Modern Engagement: The Upstart Success of Bray-Ali

By Kevin Tan

An election runoff between incumbent council member Gil Cedillo and underdog bike activist Joe Bray-Ali will take place May 16th. The two hopefuls are competing for the seat representing Los Angeles City Council District 1, the jurisdiction that covers MacArthur Park, Koreatown, Mt. Washington, Highland Park and Cypress Park. According to the Los Angeles Daily News, Cedillo needed 50% of the votes to win in the primary but received 49.34% while Bray-Ali received 37.97%. The last time an incumbent was defeated was back in 2003 when Antonio Villaraigosa, with the help of his political status as former state Assembly speaker and mayoral candidate, beat incumbent Councilman Nick Pacheco. This was the first time anyone could remember an incumbent being defeated in a primary further highlighting the rarity of this upcoming runoff.

This year’s runoff is making history in the realm of local elections. Incumbents have a huge advantage over their challengers because donors tend to support those already elected. Compounding that advantage is the fact that voter turnout is so small that it is near impossible to throw out the average council member. Thus, Cedillo, who is already established as a councilman and has considerable financial backing, should have a considerable leg-up on upstart Bray-Ali, a small business owner who lacks comparable monetary support. Also, voter turnout in this recent local election was a mere 20%. This raises the question; how could a runoff have happened given all these circumstances?

Joe Bray-Ali (left) and Gil Cedillo (right)

Bray-Ali’s utilization of digital media and offering of multiple avenues of engagement are the key factors that earned him this runoff. In my opinion, he skillfully utilizes digital tools to receive insight and feedback from the community. Using these insights, he can facilitate community engagement by providing more frequent opportunities and making engagement more convenient for community members. The way people interact with local government has changed over time. Bray-Ali seems to understand this very well and is able to capitalize with his modern approach.

The evidence of this success lies in his level of online engagement on Facebook and his official website. The homepage on his site makes it easy for the viewer to interact and be a part of the conversation. The homepage contains shortcuts to volunteering, donating, obtaining a sign, and raising issues. After it was clear that a runoff would happen, a Facebook event was promptly created to thank his supporters. His Facebook page also hosts a series of Facebook Live videos. These videos have him directly addressing the viewers and often shows him navigating the streets of Los Angeles. He interacts with the viewers and demonstrates that he also is a member of the community. An aura of accessibility and transparency materializes and closes the distance between him and the community members.

Bray-Ali’s Election Runoff Thank You Party

Bray-Ali strives to interact and engage the members of the community in a way that parallels Consensus’ own methodology. In our line of work, we have seen that time and time again, successful outcomes are the result of tailored, personable community engagement. Through utilizing digital media, practitioners of this methodology are able to initiate and facilitate a dialogue with their community and produce a unique level of engagement.

With the advent of social media and the ushering in of the digital era, there has been a fundamental shift in the way people worldwide digest information and engage with their communities. It appears that Bray-Ali understands this evolving landscape and is able to capitalize on it. His utilization of digital tools and his strategy to have community members engage is the driving force behind this runoff. Keep an eye out on May 16th as it could be history in the making. The results of this runoff could potentially change the way the City interacts and engages with the community.

Kevin Tan is a Community Engagement Intern at Consensus and along with his colleagues is following the Council District 1 race and all local elections closely.