My Sunday Column: Memorial Day’s Lost Meaning Relevant Again — Healing the Wounds of a Nation Divided Against Itself

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.”

(THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED SUNDAY BY THE GLENDALE NEWS-PRESS)

Happy Days Are Here Again in This Temple of Democracy

Sunshine peeks through the clouds, the cynics with all their money and power vanish to their private enclaves, double-dipping Dennis Zine roars off on his Harley to his posh desert hideaway never to be seen again — the costliest, most tediously painful, anti-climactic city election is finally over.

Happy days are here again in this wonderland called L.A.

Enjoy it while you can because come July 1 order will have been restored, Garcetti will be BFF with everyone from Bill Clinton to Brian D’Arcy, Galperin will have his marching orders from labor and the party, and Feuer will posture and preen to the same political pretenses without even being told.

All’s well that ends well. Nothing really changes.

L.A. — you got to love it, the light and dark, the creative genius of it so visible in a new generation of artists, chefs, entrepreneurs and gangsters, so fading in an old guard that sees itself as so much better than the millions of minions so far below, the poor, the immigrant, and most of all the bourgeoisie they despise as nothing more than cash cows.

It has always been that way in L.A.

Nothing that happened Tuesday is going to change that unless you believe in miracles, believe that a man who has known privilege all his life, who believes that City Hall is “a temple of democracy,” a man who has trouble keeping his word will “rise to the occasion,” as editorial fantasists put it, and find strength and courage to stand up with love and respect for all for the greater good.

Unknown to world of self service that clothes itself in the noble language of public service, something great and wonderful is happening, mainly among the young in all their diversity filled with hope and mutual respect.

A new culture filled with promise is being born.  Like everyone who has ever been drawn to the place where dreams are manufactured and sold, their imaginations are lit by the myths of unlimited freedom and endless possibility.

It is not the discontent of the alienated, apathetic and defeated that needs to be tapped but the dreams of something better of those who seek their destinies without access or control by the world where all that talks is power and money.

It’s the beauty of the existential dilemma of living in L.A. now that the Grand Coalition of business, labor and civic elites that bet on a loser who, like them, was incapable of articulating a single idea, not even a single phrase, that contained a word of truth, of real hope.

Garcetti has barely a month to put an agenda on the table that sends the unions, the developers, the political apparatchiks, the big shots reeling back on their heels and inspires the forgotten and ignored.

We don’t need sound bites and pieties. We need leadership, bold and courageous.

If Garcetti wants to be President like most politicians, he needs to make his mark now or he will find he won’t even be mayor all that long.

Democracy isn’t about voting, especially when the system is so closed that it’s always a choice between the lesser of two evils.

It’s about empowering people to feel they matter and that they can be effective at achieving their goals individually and collectively to create a community that reflects their values, meets their needs and serves their interests.

This is L.A. and nothing can stop any of us in our pursuit of private dreams and personal lives wherever that journey may lead us. It’s our collective lives that are lacking.

Maybe that’s why we have been so indifferent, so myopic and self-absorbed, so disengaged that we let the forces of greed and selfishness in all their forms operate without impunity for the last three decades.

Personally, I set out five years ago this month to do what I could to make a difference.

I posted 1,910 blog items, drafted 161 others and killed 3. I started protests and activists groups, went to hundreds of meetings, created an online citizen journalism project. It was all for nought except to know in my heart that I did what I could.

Now, it’s time to get on my shiny new bike and start riding down the billion-dollar bikeway in the L.A. river channel from Winnetka to Long Beach even if it takes me five more years.

This Is Matrix City — Blue Pill or Red Pill: The Choice Is Yours

 

It really doesn’t matter how you vote today, whether you vote for a pixie like Wendy or a pixie like Eric, a user like Feuer or a mooch like Nuch, a swine like Zine or a right Ron named Galperin.

Or even if you don’t vote at all.

Because none of those people will be in charge come July 1. There has been a coup d’etat, bloodless and Invisible, at least to the naked eye.

The elite of the city, such as they are, are now fully in charge of the power and money and the political system.  There is no point of contention between them, no disruption from without that they cannot resolve satisfactorily for the furtherance of their vision and the enhancement of themselves.

What you think, feel, believe, want is no longer relevant. The cabalists have an agenda with all the answers.

