Mid Game Report: A Less Than Thrilling Campaign for Some Important Jobs

Thanks to the abbreviated election schedule, Los Angeles voters will be going to the polls in a little over a month to vote on who will be the next Mayor, as well as City Attorney and their local City Council member.
Many have billed this as an important election for Los Angeles, and to be sure, it is, given the many challenges we face as Los Angeles residents. However, the campaign thus far has been less than inspiring, which is unfortunate.
The Mayor’s race has had its predictable share of attacks on Mayor Hahn’s integrity – which would seem to be not without some merit, given that an indictment (but not a guilty verdict) has been made in the ongoing Fleishman Hillard billing woes and whatnot we keep reading about.
Despite millions of dollars and the advantage of incumbency, Mayor Hahn remains a weak incumbent. He doesn’t have much of an image with the public, but also is lacking a loyal base (a la Clinton) that will go to bat for him, Hell or high water.
It’s the same kind of place Gray Davis found himself in 2003. He isn’t loved by anyone so when he’s in trouble, he has no one to watch his back in tough times. The only thing Hahn can use is the “public safety” club, and be thankful no movie stars are running against him this time around. His attempts to continue riding on the good name of his father come off as desperate.
Mr. Hahn has been an elected official in his own right for a long time now, and he can’t keep using Dad’s name to try and cover up his problems. We don’t see Councilmember Janice Hahn hiding behind Dad’s name to hide problems – why does the Mayor feel a need to do so if he’s done nothing wrong?
I suppose that what’s been missing so far from this race has been a real “anti-Hahn” to counter the Mayor’s stature and presence. His opponents, while meaning well, have yet to capture anyone’s notice or imagination the way say, a Richard Riordan did in 1993.
In fact, being the anti-Hahn isn’t enough – most people aren’t personally hating the Mayor or blaming him personally for what’s going on in Los Angeles – making the replacement of a lackluster incumbent surprisingly difficult. If you want to be Mayor, you have to stand for something, as much as against it.
Councilmember Bernard Parks’ campaign has fizzled so royally that it’s not even worth it for other candidates to take on Parks and his faux-conservative views – he’s simply not going anywhere, due in large part to his campaign management style. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of how he’d perform as Mayor, but given how things are going for him, I don’t think we’ll need to worry about this any time soon. How far we fall from the free passes some of us got a few months ago.
Bob Hertzberg has run the most stridently anti-Hahn campaign so far, with some entertaining (and very conventional) broadsides against the Mayor. Hertzberg’s campaign has spent a tremendous amount of money and time on the ChangeLA.com website, which has attracted a lot of attention from bloggers, the media, and web-type folks for its very well-assembled daily news updates, and for being more interactive that most campaign sites. For that it deserves some praise – most candidates aren’t secure enough to allow much dissent on their own websites.
However, it’s unclear how much this has managed to increase name ID for a politician who still remains largely unknown outside of his base in the San Fernando Valley.
He deserves props for trying, but this might be another campaign that used the Internet early (and expensively) to get the word out in hopes of changing “politics” only to find that in fact, politics and how people make their decisions on how to vote (and if to vote) varies from person to person.
More importantly, in a city as big as Los Angeles, it’s harder to gauge how many registered likely voters are really going to be influenced by Blogads and banner ads at the LA Times.
A city such as San Francisco, on the other hand, where the number of registered voters who are not only “online,” but have broadband access, and are known to rely on online services to find out about candidates, and interact with them online, makes the equation significantly different. But that’s there, not here.
For me, the only real disappointment with Hertzberg’s campaign has been the unflinching emphasis on a proposed concept to “break up” the Los Angeles Unified School District. Yes, it’s a great “big idea” to talk about in a policy session, and I’m sure there are arguments for some specific proposal (should one ever be drafted) to do so in the future.
My problem with it is that as it stands, the “proposal” is nothing of the sort – it’s the sort of ambiguous policy “discussion” that allows voters to project what they want such a proposal to be, versus whatever it might end up actually being.
More importantly, there’s a basic law of political physics here – the Mayor does not run the LAUSD. The Mayor can be a bully pulpit, the Mayor can raise money and create PACs and support candidates (i.e. like what Mayor Riordan did) but it’s time to face a certain reality – if Bob Hertzberg gets elected in 2005, in 2009 the LAUSD will still be intact, and will be for some time. So ultimately as a “big thinking” policy goal it gets points for originality, but loses points for relevance.
If Hertzberg wanted to really shake up the system with something that’s outside of the Mayor’s direct jurisdiction, a much more useful discussion would have been the re-organization of Los Angeles County government, which has a Hell of an impact on City government.
How about a breakup of the LA Board of Supervisor’s power into boroughs (similar to what Bob proposed during the Valley secession movement) or at least the democratization of LA County government by breaking up the fiefdoms the Chosen Five have right now.
Think about it – San Francisco County has 750,000 people and 13 neighborhood-elected Supervisors). LA County has almost 10,000,000 people, and has 5 Supervisors elected in districts bigger than some states.
Would such a discussion result in a major re-organization of County government under a Mayor Hertzberg? Maybe not, but the effect would have a lot more resonance than yet another divisive battle over schools, which tends to sound like code words for “us vs. them.” (and we all know who “them” are, don’t we?)
Now, let me be clear: I am sure that Mr. Hertzberg himself would never mean that, and believe him to be sincere in his reasoning for the LAUSD break. That said, I also know how messaging and code words work, and if you’re angling for Republican and Valley voters, well, you have to say certain things to toe the PC line with them.
