Chatting with the Downtown News’ Jon Regardie before his Town Hall L.A. speech last week, mayoral candidate Austin Beutner blamed the failure of City Hall on “incumbency and not the incumbent,” observing that politics had become a lifestyle, a career for them, rather than a life choice to serve the public.
“I have a different
view than most people at City Hall,” Beutner says. “They’re all
bright, well-intentioned, high-minded folks, but I think we need to do things
Clearly, he was being far more generous in his choice of words than he really means, given how he introduced the phrase “barnyard politics” into the vocabulary of city politics and promised to talk more during the next 14 months about the order coming from the City Hall barnyard.
My own view of our elected officials isn’t all that different than Beutner’s.
For all that I vilify and villainize Villain-raigosa and most of the rest of them, they aren’t really bad people as much they are self-servers who are too weak to stand up to a monolithic system controlled by the millions of dollars from corporations, developers, influence peddlers and unions that put them into office and keep them there. They do bad things because they either have no convictions or lack the courage of their convictions
The only elected officials who actually had successful careers outside of politics and city government are City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and Councilman Bill Rosendahl whose cable TV position largely involved politics.
Parks and Zine are retired cops and soon to be joined by another cop, Joe Buscaino. Englander, an auxiliary cop, Reyes, LaBonge, Garcetti, Perry, Greuel and Huizar have spent most of their adult lives in political jobs as staffers or electeds. Krekorian, Cardenas, Alarcon, Koretz and Wesson come to City Hall from the state Legislature.
Next year with as many as eight Council seats and the three citywide offices all open could be just as bad, maybe worse. Legislators or staffers intend to run for all the open Council seats and City Attorney. Zine, Greuel, Garcetti and Perry all hope to move up to higher city offices while Cardenas wants to join Janice Hahn in Congress and Alarcon hopes to return to the Legislature if he can avoid jail. .
It’s all just a game of musical chairs that offers no hope for a better future for the city — or the state or nation for that matter.
They all will promise the sun, the moon and the stars to voters to get elected yet again and, in truth, most if not all of them, could do a far better job of serving the public than they have ever done before.
But that isn’t going to happen unless the political culture of City Hall undergoes the kind of historic upheaval that occurred in 1973 with the election of Tom Bradley as mayor.
A black liberal leading a city that for so long was run by a racist and narrow-minded elite transformed Los Angeles but the system has ossified in the 40 years since and race in what is now America’s most diverse city is no longer the issue it once was except in the pages of the LA Times where columnist Jim Newton wrote today
that Herb Wesson is the first African-American to serve as Council President “so it’s tempting to see him in historic terms.”
No, it’s not, as Newton notes not even his black colleagues Parks and Perry support him. Wesson was Speaker of the Assembly long after Willie Brown became the longest serving Speaker, after Villaraigosa became the first Latino Speaker, after Cruz Bustamnate became lieutenant governor, after LA elected its first Latino mayor. He didn’t get his post because of his race or talent. He was put in his position by labor and the mayor to make sure that the Council remains as obedient as it has been for so long.
For far too long, the business and civic elite have stood on the sidelines or if they got involved in the political life of the city, settled for flattery of a commission appointment or crumbs from the table of power like tiny business tax cuts.
It’s time they paid attention and started to help reinvent our city government and our city by demonstrating respect for those less well off and helping to create a balance between the competing needs, values and interests of the city’s different communities.
We need a civic and political leadership that shares the risks and opportunities, the resources and benefits — not one that is looking for personal advantages.
We need community activists to look beyond what they think is good for their own neighborhood or class and to join a conversation about how we rebuild LA for everyone’s benefit.
This isn’t about ideology. It’s about the quality of the lives of the people who live and work here and the future of what should be the greatest city in the world — not the first city in the West to resemble the Rust Belt with aging infrastructure and soaring poverty rates.
This election season with open primaries in June, a presidential election in November and wide-open city elections in March 2013 affords us the chance to change the conversation, to shake up the political system and to start working together for the common good.
It will take more than lip service from the politicians and apathetic indifference of the public.