City Hall may teeter on the brink of bankruptcy but the simple truth is that the leadership of the city has been bankrupt a long time.

This is a city divided, insiders and outsiders. The irony is those on the inside and those on the outside who are blind to the truth live in a dreamland indifferent to the crumbling the streets and sidewalks, the failure of our schools, the poor public services, the spreading poverty and lack of decent jobs – indifferent unless they can exploit the malaise to further themselves.

You are living in the “Matrix,” a world of delusion that has been pulled over your eyes or you can escape through the rabbit hole and embrace reality.

Red pill or blue pill — the choice is your.

You can remain oblivious to what is really happening around you or start to live .

You can choose the blue pill and wake up and believe whatever you want to believe, remain oblivious to what is really happening around you and never give a damn again about anyone or anything else, just like everybody else.

Or you can take the red pill and see things as they are, a wonderland of unlimited freedom and possibility where the tyranny of the majority holds no power over you.

The lie or the truth – the choice is yours.

My Sunday Column: Brains, talent, too much ambition — Paul Krekorian Angers Many in Little Armenia by Role in CD 13 Race

In the costliest and most vicious City Council race of the Los Angeles election season, the battle for Hollywood has shattered beliefs about Armenian solidarity, with Paul Krekorian‘s role seen as causing deep rifts in the community.

Little Armenia in East Hollywood is a key battleground area where Krekorian’s endorsement of labor union darling John Choi and the heavy-handed tactics that are being employed against Mitch O’Farrell, a popular council staffer, have enraged many local community leaders.

They claim Choi, a new resident of the district, with Krekorian’s help, hired Armenian campaign workers from Glendale to staff phone banks and walk door-to-door to confuse thousands of newly registered voters who are mostly immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

“Choi workers are telling voters they’re calling from my office and going to people’s homes and using my name and saying that I’m for Choi and telling old people that they’ll lose their low-income housing and benefits,” said Sam Kbushyan, son of a prominent Little Armenia restaurateur and the third-place finisher in a primary field of 12 who more than doubled Armenian voter registration during his campaign.

Choi, for his part, has repeatedly denied the accusations, claiming its actually O’Farrell’s workers misrepresenting themselves.

Kbushyan’s harsh words are repeated over and over by Little Armenian community leaders who are working hard to elect O’Farrell, a veteran staffer in mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti‘s council office who is highly regarded in the neighborhoods as responsive to their concerns.

Between them, Choi and O’Farrell got barely a third of the votes in the March primary. They have raised close to $800,000 combined, gotten $436,000 in public matching funds, and received, at last report, nearly $800,000 in independent expenditures, with Choi having better than a 2-1 money advantage.

“They’re calling Paul a traitor — it’s so unfair of them to ignore all that he has done for the Armenian community as a private citizen, a Burbank school board member, a state Assemblyman and now a councilman,” said Krekorian spokesman Jeremy Oberstein.

He suggested Kbushyan and others prominent in Little Armenia groups are not authentic community leaders and pointed to Krekorian’s original statement of why he was backing a candidate in the 13th District, especially one perceived as an outsider being promoted with union money to consolidate power on the council.

“John Choi has shown he knows what it takes to preserve vital city services like street paving, filling potholes and building parks despite budget cuts. He’s my choice for City Council because we need strong leaders like him in the tough days ahead,” Krekorian had said.

Others in the community offer a different take on why Krekorian, who represents a North Hollywood-based district in the East San Fernando Valley, would put his credibility on the line in this race.

“He’s trying to show to the unions that he did something they wanted, that he supported John Choi, so later, when he runs for mayor, they will support him. It’s all politics,” said Edgar Makhshikyan, a long-time resident who co-founded the Little Armenia Chamber of Commerce and heads the Little Armenia Homeowners Association.

“When Sam Kbushyan was the candidate we had no problem, we were all together and working hard for him and for our community. Then, after the primary, Paul Krekorian got involved and because of him, we have these problems.

In contrast to Choi, O’Farrell is seen as “a good person, an honorable person who has helped us every time,” said Garo Keurjikian, honorary mayor of Little Armenia and owner of a towing and auto repair business.

“I don’t want trouble, but Krekorian is dividing the community. It’s a dirty business. They just want to take votes from the old ladies and confusing people. They are doing the wrong thing. I don’t like that.”