Oh, but I digress.
The one challenger who seems to get short shrift from folks the most at this point seems to be Antonio Villaraigosa. While Hertzberg has emerged as the most vigorous anti-Hahn voice, Villaraigosa has been quietly racking up the cash on hand and putting together the team and organization that at this point seems to be the best positioned to make it to a runoff with Hahn, thanks in large part to his name ID from his previous race.
Although the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor switched allegiance to Hahn (which is a bit unfortunate), Villaraigosa still has a chance to get the Los Angeles County Democratic Party’s endorsement tonight, meaning support not only from the local Democratic Party, but also support from (what’s left of) the State Democratic Party as well. That could be a counterbalance to the Labor Federation’s endorsement. Or he could miss it by a percentage or two (you need 60% to get the endorsement) and he has to rethink the strategy a bit. We’ll see.
UPDATE 1/19/05: According to today’s  LA Times and the Daily News, the Mayor succeeded in peeling off just enough votes to deny Villaraigosa the 60% needed (although he did not deny him a majority) to get the nod.
Which is unfortunate, but as I’ve said before, never underestimate the Mayor’s ability to deny things to others he can’t get himself. Wonder if a deal was cut with some of the other candidates to deny Antonio that 60%? We’ll see after the runoff begins, won’t we?
UPDATE 2: Also, other local clubs are free to do their own endorsements, and independent expenditures, regardless of what the County does… According to a newsletter from the West LA Democrats, Antonio Villaraigosa did, in fact, get the endorsement of the California Democratic Council, which is the association of Democratic Clubs in LA and statewide. What this means, exactly, is unknown at this time, given the effects of the federalization of local camapign law, but it is interesting that the press neglected to mention this.
One thing to note is that Villaraigosa has been running as the only real Democratic-leaning candidate for this non-partisan position. People tend to forget what was said in previous campaigns – most people don’t keep mail pieces and TV ads from four years ago. I do recall Mayor Hahn sending out some pretty nasty stuff attacking Antonio as a liberal in the mold of “Sen. Barbara Boxer.” (Note to Hahn: last time I looked, Sen. Boxer got a lot of votes in her last race, and she acts like a Democrat when in office. Seems to me that’s not such a bad thing, but I guess I’m wrong, eh Mr. Hahn?)
The only thing I keep wondering is when the big splash is coming with this campaign. Frankly, to win this time around, he can’t run as The One to Beat like he did last time (and lost).
His campaign could use a little jazzing up, a little offbeat personality or unusual moves in the earned media arena that would go beyond the usual attack/counterattack via flack we usually get. We may yet see something like this in the next few weeks, but time is short. The absentee ballots go out soon, gang!
However, the winners of the “Non Issue Campaigns of the Year” award go to…the many City Council races we have this year. You read very little about these races in the paper, which is only natural – since in many races, incumbents who’ve raised a lot of money have no challengers this year.
Neither does City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, but that hasn’t stopped him from raising over a million dollars for his race anyway, leading many to wonder if he’s planning to do something interesting in 2006 or 2008.
The only really spirited race for Councilis right here on the Westside, with former Adelphi executive Bill Rosendahl and community activist Flora Gil-Krisiloff,and Attorney Angela Reddock all running to replace the incumbent. Rosendahl and Gil-Krisiloff have both raised a lot of money, and both seem to be running active campaigns.
Personally, I like Bill Rosendahl, if only because he’s the only one of the three that bothered to respond to my questions regarding the Venice Beach Boardwalk debacle at the City Council with an answer.
Even nicer was the fact that his answer was some stock answer people give to difficult questions – he’d at least thought about the issue and made it clear what he’d have done differently than the incumbent and council staff. Good for you, Bill!
Note to the folks who are still made about the Boardwalk Plan: hiring a lawyer is a waste of time and money. Go work for Bill or Flora, depending on who you think is the best on the issue, and change the laws with your money, time and energy. Don’t waste it on a lawyer who will lose in court!
Ah, but that’s here in Scenic West L.A. If you live in any of the districts with “free ride” incumbents, don’t expect to see them asking you for your vote too much before election day, unless it’s at a fundraiser or something. It’s too bad, since in some cases, these are good, well meaning folks who I don’t mean to lump in with the bad – but at the same time there’s something about “one-candidate-only” elections that just seems strange.
Maybe people aren’t as upset about the state of affairs as the bloglanders and insiders think they are. Perhaps they’re just resigned to accept things as they are and just aren’t in the mood for some wacky “voter revolt” this year.
Then again, at the rate things are going, our whole government will be on auto-pilot thanks to Gov. Doofinator and the folks in the Legislature, so perhaps it’s all for the best. Besides, there’s a sale on Pabst Blue Ribbon somewhere that’ll make all the bad things go away. Right?
PS: I just got an email from Sen. John Kerry asking me to sign a petition to replace Donald Rumsfeld because he’s doing a lousy job in Iraq.
Hey, Sen. Kerry, guess what?
There was a way more effective way to replace this guy – it’s called “Not running a lousy campaign, relying on unreliable 527s, and letting Bob Shrum find new ways to lose to Rove’s thugs, and actually winning the freaking election.”
There’s an even more effective way to replace Rumsfeld. It’s called “Don’t frontload the Democratic primaries, blast anyone who dares speak out against the war with a cannon full of attack ads, get a boring, corporate Democrat who sided with Bush on the war, WMD or no WMD, and found out the hard way that when you help George Bush Jr. out, he comes after you twice as hard – just ask Max Cleland.”
Yeah, I know, I know. Too convoluted, not quippy enough. I shouldn’t say such things. I’m not being a loyal “Democrat.” Blah blah blah.
But you know I’m right.

© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

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