on her website. After graduating from public schools, she attended Harvard and later got her Masters in Urban Planning at MIT.

Before and after her graduate studies, Raman worked for more than seven years in both Delhi and Chennai She started Transparent Chennai, which created maps and data about urban poverty that helped to improve service delivery. 

She moved to Los Angeles from India in 2013 to be with her husband, now a television screenwriter Vali Chandrasekaran, a fellow Harvard alumnus. She took a job with the City Administrative Officer of Los Angeles, where she was assigned to write a report detailing city spending on homelessness. “What I found in my research shocked me,” she wrote on her website. “My report concluded that the city was spending over $100 million on homelessness — and almost 90 percent of that money was being spent on jailing people experiencing homelessness. Very little, meanwhile, was going toward services, outreach, treatment, and other effective paths to stable housing.”

She left the workforce temporarily when she had twins, but stayed active in addressing homelessness in her community, joining the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council’s Homelessness Committee as co-chair. Stunned by rising homelessness in our part of the city, she and a group of neighbors started SELAH Neighborhood Homeless Coalition in 2017, “and grew it into one of the most active all-volunteer homeless services nonprofits in the city.”

Most recently, she served as the first executive director of Time’s Up Entertainment, the organization that grew out of #MeToo activism, and was focused on equity and safety for women in the entertainment industry. Under her leadership, the team launched a mentorship program for the executive and producer pipeline, published comprehensive Know your Rights resources related to sexual misconduct in the workplace, built a critics database, and created regular opportunities to build community among women in Hollywood. She ran for city council “to implement transformative policies that can help guide LA out of our intersecting housing and climate crises,” as per her website. 

Raman lives in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles with her husband Vali Chandrasekaran, and their five-year-old twins, Karna and Keveri.

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