In its endorsement of O’Farrell, the L.A. Times sounded similar concerns raised by the Little Armenia community leaders, noting Choi’s lack of history in the district and his deep union ties.

The Times said, “It was troubling during the primary when he promised at an endorsement meeting with the Service Employees International Union: “You are going to be on the inside. We are going to decide who to open the door for.”

For my money, that goes directly to why Krekorian unnecessarily got involved. I helped him win the special election to City Council after a long discussion about issues and values and watched him do all the right things for six months as he used his intelligence to learn the nature of the L.A. political game.

Then, he became its most eloquent and articulate defender of its most preposterous policies that ignored the concerns of residents, policies that served the unions, developers, contractors and the corrupt political machine itself, rising day by day to positions of greater importance and influence.

To my mind, he’s got that “lean and hungry look” that makes those with too much ambition dangerous. That’s sad, since he has the brains and talent to stand on his own and be a real leader, instead of a panderer to special interests.

(THIS COLUMN WAS PUBLISHED SUNDAY IN THE GLENDALE NEWS-PRESS)

Elect Mike Feuer as City Attorney — Who Better Than a Crook as L.A.’s Chief Prosecutor and Law Enforcement Officer

Putting weaklings without courage like Greuel or Garcetti into the mayor’s office is a problem, a big problem.

Putting a two-faced scoundrel like Zine in the controller’s office as the public’s watchdog when he’s nothing but a yapping Chihuahua is a joke.

But even worse is the near certainty that you the electorate, lapdog to the rich and powerful, will elect a criminal suspect as this second-rate city’s chief prosecutor and law enforcement officer. It is no laughing matter.

Back in the days when he was a City Council member, Feuer made the radical leftist Jackie Goldberg look a Republican and showed so little respect for the law and public policy despite his Harvard law education that he thought it was smarter to pay millions of dollars a year to people injured in trip-and-fall accidents on the city’s crumbling sidewalks than to repair them.

Somehow he fumbled the 2001 City Attorney election, losing to Rocky Delgadillo but found a new calling as a state Assembly member where he supported the spending sprees that have jeopardized California’s future, and backed gutting the California Environmental Quality Act for the benefit of AEG’s now deceased Farmer’s Field project and to squelch community concerns about transit projects in L.A.

His crowning achievement was authoring AB109 to empty the prisons of supposedly non-violent, non-sexual, non-serious offenders without effective monitoring or support – a radical reform of the criminal justice system that has allowed the freed felons to engage in murder, mayhem and rape across the state.

But none of those acts are criminal – just disdainful of the public interest.

No, the crime of Mike Feuer is this:

City Ethics Ordinance, Section 49.7.28.C, “Requests for Matching Funds Payments,”“A candidate who makes a request for matching funds payment and knows or should know that the request is false…is guilty of a misdemeanor and shall return all matching funds received as a result of the request.  If the candidate holds or is elected to office, the false request constitutes a violation of official duties and, if it is deemed appropriate by a court under Charter Section 207 (C), shall be removed from office.” — City Ethics Ordinance, Section 49.7.28.C, “Requests for Matching Funds Payments,”

What Feuer did was conspire with his political consultant John Shallman to make a mockery of public financing of political campaigns.

Under the terms of their deal, Shallman — who is desperate for cash since he faces huge tax liens and debts after being robbed blind in the Kinde Durkee scandal – agreed to take $1 as payment starting in February 2012 through March 5 of this year with a $50,000 bonus if Feuer won outright in the primary. At least that’s what they claimed when questions started being asked.

The value of Shallman’s services over those 13 months was between $200,000 and $300,000 but Feuer did not report it as in-kind contributions at “fair market value” as state law requires, a deceit that allowed him to stay just under the spending limit to qualify for $300,000 in public matching funds for the primary and even more than that in the runoff.

Feuer has shown his legal skills are not all that great in changing his story and double-talking his way around this problem.

He claimed he got “verbal” non-binding approval from someone in the City Ethics staff for a scheme that somewhat parallels the crimes Councilman Martin Ludlow committed in winning election in 2005 before being forced out a year later as he faced felony charges in both state and federal court.

Because Shallman didn’t report his in-kind contributions and now has a contract of a sort with Feuer (for $15,000 a month since their finagling was exposed), they potentially both face felony conspiracy charges, not just misdemeanors – not that anyone in an official capacity has shown any interest in doing anything about this.

