In the aftermath of the triumph of common sense on a single issue amidst the destruction of hope for L.A.’s future everywhere else on Election Day, there are so many important issues to discuss, so much fuel to try to raise the consciousness of the citizenry that has lost its faith in the city’s leadership.
There was the cowardly performance in a non-leading role by the mayor in going along late in the day in support of a tax that he knew was not an answer to the years of failure on his part to confront the problem that City Hall’s payroll and benefits costs had ballooned on his watch and could no longer be afforded by taxpayers.
All along he knew the campaign was built on lies, lies about the deficit, lies about what had been achieved in the last four years to bring spending under control, lies about firing 500 cops.
There were the humiliating performances in a leading role by Charlie Beck who showed beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is a Political Chief – not a Police Chief – and in a supporting role by Fire Chief Brian Cummings as they took center stage in publicly selling the deceitful campaign for Measure A.
How they could betray their sworn oaths to be cops and firefighters first and always – the oaths people in those perilous jobs count on when their lives are on the line — is beyond me and I’m sure many in the rank-and-file.
But they and all the other top bureaucrats have faced the same dilemma day in and day out under the leadership of the mayor and City Council: Your blind obedience or your job – it’s your choice.
I can go on and on through a long litany of crimes high and low that have been committed by the city’s political leadership but there are crimes far more severe and significant that I lay at the feet of the city’s civic and business elites.
They have gone along with a political machine that they knew was failing and incompetent for reasons of their own egos and personal advantages – they call it pragmatism — and then clothing their actions in the noble language of the high-minded who can see beyond their own interests and embrace service to the greater good for all without putting themselves at risk to achieve it.
There are hundreds of smart, successful and good-hearted people who have gone astray but the one who singled himself Sunday in the pages of the New York Times was Steve Soboroff.
In a story devoid of any knowledge of the political realities of Los Angeles or even its history, reporter Jennifer Medina began her story on L.A.’s primary by saying it was “the lowest (voter turnout) rate for a primary without an incumbent since 1978” – an embarrassing factual error in the lead of the story since Tom Bradley already was in the second year of his second of five terms by 1978.
Here are the next two paragraphs of her “Left Coast” cliché reporting:
The paltry showing has many here wringing their hands, wondering what has become of the city’s residents. Is there no such thing as civic engagement in this sprawling metropolis? Are municipal elections really that boring, even as the city faces serious financial problems? After many here thought the stereotype of a vapid city was buried long ago, there is a renewed sense of a civic inferiority complex.
“I am in mourning,” said Steve Soboroff, who ran for mayor in 2001 and received more votes than any of the candidates in Tuesday’s election did. “The idea that it is socially acceptable not to vote, but people talk about where they get their shoes from, is shameful. I love L.A., and I am very proud of our city, but people here need to get a grip.”
How dare a guy who knows better, who is capable of better, like Steve Soboroff tell the world what’s wrong with L.A. is the “people” when he and so many others in his special position have let the people down, have let the dreams of the city down, have let themselves and their ideals down.
I know Steve and respect a lot of things about him but his quote shows exactly what is wrong with what passes for an establishment in this city.
Soboroff’s own actions in this critical election are symptomatic.
In the current election cycle, Soboroff gave $1,300 each in the mayor’s race to Controller Wendy Greuel, the easiest to manipulate, Councilman Eric Garcetti, the easiest to intimidate, and Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is at least somewhat tougher to manipulate or intimidate; $1,300 to Assemblyman Mike Feuer’s City Attorney race; $250 to Councilman Dennis Zine in the Controller’s race; $700 each to state Sen. Curren Price and David Roberts running against each other in CD9; $500 to California’s “worst legislator” Felipe Fuentes in CD7, and $700 to Chief of Staff Mike Bonin bidding to succeed his boss in CD11 where Soboroff lives and made much of his fortune.
With the single exception of David Roberts, everyone else he gave money to is part of the problem, professional politicians and City Hall staff — and he knows the truth of that as well as I do.
Election after election, the business and civic leadership have put their money the same place as the unions, developers, billboard companies and all the other special interests put theirs.
Their goal was to be on the winning team for their own benefit just as Soboroff gave equally to the three politicians in the mayor’s race.
