Two challengers face Harris-Dawson in 8th District race

By Ray Richardson

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Incumbent Marqueece Harris-Dawson appears to be a dominant favorite to remain in office for a third and final term in the District 8 seat on the City Council in the March 5 primary election.

Harris-Dawson has the endorsement of Mayor Karen Bass and many of his fellow City Council members, as well as overwhelming support from a variety of community organizations and activists. He also has $250,000 in campaign funds to help deliver his message.

Despite the possibility of a blowout win over his two challengers, Cliff Smith and Jahan Epps, Harris-Dawson is not on cruise control with his campaign strategy.

“Endorsements are not a vote on election day and neither is money,” Harris-Dawson told The Wave. “You still have to take this election seriously. We understand clearly that we have to continue talking with as many people as possible.”

The upcoming primary represents the first time Harris-Dawson, 54, has had multiple opponents since he was first elected in 2015. In Harris-Dawson’s first re-election campaign in 2020, he had no opponent. He received all of the 32,415 votes that were cast.

Harris-Dawson’s success and visibility has made him a rising star in Los Angeles politics and a near unbeatable candidate. In addition to running one of the city’s largest districts, which includes much of South L.A., Harris-Dawson was elected president pro tem of the City Council in June to replace Councilman Curren Price after Price stepped down from the pro tem role after he was indicted on bribery charges.

The council voted 12-0 in favor of Harris-Dawson, an indication of his stature in City Hall.

“If Harris-Dawson lost, all of the relationships he has built would be lost,” said Skipp Townsend, CEO of 2nd Call, a nonprofit in the 8th District that helps offenders transition back into society. “I don’t know how tuned in his opponents are in the community. It’s all based on experience.”

Smith and Epps do not have political backgrounds. Both are relying on reaching residents in the 8th District who don’t feel a connection to Harris-Dawson.

Smith, 54, is a union community organizer and activist. He’s president of Roofers Local 36. Epps, 40, is a business owner and real estate broker.

Harris-Dawson’s campaign staff is keeping the pressure on Smith and Epps with mailings, phone calls, text messages and as much face-to-face contact as possible. The incumbent is not functioning as if he has a huge advantage. And he’s showing no signs of scaling back his agenda with the prospect of moving on in 2028.

The City Charter limits council members to serving three four-year terms. If Harris-Dawson wins the primary with more than 50% of the vote, there will be no runoff in November, clearing the way for his final four years in office.

Harris-Dawson said he was too “focused” on the needs of his district to get nostalgic.

“Our district is not in a situation where somebody can look forward beyond the present,” Harris-Dawson said.

Smith appears to be the more formidable of Harris-Dawson’s two challengers. He was able to secure more than 1,000 signatures from registered voters to earn a spot on the ballot. He also seems to be as visible as Harris-Dawson in talking with District 8 residents.

According to Smith, the reaction he’s getting suggests that some voters want a different voice in City Hall.

“People are not happy with the representation they’re getting from the incumbent,” Smith said. “We’re going door to door. A lot of people we’ve talked to don’t know who the incumbent is. They just know about the problems in the district.”

Smith admitted that overcoming the Harris-Dawson “machine” will be difficult. Harris-Dawson and Mayor Bass are close allies. Harris-Dawson succeeded Bass as head of the Community Coalition, a nonprofit that works to improve conditions in South Los Angeles. They also have worked together to help solve the homeless crisis in the 8th District.

One of Harris-Dawson’s significant achievements is providing approximately 1,040 housing units for homeless residents in the district.

Harris-Dawson also endeared himself to numerous nonprofits and community organizations in the 8th District that received part of a $4.2 million Re-Imagine Fund. The money was shifted last year from the budget of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Throughout Harris-Dawson’s two terms, he has been a vocal advocate for police reform, public safety and a fair distribution of community resources.

“I appreciate the opportunity to let the voters know what we’ve done and what we intend to do,” Harris-Dawson said.

Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at