The see-no-evil Ethics Commission took a pass on responding to formal complaints about the Feuer scheme. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich in the runoff against Feuer on Tuesday had to recuse himself, leaving it to District Attorney Jackie Lacey who responded by announcing she was endorsing Feuer for City Attorney — not investigating him for criminality.

That left enforcement of the law to private citizen and long-time community activist Laura Lake.

A little known provision of the City Charter allows for the public to act as a “private attorney general,” which the Ethics Commission says provides for “an additional layer of oversight, public involvement and accountability” and allows private citizens to enforce the City’s ethics laws if the city fails to do so in a timely fashion, usually meaning 40 days.

Here are key provisions of the city ethics rules in the Charter:

(2) Civil Enforcement.

(A) Any person who intentionally or negligently violates any provision of this section shall be liable in a civil action brought by the City Attorney or by a person residing within the City. Where no specific civil penalty is provided, a person may be liable for an amount up to two thousand dollars ($2,000) for each violation.

(B) Any person who intentionally or negligently makes or receives a contribution, or makes expenditure, in violation of any provision of this section shall be liable in a civil action brought by the City Attorney or by a person residing within the City for an amount up to three times the amount of the unlawful contribution or expenditure.

Injunction. The City Attorney on behalf of the people of the City of Los Angeles or any person residing in the City of Los Angeles may sue for injunctive relief to enjoin violations or to compel compliance with the provisions of this section. The Court may award a plaintiff or defendant who prevails his or her costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney’s fees; provided, however, that no such award may be granted against the City of Los Angeles.

On Jan. 18, Lake filed a formal ethics complaint. Six weeks later, Shallman claimed in an LA Times interview he was being paid only $1 with a bonus to be determined later.

On March 20, Lake received a letter from the Ethics Commission stating there are no records showing written advice or opinions about Feuer’s contract with Shallman.

A week later, she filed a lawsuit, alleging Feuer violated the law. The next day Feuer announced he was “voluntarily” changing his contract with Shallman because he’s such a great consultant – not because of Lake’s lawsuit.

In subsequent days, Feuer’s story kept changing.

One day, he said he “didn’t think it was necessary” to get the ethics staff’s verbal approval in writing despite clear language in the law that informal advice is not binding. Another day he claimed there was the $50,000 bonus provision in the original contract.

What really matters is that city ethics laws were created to provide a level playing field for candidates and to provide full transparency for campaigns in the city.

For too long, the Ethics Commission has handed down little more than slap-on-the-wrist punishments for violations. If Feuer gets away with this, public financing of campaigns will be dead and ethics laws will be decimated.

Even when Ludlow was forced out of office and prosecuted, he got off with probation and was celebrated as a hero by many of the most powerful and influential people in the city who raised funds for his legal defense.

In Feuer’s case, the best hope is that voters will somehow wake up from their dream world and reject this self-styled advocate of clean and honest elections and supporter of a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that opened the floodgates to unlimited campaign contributions.

If he wins as expected, he will have made a mockery of democracy and provided a fitting end to the pretense of the rule of law, not men.

Someday maybe Mike Feuer will be seen as the living embodiment of the triumph of the tyranny of the majority.

In the meantime, L.A. deserves to have a crook as their chief law enforcement officer, doesn’t it?

The Right Choice Is The Only Choice: Eric Garcetti for Mayor

I don’t know how there can be any question about who is the best person to be mayor of LA, given the choice between easiest to manipulate and easiest to intimidate.

Maybe as supporters – it would be incorrect to refer to them as believers – say Wendy is made of sterner stuff than she has shown so far in her long public career and maybe Eric has the capacity to rise above what he has shown so far in his long public career.  Maybe as everybody knows Wendy stands for nothing and Eric’s word counts for nothing.

But the choice is ours and the consequences are great.

As a muckraker and troublemaker, the only question for me is whether the bitchers and moaners in every part of the city, rich and poor and all the rainbows of so-called race and so-called ethnicity, can capture the ear of the one person who can move the public conversation and wield political influence all on his or her own.

Wendy Greuel is a decent woman; a feather dancer of sorts who always makes sure every part of her being is well-concealed. In a phrase, she is a butt-coverer who never takes a risk and so the rich and powerful and smart and caring – I mean those singular individuals of such great important who are at once richpowerfulsmartcaring and any other virtues applicable to the elite – know with certainty Wendy will do what she is told.