Only former Mayor Richard Riordan broke ranks from his brothers and sisters at the top by supporting longshot attorney/talk show host Kevin James who tied Jan Perry for third place at a respectable 17 percent. The word on the street now is he is leaning to back Greuel as the “lesser of two evils” — the kind of choice voters face in L.A. all the tiime.
You can go through the contributor lists of all the professional politicians on the March 5 ballot and you will see the who’s who of L.A. – the rich and influential right there alongside the special interest manipulators and corrupters buying their seats at the table of power without regard to the public interest.
The L.A. Chamber of Commerce boasts in its weekly email, “Five out of six Chamber PAC-supported City of Los Angeles candidates and one out of two Los Angeles Unified School District board candidates either won or will move on to the run-off elections in May. Thank you to our Chamber members who voted on Tuesday and supported the L.A. Jobs PAC’s efforts to elect candidates who support job creation, business investment and fiscal solvency in our city.”
So where did the Chamber put its PAC money – where its economic interests are: Greuel, Gil Cedillo in CD1, Fuentes, Bonin, Alex De Ocampo in CD13, Councilman Joe Buscaino in CD15, school board president Monica Garcia and Kate Anderson, the darling of the big money outsiders who like Ocampo lost.
What the Chamber didn’t mention was it also backed Measure A, a decision that was so astounding as to call into question whether there is even an atom of difference between what the Chamber perceives as the interests of business and what labor perceives as the interests of unions.
With the front-runner mayoral candidates promising to eliminate the $450 million-a-year gross receipts tax, the business community was quite happy to stick it to the poorest among us with the most regressive tax they could find.
No, the problem isn’t “the people” – though the names of every person who didn’t vote should be put online in a searchable database so their friends and neighbors can know what kind of citizens they are.
No, the problem is that throughout its history the narrow and often narrow-minded elites that ran L.A. never cared about anything except their own enrichment and self-aggrandizement.
When the new guard overthrew the old oligarchy, the Committee of 25, with Tom Bradley’s election in 1973, they counted as their achievement sharing a bit of the wealth and power with blacks and later Latinos though it took 30 more years to end the officially-sanctioned LAPD immunity with regards to brutality against the poor and minorities.
Today, the new establishment that grew out of the Bradley revolution has gotten old and has gone along with the evolution of power for so long that they have lost their moral compass and cling to the illusion of their importance by defaming “the people” whose voice is silenced, whose interests are ignored while funding and backing a new establishment of egotists and greed merchants.
Greuel and Garcetti are in line of succession to be the face of the emerging new establishment, weak figures who stand for nothing, who say nothing, who do nothing – actors on the political stage playing the role of rising stars without actually demonstrating any capacity to lead.
We the people can only hope and pray that before those with money and power and those who yearn to join them at the table of power back off for the moment.
Redemption awaits them if they join efforts to force the mayoral candidates to lay out specific plans for how they will fix the budget, define what services they will prioritize and what services they will cut and spell out loud and clearly now how they will deal with union demands for lucrative new contracts and all the demands from their contributors for a return on investment.
I know so many of the people who make up what I have satirized as the Committee of 225 but they are better than they have acted.
Steve Soboroff knows the difference between right and wrong and cares deeply about the city and its people. I could rattle of the names of dozens of people just like him who are capable of doing better and leading us all to strive for a city in which we respect the differences in our values, needs and interests and strive for a balance of those differences.
The antidote to what it wrong is the birth of an L.A. culture that is based on the shared value of striving for something greater than our own self-interest, reaching for our higher and better selves.
The “people” deserve whatever is coming to them for tolerating a”vapid city” with its well-deserved “inferiority complex,” as the NYTimes puts it in its arrogance that can no longer be rationally justified by its journalistic performance.
Yes, it is only the “people” who can drive L.A. to reach for something great, deserve something great – something that can only happen if those with the power, the wealth, the status rise above their pettiness and reach for the stars to discover the true spirit of this city where dreams are made of, where myths of freedom unbounded still abound in the day-to-day experiences of ordinary people.
None of this is a mystery to the candidates or the city’s elite. It’s time they start showing the courage to stand up for what is right. Only then will L.A. be able to show it is a city with a soul beneath its glittery facade.