Eric Garcetti has enormous potential to be one of L.A.’s great mayors. He is young (just 42), full of energy, experienced in politics and government, passionate about L.A., brimming with policy ideas, compassionate toward the disadvantaged and a great communicator and explainer. I saw many of these traits up-close when I co-taught a course with him at Occidental College in 2000, and have watched him blossom as he joined the City Council and served as its president.
Now he faces the daunting challenges of running America’s second-biggest, and most diverse, city.
No mayor can succeed unless he or she attends to the routine civic housekeeping tasks that residents expect from municipal governments – fix the potholes, keep traffic flowing, maintain public safety, keep the parks and playgrounds clean and in good repair.
But Garcetti didn’t run for mayor just to be a caretaker. He promised more.
When you see a news story about Election Day in Los Angeles there’s a good chance it’s not about any issues or personalities involved during any one campaign, but about the city’s poor voter turnout. Depending on who you read, L.A. is the city that is too lazy for democracy, or too cool, bored or indifferent. Watching our turnout numbers fall has become a spectator’s sport, like watching a limbo dancer – how low can we go?
But whether 200 or two million people vote today, the future of this city cannot be sneered or shrugged away. We remain a troubled town with infinite resources, a divided city with the potential for great unity. Pundits may bemoan a sameness with the two mayoral candidates, or the lack of sexy ballot initiatives, but like it or not, Los Angeles will begin changing July 1, when the new mayor takes office.
(Jack Lavitch and Henry Lee are two West L.A. retirees who are also part-time, second-hand car buyers. They were lunching at Philippe the Original sandwich diner near central Chinatown when asked about the coming mayor’s race.)
“First and foremost, the next mayor should fix up our city streets. There are potholes everywhere and they are a danger to us all. This would be something everyone could easily see — it would make a huge difference for everyone. That’s something [the mayor] could actually accomplish. It wouldn’t cost that much and it would make us all feel better about the whole city.”
“Oh yes,” he adds, biting into his sandwich. “He could get everyone free French dips like this one every Friday. I am joking.”
Jack is skeptical about official claims stating the city is nearing bankruptcy. “Maybe they actually are but they haven’t convinced me or the public.
(As the May 21 mayoral runoff election approaches, Frying Pan News is asking voters what they believe the next mayor’s priorities should be — as well as what he or she should avoid doing once in office. This week reporter Marc Haefele interviews three San Fernando Valley voters near the corner of Van Nuys and Burbank boulevards; all three women are Van Nuys residents.)
We do need a better distribution of wealth in our city. At the same time, we need more funding for both teachers and police. Of course I’d like to see more jobs, but how much can the mayor alone do to accomplish something like that? Maybe we can only work with that problem on the national level. There was a lot of flash to Antonio Villaraigosa and yet not too much substance.
(As the May 21 mayoral runoff election approaches, Frying Pan News is asking voters what they believe the next mayor’s priorities should be — as well as what he or she should avoid doing once in office. This week reporter Marc Haefele interviews South Los Angeles residents at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, the sprawling retail complex located at Martin Luther King Jr. and Crenshaw boulevards.)
I would hope the new mayor would at least do better than the current one. Of course, they are all politicians aren’t they — what can you expect? Sometimes the most you can do is to hope that it just doesn’t get worse when someone new is elected.
But here’s what I hope the new mayor would do — do a lot more to help the poor folks. Help them to get more opportunities. The economy right now is still simply horrible for poor folks.
(Raphael “Raphe” Sonenshein is executive director of the Edmund G. “Pat” Brown Institute of Public Affairs and has headed charter-reform and neighborhood council review commissions. A California State University political science professor, Sonenshein is also an author whose books have analyzed racial and reform politics. He spoke to Frying Pan News about what he believes are the biggest tasks facing L.A.’s next mayor – as well as telling reporter Marc Haefele what candidates Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel should avoid during the campaign before the May 21 runoff election.)
The Biggest Job
The next mayor has to reinvent his office as an office of strength, because just being elected doesn’t hand you that. Once you are in you will be dealing with very powerful forces of the community and very powerful forces at City Hall —
Let the hand-wringing begin! In last week’s primary election, just over 16 percent of Los Angeles voters turned out at the polls, less than four years ago, which was less than the election before that, which was less than the election before that – and on and on. In Southern California municipalities – big city or small – elections draw about 20 percent of the vote. This is a problem in a democracy.
Low turnouts mean that more and more money gets spent on fewer and fewer voters, and when only a small minority of voters go to the polls, elected officials make major policy decisions based on a narrower group of constituents. In a democratic society, where people are empowered to make decisions that affect their lives, fewer voters mean diminished participation and less accountability.
In the early 1980s, when reformers first took a majority of seats on the City Council in Santa Monica,
But what does it really mean to be a good fiscal watchdog in the city of Los Angeles? As a long-time city commissioner and community leader, I have found that the biggest demonstration of strong leadership is the willingness to stand up to the powerful corporate interests and their lobbyists, who continue to dominate most of the decisions made at City Hall.
In 2012, “clients” spent more than $35 million on lobbyists hired to influence City Hall decision-makers. For-profit corporations accounted for more than $31 million of that. Unions spent less than $700,000 on paid lobbyists. The list of companies paying lobbyists to represent their interests at City Hall is a Who’s Who of corporate America.
