John O’Neill ’14 is looking to join the likes of Jack Kemp ’57 and Alphonzo Bell ’85 as another Occidental graduate serving in public office. O’Neill is running as a non-partisan candidate for the Los Angeles City Council in District 14, which consists of all or parts of the Downtown, Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock, El Sereno, Garvanza, Glassell Park, Lincoln Heights and Monterey Hills neighborhoods.
“It wasn’t a surprise to hear that [O’Neill] wanted to run for city council,” former Bike Share coworker Robin Bruns (senior) said. “He has a genuine passion for politics.”
O’Neill’s main campaign issues center around affordable living in Los Angeles. His goals include constructing 100,000 new affordable housing units that by 2021, raising the minimum wage to $15.25 by 2019, enforcing existing building codes to protect renters and homeowners and turning vacant city-owned spaces into community parks.
“Over a third of renters in L.A. spend more than half of their income on rent,” O’Neill said via email. “L.A. has become the most crowded, least affordable place to live in America, and for the last decade it seems like city hall has simply been ignoring the issue.”
Another issue O’Neill aims to address is the disconnect between city council members and their constituents.
“When you consider that city councilors make $180,000 a year, plus a free car, free gas, etc., it makes sense that they lose sight of how difficult it is to afford living in this city,” O’Neill said. “In a city where the average Angeleno makes $30,000 annually, it is simply wrong.”
O’Neill became involved in Los Angeles politics when he transferred to Occidental from Carleton College in Minnesota. While at Occidental, O’Neill, a politics major, worked for the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Steve Zimmer and various other local political campaigns.
“While he was reaching out [to professors]…he would learn about problems in Boyle Heights, Eagle Rock and Glendale, and I think that’s really what got him interested in staying in Los Angeles and serving this community,” Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) President Chris Weeks (junior) said.
Although O’Neill only attended Occidental for two years, he was still a visible member of the campus community. He served as Vice President of Internal Affairs in the Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC), where he revised the ASOC constitution to make it more concise and accessible, according to Weeks.
O’Neill also reached out to clubs and organizations on campus to make them aware of available resources, and, according to Bruns, he helped bring a proposal to the ASOC Senate that opened the door for new student services like Bike Share.
“I can honestly say he was the most involved person I’ve ever known when it comes to ASOC,” Weeks said.
As he continues work on his campaign, O’Neill stressed that his efforts were not about personal gain, but about the needs of the community.
“I was raised to believe that having been given so much, I need to give something back,” O’Neill said. “L.A. City Council is a position that allows me to fix problems and help people. Politics is about improving people’s lives.”