Eric Garcetti is not like that.

Those richpowerfulsmartcaring etc men and women of such great influence don’t trust him. I hesitate to say why but you need to know: They think he doesn’t really know who he is because he is sexually confused. If he was outright LGBT it would be OK with them. But the think that he is sexually confused – as if anyone who has ever lived wasn’t – makes him untrustworthy.

I don’t know or care about any of that. What matters to me is that he is so vulnerable and open as a person – perhaps because he is actually in touch with and expressing his sense of self – that anyone can get to him.

You may have to create a row. You may have to throw fits and tantrums and storm the City Hall Kremlin.

But anybody has a chance to get to Eric Garcetti, to make him listen, to make him do something. He doesn’t have to rise to the occasion as the elitists in the ivory towers so narcissistically put it.

He just has to respond to the clarion call of the disenchanted at least as much as from the whispers of the enchanted.

Not even as much.

Just sometimes.

Wendy cannot respond at all. She is not in touch with her own confusion so the doors and windows to her being are closed shut to all who have not met the qualifications of a woman of high standards.

There may be little hope for LA. But there is no choice for mayor.

Public Be Damned: LAX Expansion and the Culture of Greed

In this the fifth anniversary month of my citizen activism, I thought the desolation of this election season and the futility of all that I have done – Saving LA Project, OurLA.org, LA Clean Sweep, 1902 blog posts and more than 100 newspaper columns – had silenced my voice.

And then a friend called to remind me the City Council today was taking up the long-delayed expansion plan for LAX, construction of a new north runway to accommodate super-jets at the expense of long-term disturbance of Westchester and other Westside communities and abandonment of a regionalized air traffic policy that would benefit all of Southern California.

It is an issue I’ve followed for 20 years or so and never understood why anyone in their right mind would try to salvage one of the world’s worst airports – landlocked and ocean-locked, bereft of public transport access – unless there was an ulterior motive that had nothing to do with the public interest.

The motive, of course, is the motive for everything that happened in L.A. for the last 150 years: GREED.

The business community, the labor leadership, the civic leadership are all aboard the plans for LAX, public be damned, congestion be damned, the environment be damned. There’s money to be made so why share any of it with the nobodies out in the Antelope Valley, Inland Empire or anywhere else.

Only Rosendahl (and his successor Mike Bonin) stood against the nonsense of the LAX “modernization” scheme if you discount the opportunism (Mayor) Garcetti and (Controller) Zine in casting safe “no” votes and the phony hand-wringing from the weak-kneed Koretz who rolled over as usual to the power structure.

The worst part is the EIR they approved 10-3 for the $652 million project to move the north runway 260 feet closer to residential neighborhoods for what LAX officials admitted was only a marginal safety increase, more convenience than safety in fact, totally lacks plans for traffic impact during years of construction that includes major re-routing of Lincoln Boulevard.

But who cares – more passengers means more jobs for hotel workers with their “living wage” deals, and more revenue for hotel operators blackmailed into those deals, more union construction jobs guaranteed under city-enforced project labor agreements, more business opportunities in the most congested part of the city, county and region instead of out in the boondocks.

It’s all about who profits and who holds the keys to power no matter how much harm is done to the quality of life for vast numbers of people.

This is what L.A. is about – money and power. It’s why the L.A. County Chamber of Commerce, the L.A. Civic Alliance, the L.A. County Federation of Labor all aboard to this high-flying flight to oblivion.

They are united behind Greuel for mayor and mostly for Galperin for controller, which is why Garcetti and Zine are siding with the begrudged community that came out in force with support from the city’s lowest paid unionized workers in the SEIU.

They have been united for decades now, feeding off the public, turning L.A. into a horror-show with the nation’s dirtiest air, worst congestion, bursting pipes and rutted streets, deteriorating neighborhoods, pervasive gangs, poor schools, soaring poverty, dying economy and a rapidly declining quality of life.

These are your masters. You are their slaves. You suffer the consequences of their actions, pay their bills and when it all gets to be too much, slink off with a whimper and whine.

L.A. – don’t you love it?

