LA Times’ distinguished columnists Steve Lopez and Jim Newton took up important if thorny challenges in recent columns – examinations of the role of the professional politicians running for mayor and city controller.
For his part, Lopez dismisses the outsider candidates Kevin James and Emanuel Pleitez because they’re not insiders, wishes really good candidates like Zev Yaroslavsky, Rick Caruso or Austin Beutner had jumped in and is skeptical that insiders Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Jan Perry can overcome their past performance and rise to the occasion as mayor of a troubled city.
“It’s only fair now to ask Greuel how she can be expected to act more responsibly as mayor, particularly after picking up recent support from police and DWP employees”” he writes. “The business-friendly Perry, meanwhile, has her own potential conflicts, and one can wonder whether Garcetti will be able to stand up to the developers or union chiefs who write him checks.”
What the city needs, he says, is someone who combines the limited virtues of Richard Riordan (audacity), James Hahn (focus) and Antonio Villaraigosa (hustle).
“Los Angeles has had mediocre mayors. It’s had decent mayors. Isn’t it time we had a great mayor?”
He begs the question he asks by not offering a clue about whether he thinks Greuel, Garcetti or Perry is capable of greatness – or even in the same league as Riordan, Hahn and Villaraigosa.
Newton does something similar in the controller’s race by letting Dennis Zine blow hot air all over him with non-stop bluster in response to the columnist’s previous article in which he said the retired traffic cop “seemed an odd fit with the office of city controller.”
He gives the tell-them-what-they-want-to-hear blowhard free rein to outline all the things he would do as controller – fiscally responsible and good management things he never stood for as a councilman and bombastic police union leader who wept for the TV cameras when chief-for-life Daryl Gates was finally being held accountable by the city’s civic leaders and the press.
Zine tells Newton he “could retire, feed pigeons under the park bench” although with roughly a quarter of million dollars in city pensions and millions in the bank he probably could find more interesting ways to spend his senior years.
“But he sees potential for the controller’s job, the opportunity to demand more from the city, to hold others accountable and make them better too. ‘If you’re a quarterback and you throw that bomb, and there’s no receiver, it’s incomplete,’ he said.”
Newton’s conclusion: “Who could disagree?”
He too begs the question he poses.
I bring this up because columnists are given literary license and exemption from the strangling conformity of corporate journalism’s rules so it seems a disservice to lead us to the water by raising important questions without at least offering some answers.
In contrast, the New York Times’ conservative columnist David Brooks tackles the weightier subject of President Obama’s second inaugural address on Monday and finds “it has to rank among the best of the past half-century … an argument for a pragmatic and patriotic progressivism.”
But Obama “misunderstands this moment.” he says, America is no longer “a young and growing nation … We are now a mature nation with an aging population.”
“Reinvigorating a mature nation means using government to give people the tools to compete, but then opening up a wide field so they do so raucously and creatively. It means spending more here but deregulating more there. It means facing the fact that we do have to choose between the current benefits to seniors and investments in our future, and that to pretend we don’t face that choice, as Obama did, is effectively to sacrifice the future to the past.
“Obama made his case beautifully. He came across as a prudent, nonpopulist progressive. But I’m not sure he rescrambled the debate. We still have one party that talks the language of government and one that talks the language of the market. We have no party that is comfortable with civil society, no party that understands the ways government and the market can both crush and nurture community, no party with new ideas about how these things might blend together.
“But at least the debate is started. Maybe that new wind will come.”
Brooks gives us food for thought, a way out of the gridlock and decay, a line down the middle. It is at least a finger pointing the way, not a finger in the eye obscuring out vision.