In the dismal Los Angeles election cycle that mercifully concluded on May 21, much was made about the lack of women in high places if Wendy Greuel didn’t win the mayor’s race.
Greuel herself played the gender card over and over, with pictures of her happy family on every mailer and email, her young son nearly always at her side at weekend and other events, reiterating how being a mother, a wife and woman in a man’s world made her especially qualified to run a complex and troubled city of nearly 4 million people.
To emphasize the point, she lined up support from many prominent women, such as Sen. Barbara Boxer, who appeared in ads and recorded messages for robo-calls that stressed the need for a woman in the mayor’s office.
Yet, she lost and lost badly — by eight percentage points in what was supposed to be a close race.
A long list of explanations has been offered for what went wrong in a surefire campaign that was helped by millions more in independent expenditures than winner Eric Garcetti had, thanks to the generosity of the police, fire, Department of Water and Power and other public employees, plus former President Bill Clinton, former Mayor Richard Riordan and L.A.’s most popular current figure, Magic Johnson.
Maybe she just wasn’t woman enough, as some have suggested, or maybe well into the 21st century in one of the world’s most cosmopolitan and diverse communities, gender and race aren’t the political trump cards so many believe them to be unless somebody makes an issue of it.
In the Hollywood City Council District 13 contest, labor darling John Choi, backed heavily by the city’s powerful unions, supposedly tried to drive a wedge in the Little Armenia community — but still lost to the underfunded Mitch O’Farrell.
It backfired, helping to solidify the Armenian community behind O’Farrell just as a similar effort worked to the advantage of Zareh Sinanyan in Glendale’s recent election.
The Armenian community already was energized by the flap caused by accusations of racial profiling at Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s event to select delegates to the state Democratic Party Convention when the controversy erupted over Sinanyan’s hateful comments on YouTube several years ago.
Nothing brings people together like feeling they are being attacked, which is why the Armenian community came together so strongly to help Sinanyan narrowly win a Glendale City Council seat despite the controversy.
The lesson I take from this is that heavy-handed politicking on race, ethnicity, gender or other cohorts — a detestable word used to enchain us in identity boxes that only are a small part of who we are — is turning voters off, or even getting a reaction opposite from the one that was sought.
Call it wishful thinking, but at a time when we seem to be engaged in an uncivil war and hell-bent on our own destruction, from Washington to Sacramento to City Hall, there are signs that ordinary people are starting to wake up and think for themselves.
It is an undercurrent that needs to go viral and push us in our personal and political lives toward greater tolerance of our differences in values and greater respect for each other’s needs and interests, even when they conflict with our own.
On this Memorial Day weekend, it is worth remembering that the holiday was originally called Decoration Day when it was introduced right after the end of the Civil War as a way to reunite the country and honor the 1.3 million soldiers who died — Confederate and Union soldiers.
Just before the start of the war, Abraham Lincoln, in his famous “A house divided against itself cannot stand” speech that cost him election to the U.S. Senate in 1858, presciently warned about where the intensifying debate over slavery was heading.
“I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free,” he said. “I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”