All Star Guide to the Los Angeles Elections!

Every year I get calls from friends and relatives at election time, asking me to help them make sense of the choices they have at election time. Even after a campaign as high-profile as the last one in 2004, people still find it difficult to discern just which candidate is best for them.
When you’re dealing with as underwhelming a campaign as we’ve had for the last couple of months for the leader of America’s 2nd largest city, well you get more calls. Hence, my guide to the elections this Tuesday.
I have been purposely ducking writing about the election much this past week, partially due to real-life concerns, but partially because, well, it’s all been a bit underwhelming in this rush since January to talk about Big Issues.
People keep asking me who I am voting for, and to be honest I really don’t know – or if I’m even going to vote at all.
There’s been too many disappointments in this race to date, and it makes it hard for me to cast a vote for someone just because they are “not” someone else. Here’s what is keeping me from voting right now. Read it and if you agree or disagree, drop me a line or post a comment…
When I look at the candidacies of the two incumbent City Councilmembers who are running, Bernie Parks, and Antonio Villaraigosa, I see two people who could not be further apart in terms of viability. However, they also both share a dirty secret.
Bernie Parks’ one-man grudge match against Mayor Hahn has about as much chance of winning as one of the fringe candidates at this point. Antonio Villaraigosa’s campaign is definitely in the top 2 and is guaranteed a runoff, but there’s been something underwhelming about his run this time vs. 2001.
I hate to join that chorus, but I’ve been waiting to see the “magic” his staff has been touting to me for a year now, and there is no magic. A competent campaign and a solidly run operation, yes, but the much-promised “epiphany” of The Great Antonio hasn’t happened yet. Well, at least he gets Democrats to vote for him – maybe that’s magic.
But my main problem with the incumbent councilmembers are two unanimous votes that tend to exemplify what’s wrong with City Hall.
One was a vote to give $177,000,000 to billionaire developer Philip Anschutz (the world’s 62nd richest person) to build a hotel near the Convention Center. The other was the unanimous vote to codify the really dumb and expensive idea to muck up the Venice Boardwalk.
The first is another example of how we talk about a sushi-bite issue, like “cops” but don’t talk about anything else. Then when another “issue” comes up we talk about that. No one makes the connection. We somehow can’t come up with the money to pay for the police without more taxes. We agonize and freak out about the “tax vs. no tax” debate.
And yet, the city finds money to give to the 62nd richest man in America for a speculative development that frankly, he oughta bear the burden of himself. It’s hard to see why he needs a government handout when we can’t pay for police. The city won’t make any profit off their money – they just give it away, and don’t even get the benefit of investing $177,000,000 the way a private investor would.
It begs the question: could the City Council have found a way to say, cut, $10 million off of billionaire Anschutz’s government cheese to pay for more cops? Or, if the city is going to go into the hotel business, why not buy $177,000,000 of the proposed development as an investor, and take the alleged profits this genius is going to create, and pay for more cops that way?
The Boardwalk situation here in Venice is an example of why it never pays to talk to City Hall when your Councilmember has come up with a really dumb idea. You can go to the hearing, bring 1000 of your best friends and talk until you are blue in the face.
None of the councilmembers could care. They vote for each others’ projects to ensure, well, that everyone votes for each others projects. Meanwhile, all that noise you hear about open government is just noise.
It was truly sad to see all these assorted Venetians get all worked up about this issue, and try and “lobby” the council during the public comment period. It was a nice effort, but also doomed from the start, because, frankly, most of the councilmembers could give a hoot about what a bunch of hippies that can’t vote for them think.
I realize these are two little issues out of many accomplishments both have on their resumes. Guess what? They’re my issues and they are what’s keeping me from voting for either one right now.
If the grumpy white people in the Valley can get mad about “those people” in the schools, I can be perturbed at wasteful spending and unresponsive goverment. Tha is keeping me from committing to vote for Villaraigosa (Parks was never a serious candidate in my mind) just yet.
Likewise, when I look at the candidacies of three former or current Sacramento legislators, Bob Hertzberg, Richard Alarcon, and (again) Antonio Villaraigosa, a similar situation comes to mind – the incredibly stupid Energy Deregulation bill that was put together at the behest of the private utilities, and screwed California over pretty good.
In the case of Hertzberg and Villaraigosa, both were serving in the Legislature when this turd of a bill was passed with a unanimous vote. Since the mayhem that ensued, enriching Enron and power speculators at the expense of most citizens, I’ve yet to hear one legislator from that vote admit it was stupid idea and apologize, for making an honest mistake.
