Who Made the LA Mayor’s Race Suck So Much? – A Long Winded Tale of “WTF?”

Loyal readers have probably noticed that I haven’t written a single thing about the Mayor’s race since the election in March. It’s a conscious decision on my part, simply because unlike some other LA-area blogs I could mention, I don’t get a lot of enjoyment out of snark for snark’s sake, nor do I enjoy joining the legions of partisan bloggers who pump out whatever it is they feel is necessary to help Their Guy.
We all know who these people are, so it’s not necessary for me to link to them – I’d rather not give these over-exposed folks more attention than they already get.
In these hyper-abbreviated elections, we usually get to the point where we hear a rehash of the following criticism, which we hear during every election at about this time. They include:
-“The candidates are being all negative. Boo Hoo.”
-“No one is talking about this issue [insert important issue here].”
-“The campaign mailers/TV/websites/whatever are saying things that aren’t 100%” accurate.”
-“Why didn’t [insert name of failed candidate] do better so we could vote for him (be real folks, it’s rarely a “her” when it comes to Southern CA politics).
-“Both candidates suck. I’m not voting. I’m going to show my ‘independence’ by calling for a pox on both houses.” (this is usually followed up with a dose of “See how smart I am and better I am than these two guys?”)
And on and on. You get the idea. If you think about it, isn’t this about where we are during any election cycle? Wasn’t everyone bitching about Kerry and Bush’s campaigns towards the end? They weren’t? Come on.
It’s just more glaring now because the election season for local Los Angeles elections is ridiculously short. Let’s look at the timeline, shall we?
We got hit with a huge election in 2004, followed by: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Sure candidates may have been running during the fall of 2004, but did anyone notice? Did anyone care? No, they didn’t (despite the banner ads).
Not until halfway through January did most campaigns start making a big presence known locally, and by then, well we were just about a month away from the dropping of mail ballots to voters for the March elections. Suddenly, we had a Big Election in front of us, with barely enough time to assimilate the various campaigns and their shenanigans, before the vote hit.
Of course, we had to listen to the usual roster of Self Appointed Prophets of Truth who spent most of their time whining about their lack of coverage, while doing little to get actual votes (and of course they all lost. Big time.) We even had the inevitable “Why isn’t [insert name of total loser here] allowed to attend a debate?” and a lot of soothsayers talking about how “important” debates most people never saw, were.
End of history lesson. Back to the question (and the complaints): who or what is to blame?
In this case, I don’t point fingers at the any one of Usual Suspects of Big Media, Big Biz, Big Labor, Big Politicians or Those Dumb Voters. You can read those analyses elsewhere.
Instead I’d argue something else – the reason the candidates and campaign aren’t living up to some people’s expectations has more to do with the political culture of Southern California and Los Angeles in particular, than anything else. More to the point, the political scene reflects where the voting public actually is than whatever some self-appointed prophet says it is, or thinks it should be.
Take a look at our leading candidates, the ones that got the most votes from a very small pool of voters. One is a longtime politician who has run for years on Daddy’s Name and Record, and has done very little as the incumbent Mayor other than work on that re-election fundraising.
An ethically challenged politico, you’d think he would have been rejected by most politicians and voters – but he wasn’t. When confronted with his record, a surprising number of Actual Voters simply responded by saying “We knew that already. All politicians suck” and voted for him anyway. Even with a message of “I’m my daddy’s kid” and “the other guys suck” – two very thin reasons to vote for anyone – he was able to pull through (but not in first place!)
Our other candidate, the top vote getter, is someone who ran and almost one once already. He projects a nice guy image, looks good on TV, and in general says the things a core group of voters like to hear. But again, this is no revolutionary campaign, nor should we expect any bold changes to the fabric of LA politics should he get elected.
In a city whose political culture is one of disengagement and acceptance of how things are, is it any surprise these two made it so far?
The fact is, who is Mayor of Los Angeles to most people is far less important than who is deciding whether to make a film or tv series in town, or in Canada. Whether that’s true or not is irrelevant – it is what people think and believe and influences how they vote – if at all.
Likewise, in a town dominated by people who either feel they must live here, because they wish to pursue a certain line of work, or that they have to live here because they have no way out, they are far more likely to accept the proposition that Los Angeles has to be a polluted, hot, and traffic-ridden city, with expensive rent and mortgages.
One would think that people would not only be upset at the concept of paying almost $20,000 a year in rent to live in places that don’t’ really warrant it, and ask/scream/demonstrate/riot/whatever for someone t o do something about it.
They don’t. They write the checks every month, and keep on truckin’. If they vote, they vote for the least offensive guy, or the one most likely to help their small piece of turf.
They sit in traffic for over an hour each way to work, and they keep on doing it, day after day. They have fundamentally accepted the way things are, far more than people do in other places. You’d be hard pressed to see New Yorkers just sit idly by when things are going to Hell – look at the recent city elections and see the difference.
Does that mean our citizens in Los Angeles are stupid? Absolutely not. It does mean that people here are more focused on Other Things they consider important, to the point that they’ve accepted the world around them for all its faults, and do not’ think too much that it doesn’t have to be this way.
That’s not an indictment of the people of Los Angeles – instead it is a recognition of where they are, as citizens. If you can’t or won’t acknowledge this sense of status quo, you can’t begin to do anything to change it. No one can expect to overcome it in a short campaign season that doesn’t command the attention of most voters. (And oh, yeah, silver tongued eloquence from an unknown isn’t going to cut it, either. Sorry.)
There’s no magic answer to change the status quo – and you’re certainly not going to find it on a blog (not even this one). But if you’re wondering why it is we have who we have as our choices, look again. One is a dull politico more concerned with political fundraising than doing a good job. The other is a more exciting politico who is also quite concerned about his career.
Both will do what it takes to get elected, and one will win. Neither is going to make any big changes. And for most people, that suits them just fine. Maybe things aren’t great, but for most people who are just treading water, they don’t want the current stirred up too much and risk sinking.
If you want to stir up things, be prepared to find a way to reassure these millions of treaders that they’re not going to drown. The people that figure it out will one day run America’s second largest city. Until then, enjoy your choices. And keep sending me copies of their election mail – it’s fun stuff!
UPDATE: Several LA based blogs have linked to this article, including LA Voice, LA Observed, and Dropping the Gloves, to name a few. We even got a mention at KPCC. Thanks, gang!
UPDATE II:Associated Press did this article, also commenting on the lack of interest in the race which had an oddly familiar ring to it.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

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