What would your town be like if its harshest critic had a seat at the table of power?
The question is a natural one for me to ask, as I am one of the harshest critics of what passes for a government in the city of Los Angeles. I have envisioned from time to time what impact I could have as a councilman ranting about backroom deals and policies that pandered to special interests at the public’s expense.
Not much, I concluded, unless the public was aroused and wanted real change. But Glendale clearly is not L.A. I’ve come to know and respect top city officials in Glendale, elected and appointed, for being forthright and for doing a pretty good job.
It was with that in mind that I sat down last week at Billy’s Deli on Orange Street, where one of the city’s harshest critics, City Council candidate Herbert Molano, was pecking at a bowl of oatmeal.
Call him a gadfly, call him a nuisance who jumbles the facts to suit his purposes, as many inside City Hall see him, or call him a visionary fighting for justice, as he sees himself; whatever label you apply, there’s no doubt Molano stands out from the field for his intelligence and perseverance in a decade-long campaign of challenging City Hall week after week with statistics and percentages and his own brand of insights.
How, I asked, can he look through a glass so darkly at Glendale when it seems like such a well-run city to me, a paradise when compared with L.A.?
“You’re basically talking about a totally corrupt system in L.A. and saying we’re not as corrupt,” he said. “But we have officials who lie, who hide the truth from the public and waste taxpayer money. The only reason we are living better than L.A. is because so many things were done right many years ago.”
Molano tells a remarkable story about his “Horatio Alger” life, how his mother fled hardships and turmoil in her homeland in Colombia and brought her children to L.A., where they faced more hardships balanced only by hope for a better life.