In returning from a long book-writing sabbatical, LA Times stalwart Jim Newton spent several weeks talking with “more than two dozen influential Angelenos — current and former politicians, labor leaders, environmentalists, neighborhood activists and bureaucrats.”
On Tuesday, his first column was published. The subject was Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the headline was “How Disappointing.”
“Criticism from his longtime foes wasn’t unexpected. They regard the
mayor as selfish, arrogant and ineffective. But his longtime backers
weren’t much happier. They complain that he’s been an incompetent
manager and has squandered the public’s initial enthusiasm for him. They
too are astounded at his preening self-indulgence.
“Neighborhood activists think he is labor’s agent, determined to feather
the nest of public employees in exchange for political support from
unions. Labor representatives find him two-faced, reneging on deals and
sloughing off basic management responsibilities. Environmentalists say
he’s all talk. Conservatives deplore him; liberals are tired of him.
Politicians believe he’s principally driven by his pursuit of higher
office,” Newton wrote.
In the end, Newton offers more of a prayer than an analytical insight: “Villaraigosa has gifts of leadership and ability, and the time to take
advantage of them. The city needs him to focus and deliver on his word.”
Those of us in all walks of life who have engaged in civic discourse continuously are long past hoping the mayor will ever get his game back.
From the endless string of conversations I’ve had with business, civic and community leaders and ordinary folks in all parts of the city, the unanimity goes far beyond disappointment in the mayor.
Almost everyone who pays the least attention believes City Hall — still looking for penny ante solutions to profound budget deficits — will have to declare bankruptcy sometime in 2011 or 2012 at the latest.
You can look at the new City Administrative Office’s proposals to deal with the $87 million in overspending already in this year’s budget and see the futility of tinkering with the numbers, juggling money from one fund to another when a $400 million deficit equal to 10 percent of the general fund looms next year.
And the following year is even worse with planning already under way to further slash spending on libraries and parks and just about every other core service.
It isn’t just the mayor but the whole city leadership that is out of touch with the reality of a world that is undergoing fundamental economic changes.
Yet, they continue to act as though nothing is changing, as if the good times will soon roll again.
So they are moving forward on providing massive public subsidies in one form or another to luxury hotels and football stadiums.
They continue to spend tens of millions of dollars on housing for the homeless and the very poor and jobs for gang members even as they close libraries and parks programs for kids who play by the rules and dun the struggling working class and middle class people of the city for more and more of their money.
There just isn’t enough money any longer for all of these things. Hard choices are needed on what we can afford and what provides the greatest public benefits.
It isn’t just the mayor but the whole city leadership that has failed. We aren’t just “disappointed” in the mayor but in all of our elected officials.
The campaign for the March 8 election for seven City Council seats and 10 or 11 ballot measures is starting up and the failed City Hall political machine has one goal: Self-preservation.
They are raising millions of dollars to crush all opposition. They are prepared to ruthlessly destroy their opponents as Jose Huizar is doing to well-funded challenger Rudy Martinez with vicious personal attacks rather than defending his own record or discussing solutions to our real problems.
I’m just one of the “neighborhood activists” that Newton talked to but I’ve spoken to hundreds of business, civic, political and community leaders over the last three years.
There isn’t any mystery. We all see pretty much the same thing: Dramatic measures need to be taken immediately or the consequences are grave. Yet, we too continue to behave as we always have, as if there is nothing we can do about it.
The reasons vary in each group but they are just excuses for inaction.
The disappointment we should be feeling isn’t just in Antonio Villaraigosa but in ourselves. We know something has to be done but we are going to leave it to a bankruptcy judge to fix it sometime in the future when the damage is done.
It’s crazy but that’s the way it is today.