Austin Dragon does not have much experience in politics; he has spent the last 16 years of his life working as a corporate recruiter. He describes himself as an “average person” from the private sector. And this is exactly why he says he is the right person to unseat District 10 incumbent Herb Wesson in the March 8 city council elections.
In sharp contrast to Dragon, Wesson has had a long career in government. He has worked as chief of staff for two former Los Angeles City Council members, was a California State Assembly member from 1998 through 2004, and has been serving on the Los Angeles City Council since 2005.
We sat down with Dragon to find out more about his background, why he thinks the council needs fresh faces, and his vision for District 10, which includes parts of South Los Angeles neighborhoods Leimart Park, Jefferson Park, Crenshaw, Baldwin Hills, and West Adams.
Click play to hear Dragon’s answers, or read them below each question.
Q: Why are you running, and what led you to that decision?
I’m running because, what I tell people, is I moved to Los Angeles 20 years ago. I love everything about this city except for one thing and that is the people who run our local government. We are in a crisis situation, and the leadership we have right now is basically clueless. They have no plan of action. They are not doing anything about the financial crisis the city is in and that is why I am running.
Q: Describe the 10th district and your experiences in it.
It’s a huge district – 125,00 residents. I’ve been active in the city in a number of different things. I’m on the board of a private school in the Watts area, and I’ve just been a community activist for quite awhile.It’s really a microcosm of the entire city. I love the district. I view it as really the front yard of Los Angeles. It provides a lot of opportunities; if we can get it right in District 10, then we can get it right in the entire city.
Q: What are you committed to changing or improving in District 10?
The priorities would be to get the city’s financial house in order and avert the second largest city in the nation declaring bankruptcy. The second thing would be to get Los Angelinos back to work. In parts of my district, the unemployment rate is over 16%. And the third thing would be the crumbling infrastructure and basically vanishing services.
Q: What is the most important thing voters should know about you?
A few things. One is that I’m not part of any special interest, particularly those that have run this city for so long and have brought us to the financial crisis that we are in. I’m just an average person. I’ve been in the private sector over 16 years. I’ve been active in my community for 20 years, and that’s what we need. We need people who are just from the private sector, not connected to any special interests and get them in office because the people we have have always been sort of some kind of political dynasty, and look where they have brought us to.
Q: You serve on the board of Strive, a private school Watts. What has your work with Strive taught you about South Los Angeles?
Some things good, some things not so good. Some of the good things I have learned are that these kids, regardless of their background, they come to school already with that spark, that kind of eagerness to learn. And LA Unified, and other schools across the country, they kind of strip that out of them and they become very jaded. What is really concerning to me is, again, this problem has been going for such a long time and the community hasn’t organized around this in a real comprehensive way, to say, you know what you get enough money, we want you to start educating our children and we’re not going to wait year after year, decade after decade. That’s what I would like to see, kind of an uprising so to speak in terms of fixing these schools.
Q: You also have some background in education yourself, having worked as a teacher and served as the chief deputy to the former president of LAUSD, which has some of the lowest graduation rates in the nation. What do you think the problem is?
LA Unified is really a disaster and it has been that way for decades; this is not a new story. I think w hat I would do in terms of my city council office is really use the bully pulpit and really organize communities and say we are never going to turn this economy around, we are never going to have the kind of outcomes we could like for the city if we are not doing right by our children. It is not a matter of they don’t have enough money or they don’t have resources it is that they are not focusing on educating children. And being in the employment field for the last 16 years I see what is coming out. Some of these schools have a 60% dropout rate, but those that supposedly graduate and have a 4.0 grade point average, they come across to me and they don’t have basic skills, so we are just graduating kids without those skills.