Antonio Villaraigosa just can’t stop selling even when nobody’s buying — and that’s not good.
Clean energy and good jobs was a great label for something everyone wants but the mayor couldn’t get voters to buy Measure B with its empty promise of solar energy when it was nothing but a giveaway to a mismanaged public utility, its greedy union boss and a long list of consultants, contractors, lobbyists and insiders.
Now we learn just how cheap it is to buy the mayor’s support, which is not to suggest that Stephen Bing’s $50,000 donation to the Yes on B campaign or his $100,000 for the mayor’s school board campaign represented some sort of quid pro quo.
That would illegal and so unnecessary. The pressure to contribute to the mayor’s campaigns has nothing to do with Bing’s decision or AIG’s Tim Leiweke acts of political generosity or the $100,000 that Bruce Khouri of Solar Integrated Technology felt impelled to donate for Measure B.
According to Maeve Reston in the Times on Monday, the mayor decided to go to bat for an Italian rail car maker in a $300 million MTA deal solely because of the prospect of new union jobs. His support has nothing to do with the influence of Bing, who has a lot to gain in the deal, or well-connected lobbyist, Chris Lehane, who represents the rail car firm.
Or at least that’s what mayoral spokesman Matt Szabo says. “We are talking about creating thousands of high-paying jobs at a
time when local residents need them the most.”
Well, hundreds maybe, but who’s going to quibble about that when similar exaggerations failed to convince anyone on Measure B.
The problem is the MTA has told the Italian firm, AnsaldoBreda that it doesn’t want to do business with it.
The company is three years behind schedule in delivering 50 rail cars previously ordered. And then the cars are too heavy and unreliable, incompatible with other cars in the fleet and has seats that are too narrow.
Says MTA chief Roger Snoble: “The real question is: Are we going to get the original 50 cars? All the commotion is over the future, and we tend to overlook the
present… Because of the difficulties we were having with Breda,
my decision — and this is my decision — is that we should go out to
In response to that kind of attitude from Snoble and several board members, the company “has marshaled an intense lobbying effort over the last few months,
striking alliances with people known to have the mayor’s ear and
offering to open a rail car manufacturing plant in an industrial
stretch of downtown Los Angeles,” the Times says.
That’s where Bing comes in as founder of the green
building company Shangri-La Construction which has partnered with the rail car company.
County Labor Federation chief Maria Elena Durazo also weighed in with pressure on Snoble and the MTA board warning they should not let “this big opportunity to
be squandered.” She was promised that all the jobs related to the project would be for union labor only.
In the insular world of City Hall politics, no one — with the possible exception of Controller Laura Chick — would think there is anything wrong with story of insider dealing and the influence of campaign money.
It’s routine, standard operating procedure, how business is done. They all wish they were as slick as the mayor in putting these kinds of deals together and coming up with a story to sell to the public like clean energy and good jobs or in this case green factories, good union jobs.
I’m no moralist about these sorts of things. The corruption that bothers me isn’t in the grease that enriches insiders as much as it is the total disregard for the public interest.
That’s why LA’s super-salesman mayor faces another tough sell. The public just vetoed his solar energy plan that wasn’t even a plan, only a scheme that would have cost too much, taken too long and achieved too little.
In the case of this deal, we have ample evidence the rail cars don’t serve our public interest since they are too heavy, too unreliable, too incompatible, have seats that are too narrow and never get delivered.
Other than that you can bet the mayor thinks he can sell this deal to the MTA board.
Maybe he can, maybe he can’t.
The thing that concerns me most is what it says about Antonio’s state of mind. He just barely got a majority for his re-election running against no one who posed even a remote challenge, his gofer City Attorney candidate Jack Weiss got just barely a third of the vote and he lost outright on the surest thing ever on the ballot, Measure B.
I keep thinking somehow that he’ll wake up one morning and remember where he came from and the ideals he once held and go to work to serve the interests of the people instead of the special interests.
LA doesn’t need a salesman offering pipe dreams, and segmenting people into those who benefit and those who pay. It needs a leader who breaks down barriers and brings people together, who works for policies that improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods and our opportunities for the future.