Trying to gain traction with her struggling campaign, LA City Council District 10 Candidate Grace Yoo has attacked the major voter registration project that her opponent, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, created to increase the number of Black voters over the last 20 years.
Yoo alleges online that the African American Voter Registration, Education, and Participation (AAVREP) – which was established in 2000 by Ridley-Thomas; the late civil rights leader John Mack; Rev. Cecil Murray, former Pastor of First AME, and members of SEIU 2015 – has spent relatively little of the money it has collected on registering voters. But Susan Burton, executive director of New Way of Life and advocate of AAVREP, says Yoo’s allegations are based on a selective reading of the organization’s expenditure reports, which do not reflect the full extent of its grassroot outreach efforts. “It is unfortunate that Ms. Yoo is denigrating a widely respected organization that helps register, educate and mobilize Black and minority voters each election cycle,” said Burton.
New Way of Life is dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated women re-enter society, which includes making sure they are registered to vote and take part in civic life. Burton credits AAVREP with being the bedrock of that process. Added Rev. William Smart, President of SCLC of Southern California, also an AAVREP partner:
“AAVREP’s efforts and accomplishments have never been more important than today, as we see Donald Trump and others on his side of the political aisle working overtime to suppress the Black vote. They know that the Black vote is going to be a key to the future of our country and the future of Los Angeles.”
The Rev. Smart said that Yoo’s allegations do not take into account the extended reach that AAVREP enjoys through affiliated groups. And it doesn’t recognize that before registering voters, it is necessary to educate them and build networks through faith-based and civic organizations to reach them.
Among its accomplishments, AAVREP has:
- Signed up more than 300,000 voters through annual voter registration drives with dozens of community groups in Southern, Central, and Northern California.
- Trained more than 5,000 Community-Based Team Members in voter registration and mobilization.
- Contacted nearly 400,000 households to help Get-Out-The-Vote at the door and on the phone.
- Developed a statewide email database of potential and registered African Americans voters.
- Conducted extensive focus groups of Black voters, and conducted Ecumenical Leadership meetings to engage faith organizations in the civic and political process.
- Strategically targeted and deployed Team Members to hundreds of precincts and polling places to help educate, persuade and turn out African American voters in local and state elections.
Meanwhile, AAVREP has won the backing of many prominent state, national and local political, civil rights and business leaders, who have backed the project with funds and volunteers.
AAVREP counts among its partners such leaders as entrepreneur and former Presidential candidate Tom Steyer; California Nurses Association Government Relations Director Stephanie Roberson; LA County Democratic Party Chair Mark Gonzalez; LA County Business Federation Chair Sandy Sanchez; SEIU Local 2015 President April Verrett; and the Rev. Edgar Boyd, of the First AME Church.
AAVREP has also been involved in more than 17 major California political campaigns or projects.
They have ranged from former LA Mayor Antonio Villiarigosa’s 2005 campaign, President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and the successful 2018 races for California Gov. Gavin Newsom, U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed.
Gene Hale, Chairman of Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce, said that “founding AAVREP has been one of the hallmarks of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas’ career. “He has fought long and hard alongside us to overcome the political disenfranchisement of the African American community,” said Hale. “Under his leadership, AAVREP has registered more black voters than any other organization in California.
“Yoo’s attack on AAVREP’s integrity and impact is an affront to the African American community,” said Hale. “It is truly unfortunate and clearly out of step with the needs and wishes of LA residents.”