L.A.’s Committee of 12½: The Fate of Your City Is in Their Hands — The Election Runoff Outcomes Mean Nothing

Back in they heyday of L.A., the Chandler family ruled the city in collaboration with other while male racist, anti-Semitic and Commie-hating oligarchs led by insurance tycoon Asa Call. They were  the Committee of 25.

They profited  handsomely from every deal: stealing the water from the desert, stealing the land in the San Fernando Valley, destroying the red car public transit system while building highways and selling cars. They owned it all, used their newspapers to control the politicians and enforced their rule with a paramilitary police force led by a drunken chief who shared their values.

Those were the bad old days that sometimes don’t look quite some bad these days. People from all over the world flocked to Los Angeles where the living was easy and there were plenty of good jobs, the Chandler family’s newspapers were ridiculed and the cops were hated.

It all began to change with the election of Tom Bradley in 1973 with the help of a new generation of civic and business leaders who were liberal and open-minded. Public employee unions were legalized; barriers to blacks outside the ghetto and Jews outside of Hollywood fell away; the middle class flourished.

Twenty years later, the glow had begun to fade, bringing one of the new oligarchs, Richard Riordan into the mayor’s office with the promise “to turn L.A. around.”

Yet it more than a decade after the Rodney King beating and a second riot to begin to reform the LAPD under federal court control. By then the defense and aerospace industries with their good-paying jobs were largely gone and much of the middle class with them, replaced by immigrants, legal and illegal, competing for low-wage service jobs.

And the power of unions had grown so enormous that they funded and controlled nearly every elected official, helping them get one sweetheart contract after another and to parlay their power into collaborations with developers through politically-mandated project labor agreements.

So it should come as no surprise that with the economy shattered and the city’s finances in tatters that the new oligarchs would step up and try to salvage the situation.

Call them the Committee of 12½, though it’s far from clear at this point that have even half the power or clarity of purpose than the Committee of 25 once did.

Led by long-time power player and former Clinton Administration Cabinet member Mickey Kantor, the Los Angeles 2020 Commission as it prefers to be known, has brought together 12 top business, civic and labor leaders plus the one-half in alternate member George Pla, head of Cordoba Corp. and one of the richest and most influential players to rise out of Eastside politics in the last 40 years.

The commission idea was engineered by Austin Beutner, the former first deputy mayor and retired equity fund operator who took a brief shot at running for mayor before realizing an outsider had no chance of arousing a disengaged electorate to overthrow the power of unions, developers and others buy the politicians.

The Chamber of Commerce has three board members on the commission; labor unions three including the police, DWP and construction union heads; the political arena three including recalled Gov. Grey Davis; USC has a seat so does Maldef and Common Cause.

With a six-month timeline to develop in private a plan to revive the economy and fix the city budget, this elitist group intends to balance the interests of those who have power and influence to one degree or another without regard to everybody else, which is the vast majority.

It is clear to everyone involved, this is as elitist as it gets — a virtual coup d’etat hanging over the two frightened little people competing for the mayor’s office and a City Council totally under the control of the forces that have pushed the city to ruin, waiting to give them orders on what to do.

If the Committee of 12½ actually proposed the sharp pay cuts and other reforms needed to bring City Hall’s spending under control — inconceivable given the greed shown for decades by city unions — it is hard to see the new mayor or the Council toadies going along even if a tax increase were part of the package.

It is equally inconceivable that this crowd can understand that economic revival cannot take place in a city that is dispirited and disconnected without dramatically changing the political culture by eliminating the full-time Council and expanding its seat from 15 to 35 or more to bring government to the local communities.

So all they can be expected is a mix of rehashed proposals to cut business taxes, have workers pay a little more for health care, slug the public with higher taxes, and count of the Democrat-controlled legislature to gut Proposition 13 and CEQA so L.A. can speed up the destruction of its neighborhoods.

Despite the odds against achieving much, the Committee of 12½ has raised expectations be leaping into the vacuum of power and asserting it can actually do something to save L.A.

For better or worse, it is the only play in town — surely no one holds out any hope that the mayoral candidate who is easiest to manipulate or the candidate who is easiest to intimidate are going to make the slightest difference at all.

My Sunday Column: Civic engagement and high expectations — The Dave Golonski Story

It was the changing of the guard — Parcher Plaza at Glendale City Hall filled with people celebrating Mayor Frank Quintero with taquitos and cupcakes, a gathering of well-wishers that included Burbank Mayor Dave Golonski, who offered a framed memento in tribute.