We present the following guide to show where three front-running mayoral candidates stand on issues affecting jobs and the local economy. Except as noted, all quotes are drawn from our interviews with the candidates. (Jan Perry did not respond to interview requests.) Please note that Frying Pan News does not endorse candidates.
Jobs are extremely important but depend on a revitalized business sector.
“The first thing on my agenda is putting this city back to work, making City Hall work for everybody but then also getting jobs back here — good, middle-class, decent-paying jobs with benefits.”
“I will be the jobs tsar. I will be the person in the city that is going to go out and talk to businesses and encourage them to move to the city of Los Angeles and to grow.”
“We have a shockingly high unemployment rate – it’s 50 percent higher than the national average.
We continue our series of interviews with Los Angeles’ front-running mayoral candidates, with the first part of a talk with Kevin James, an entertainment lawyer and talk-show host, who has previously served as a U.S. prosecutor and AIDS Project Los Angeles co-chairman. (The interviews, which have been edited for clarity, include Eric Garcetti, Parts One and Two, and Wendy Greuel, Parts One and Two.)
Frying Pan News: What do you believe is the role of government in addressing the inequities of the free market system?
Kevin James: A mayor should not shy away from addressing inequality. I was [a] chairman for many years of AIDS Project Los Angeles and part of the work we did was to provide a better life for people who were struggling in theirs —
Today we continue our series of interviews with Los Angeles’ front-running mayoral candidates, with the second part of a talk with City Controller Wendy Greuel. (Next week: Kevin James. See also, Part One of the Wendy Greuel interview, as well as Parts One and Two of our Eric Garcetti interview.)
Frying Pan News: Corporate lobbyists spent more than $30 million last year to influence decisions at City Hall – far more than unions or any other group. Do you think that big business has too much power over local government?
Wendy Greuel: Thirty million dollars is a lot of money. I will, as mayor – as I do as controller and as I did as councilmember — ensure that there is a transparent process and that no one has more access than another to the kinds of decisions that are made in the city.
Today we continue our series of interviews with Los Angeles’ front-running mayoral candidates, with the first part of a talk with City Controller Wendy Greuel, who has previously served as an L.A. City Councilmember. (Tomorrow: Wendy Greuel interview, Part Two. See interviews with Eric Garcetti, Part One and Part Two.)
Frying Pan News: If your opponents are capable and honorable people, why are you running for mayor – why not just sit back and let one of them take the office?
Wendy Greuel: I have the unique experiences that none of the other candidates have. I’ve worked for Tom Bradley, one of the greatest mayors we’ve had in Los Angeles. On the federal level I worked with Henry Cisneros at the Department of Housing and Urban Development – not only on national homeless programs but [by] being here after the Northridge earthquake.
Frying Pan News continues its series of interviews with the leading mayoral candidates, who will face off in the March 5 primary. Part Two of our interview with City Councilmember Eric Garcetti appears today (click here to read Part One), followed Thursday by a conversation with City Controller Wendy Greuel.
Frying Pan News: Many in the business community would prefer the mayor to be a cheerleader for business, but in the last few years we’ve seen what happens when the economy is left to big corporations and financial institutions. How will you balance the interests of the business community and those who are desperately trying to find a path into the middle class?
Eric Garcetti: There’s no question that business is absolutely critical to our economic strength here, and by business it’s not necessarily just the large corporations – we’re talking about the mom and pop store,
Today Frying Pan News launches a series of interviews with the leading mayoral candidates, who will face off in the March 5 primary. Beginning with City Councilmember Eric Garcetti, we posed questions about what we think are the most pressing issues our next mayor must confront. Part One of our interview with Garcetti appears today; Part Two will run tomorrow, followed by a conversation with City Controller Wendy Greuel.
Frying Pan News: A lot of the mayoral debate so far has focused on challenges with the city budget and whether we should cut benefits for city employees. Can you paint your broad vision of how we bring good jobs, clean air and healthy communities to all of Los Angeles?
Eric Garcetti: Our recovery can’t be just about how we are going to cut more, tax more. My greatest fear is that we will have those who will do well no matter how bad things get – the highly educated,
(Editor’s Note: Today we continue our series of posts from invited writers who offer thoughts on what the coming four years hold for Los Angeles and its next mayor. These opinions do not reflect the views of Frying Pan News or the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.)
Before Antonio Villaraigosa won his first term as mayor, he came over to my house to film a commercial. This took place by the merest chance. My neighbor across the street is a union organizer, a fellow progressive and a respected figure in local Democratic circles — he might have had something to do with Villaraigosa’s sudden appearance in our neighborhood. A whole bunch of staffers fanned out up and down our street that morning, knocking on every door to ascertain where they might mingle with hoi polloi and gather up a few sound bites.
(Editor’s Note: Living in Los Angeles is a day-to-day experiment requiring patience and improvisational skills. So does governing this sprawling metropolis of 3.8 million people. The city’s next mayor, however, cannot be satisfied with merely coping with issues as they arise, but must be able to look forward and anticipate and define the city’s needs for the next four years. To this end we’ve asked writers to share their thoughts about what lies ahead – and around the corner – for Los Angeles.)
Going green may be all the rage. But get into the weeds and you may lose a few people. Take energy efficiency. Yes, it’ll save you money, create good jobs (if done right) and help us preserve the planet. But walk into a party and start talking about window caulking, attic insulation and compact fluorescent bulbs, and you may soon find yourself alone in a corner.