While the Mayor’s attack ads may not be entirely accurate, implying that Ken Lay was pulling the strings with Bob and Tony, it is accurate to point out that yes, they did support this idea, and yes, California got screwed over to the tune of billions of dollars, by wealthy special interests. Can’t we have anyone take responsibility anymore for their actions?
Which leads me to a particular disappointment with Bob Hertzberg. While he seems like a nice guy and was kind enough to call me up after I wrote an early column talking about his candidacy, we’re now in the final days of the campaign and I can’t really tell what he’s going to do if he gets elected. But more troubling is his constant evasion on his current roster of law clients, many of whom have business before state and local boards, and the seeming intentional vagueness of his proposal to “break up LAUSD.”
I am not naive enough to think a former elected official wouldn’t use their contacts and knowledge to make money once they leave the legislature. But when I read stories like the one that I read in the LA Times, detailing Hertzberg’s flip-flop on why he can’t tell us who pays his bills, I start to get disappointed. For someone who has taken shot after shot at the incumbent’s ethics record, this rings rather hollow.
Even more troubling is his work on behalf of a chain of auto-repair shops sued for fraud. After reading how he used his status on Gov. Doofinator’s “transition team” to try and stop an investigation into the chain’s fraudulent practices, and the Doofinator’s removal of a regulator not favorable to Hertzberg’s client, I really was astonished. It did explain a little bit more of that hugging session the two had in Santa Monica to discuss “the plan” to break up LAUSD (the one we can’t read on paper because it doesn’t exist yet). Put it all together, and it leaves me really disappointed, since I wanted to like the guy (even if his campaign web guys stole my slogan idea).
If he’d just been up front at the beginning as to who pays his bills and let us decide early on what he’s about, instead of playing the Sacramento politico “dodge and weave” rhetoric, I’d have an entirely different opinion of the situation. For me, being up front is way better than concealing until the end.
Sen. Alarcon has talked a good game throughout this race , and in the debates he’s often been one of the best speakers on issues I care about. That said, he hasn’t been able to get much traction for someone who’s been in politics as long as he has. Plus, while he has a nice laundry list of ideas and reforms, there’s nothing particularly new for any of them, and there’s no indication that much would be different, aside from some tweaks to the way city contracts are awarded.
Finally, we have Our Mayor. I’ve said a lot in the past about what I think of the Mayor’s performance, it’s no surprise that I have a hard time pulling a voting lever for this guy. I had hoped that somehow the embattled mayor would seize the movement and say “f–k it” and charge forth with some sort of revitalized campaign, knowing he was in trouble and try something daring.
Yes, I know, I know, wishful thinking. But he’d have been in no worse shape than he is in now, which at this point may mean not making the runoff. The whole situation more or less sums up what the problem has been all along – a person who has neglected to seize the moment from Day One on any major issues, with the results plain as day. Yes, hiring Chief Bratton has been great (beats the heck out of that other guy who was Chief that he tossed out) but you can’ only run on that and Dad’s name for so long.
So at this point I don’t know who to vote for, or whether I should bother to vote at all. Thanks to the continuing follies of the LA County Elections people, I never got my permanent absentee ballot – they claim I’m not registered as one even though  I have registered as one twice – so I’ll head to the polls. That is, unless there’s something good on TV.
But wait! There is a reason to go vote! That’s only if you live in Council District 11, which encompasses all of the West LA communities. A very spirited battle has been waged by three candidates. Of them all I am supporting Bill Rosendahl.
There have been many cheap shots taken at this guy by certain other candidates in this race who will remain nameless, which to me typify what is  wrong with politics these days. More to the point – when I asked all the candidates for their opinions on a hot-button issue in Venice regarding the Boardwalk’s new rules, Bill responded right away, and didn’t duck the issue.
His opponents have yet to return a single email or call of mine with responses to a few simple questions, including one on the Boardwalk issue. Plus, Bill’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind, even if it is not popular. At a Democratic Party debate watch at the Santa Monica Headquarters, Bill was asked to speak about how he felt John Kerry did in the debate, and while he was supporting Kerry, he said that in his opinion he didn’t feel Kerry had done as well as he should have.
That’s a gutsy move when you’re in a room of potential supporters and hard core Dems, to say what you think, and let the chips fall where they may. It beats the bureaucrat mentality some would bring to this job, and it beats business as usual. So if nothing else, I’ll head on over to the rec room and cast my ballot for Bill. My vote for mayor is still up for grabs – candidates, feel free to drop me a line and convince me of their strengths.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at

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