The irony was hard to miss.

Quintero was retiring quietly, much as he had served the public for 12 years; Golonski was going out with something of a roar, essentially fired by voters just two days earlier in a runoff election after 20 years of serving his city.

Both men had achievements to take pride in, helping their cities at a time of great transition and enormous stresses to stay healthy and vibrant.

I’ve known Golonski a long time, since an issue in the alley behind him — a large-scale development taking place without anyone in his neighborhood knowing about it or having a say — got him involved in activism and led him to the noise problems from Bob Hope Airport, and finally, to win a City Council seat in 1993 as a slow-growth candidate in the face of a decade of growth at any price.

“It’s been a great run, but after 20 years, I guess my time was up. Maybe it’s a function of being there so long,” Golonski said, taking defeat philosophically as we chatted before the Quintero event.

“We’ve seen an evolution take place in Burbank,” he said. “But we managed to grow and prosper and still somehow hold onto the small-town community feeling and pride. That’s extremely important to me.”

As a politician, Golonski made a lot of friends over the years, and his share of enemies — politics is what cities are all about.

The word “politics” itself derives from the ancient Greek word polis, meaning city, as in Athens and Sparta, where human beings came together in common purpose and feel they are part of something greater than themselves.

Cities are the basis of civilization, not nations. Great cities are about real politics, grassroots grappling with economics and quality-of-life issues that directly affect everyone’s life.

That’s why it seems so ridiculous to me that voter turnout is far higher in state and national elections than in local ones. Or that the vast majority of people pay far more attention to abstract issues and what is happening far away than what is happening down the street — to stuff that directly affects them, and that they, in turn, can directly affect.

My city, Los Angeles, is a shameless city, a city where every elected official is bought and owned by interlocking business and labor interests and the public is disengaged or paralyzed by its powerlessness.

Burbank and Glendale aren’t like that. They’re small enough for people to feel connected, big enough to control their destinies.

“It isn’t just about leadership or voter turnout — it’s about civic engagement,” Golonski said. “There’s a cadre of people in Burbank involved in all kinds of stuff, making the schools better, pushing the arts, the sustainability commission, people delivering meals to the elderly — they’re all part of that machine and they’re all committed to making sure that machine is pointed in the right direction.”

He explained why he never had other higher political ambitions.

“You never have to vote for anything you don’t believe in,” he said. “I tell new council members I’m never going to vote for anything you support unless you convince me it’s the right thing to do, so you shouldn’t vote for anything I support unless you believe it’s the right thing to do.

“If you go to Sacramento, you can’t do that because your seat will be in the nose-bleed seats and you’ll never accomplish anything.”

The biggest challenge of his time in office was Lockheed leaving, a void that was filled by the entertainment industry —something he believes the city needs to work hard to change by diversifying its economic base.

His biggest regret is that the council didn’t see the use-of-force and internal discrimination allegations at the Police Department sooner.

“There was so much esteem for the police and everyone was so happy at how effective they were that when issues came up about how they were being effective, there were people that just refused to believe that that was a possibility that there were such problems,” he said.

What makes Burbank special, what makes great cities work, Golonski added, is that “you have strong, caring neighborhoods that will come out in force and a community with high expectations.”

At 54, Golonski said doesn’t intend to simply go away. “But my level of involvement is going to be different,” he said.

(Published at Glendale News-Press)

How Can Anybody Fix the ‘Time-Sucking, Money-Wasting, Soul-Crushing’ Mayoral Candidates Who Stand for Nothing?

“As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate . . . Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests. — Gore Vidal

The question at Thursday night’s televised mayoral debate from Rob Eshman, editor of the Jewish Journal, cut to the heart of everyone’s everyday experience in L.A. — “How are you going to fix the time-sucking, money-wasting, soul-crushing traffic in Los Angeles?”

The answers from Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, stripped of the not-very-hot-air they spew were identical: They are going to do exactly what Antonio Villaraigosa is doing with Measure R’s subway-to-the-sea and more light rail for the Westside plus the increasingly popular multi-billion-dollar fantasy tunnel through the mountains between Westwood and Sherman Oaks.

Think about it: These two make the morally and intellectually bankrupt Villaraigosa look dynamic and innovative.