Where Alph the Sacred River Ran is actually not one of the named destinations of Mayor Richard Riordan's current Asian safari. But there aren't too many other Far Eastern places the city's 80-person official trade task force - enough people to found a colony - is skipping.
Tokyo, Nagoya, Seoul, Pusan, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Taipei: That's quite a two-week itinerary. $470,000: That's quite a sum for the city to be laying out of pocket for this formidable excursion. The mayor and his many private-side camp followers are paying their own way, to be sure. But a commuter-jetload of city wonks - including top harbor and airport managers - is on the tab. It all adds up; you wondered in passing why the wealthy Riordan didn't just fund the entire thing.
You might have expected some local debate, perhaps even controversy. The entire project was run up the City Council's flagpole last week, however, and all but one member stood on their desk and saluted. This wasn't the way it played the last time such a mayoral-departmental excursion was reviewed. During the 1993 sunset of the Tom Bradley administration, the roster of a similar mystery tour was slashed by some 60 percent. Skeptics asked whether that excursion didn't include some last-minute rewards for certain durable Bradley loyalists. At that time, the word junket was bandied among council members. Some even said "joy ride."
Last week, though, neither "J" word was heard. Apart from Councilwoman Rita Walters, who voiced doubts as to the monetary return on the proposed expense and voted no, and Mike Hernandez, who remarked on the ethnically undiverse makeup of the group and voted yes, the council members cast only garlands and godspeed. Indeed, some members discreetly badmouthed Controller Rick Tuttle for even asking the council to take an official, nonbinding look-see at this project.
What ever raised this groundswell of good will toward Mayor Richard Riordan in the bosoms of his traditional City Hall foes? The proposal was, on the whole, a typical urban-junkety compilation of worthy endeavors (attending the inauguration of Korean President-elect Kim Dae Jung, opening a Tokyo office of the city's Visitors and Convention Bureau), good clean fun (plenty of sister-city stuff) as well as some pure fudge: "To thank clients" of Los Angeles' airport and harbor, the document read, "for their continued business with the city . . ."
I wondered hard about this one. We are, after all, talking about commercial transactions here, the you-pay-the-money-you-take-the-services-and-hope-the-check-clears sort of stuff. That ought to be it, really. Do I expect the manager of my local Vons market to show up on my doorstep with several associates to thank me personally for all my years of beer and cat-food purchases? Do I even want him to?
Not exactly. But the council's recumbent approval of the entire show may have had something to do with its members' credulous, almost superstitious reverence for the mayor's alleged business acumen. There seems to be a non sequitur here: "Anyone this bad at governance has got to be terrific at trade."
This, of course, does not necessarily follow. I once knew a chap who was a terrible painter and a worse musician. But he kept landing endowments, from credulous music foundations who thought they were privileged to balance the interests of a major pictorial artist, and from gullible visual-arts benefactors who wanted to aid the creative rounding-out of a first-rate composer.
Simply because someone is bad at one thing, he's not necessarily good at another. Why should we credit Dick Riordan with being better at world commerce than he is at showing up at the Mayor's Office on a regular basis? Or keeping his Original Pantry diner clean and healthy? On the basis of his career history so far, the only things we're sure Riordan's really good at are riding a bicycle in public and making pots of money. For himself.
So what is all this overseas folderol all about? What's the real objective? Delusion of grandeur, perhaps. In that connection, in Riordan's expedition prospectus, there's some interesting language that struck me as beyond the scope of his current job description. For instance, the final stated purpose of the mayor's visit:
"To give his [Riordan's] imprimatur to representatives of targeted Los Angeles growth industries, whose links with Asia will enhance the Los Angeles economy, which is currently growing due in part to its global base and the international skills of local entrepreneurs."
Now, imprimatur is a word you rarely hear in the world of commerce. It used to be applied, along with the accompanying term nihil obstat, to the Holy Authority's official green-lighting of the writings of clerics and other devout members of the Catholic Church. Without imprimatur, you weren't supposed to publish anything about that religion.
This stipulation therefore suggests that Dick Riordan has a holy sanction to review which local corporations may do business with the Pacific Rim. How about that, Free Trade fans?
Elsewhere, in the generous roster of the mayor's jolly rout (which also includes the mayor's semiofficial encomiast, Timesman Jim Newton), we find Deputy Mayor Kelly Martin, who was last seen previewing Riordan's Charter-reform proposals. One of Martin's named tour responsibilities is business "talks with the Chinese shipping company COSCO," which firm was recently planning to move onto the site of the old Long Beach Naval Base. The last time I looked, this transaction was delayed by a local controversy as to whether the base might be put to better public use.
So is L.A. poaching on Long Beach's trade turf? What cheering news that must be to the administration of our neighboring port.
This paper's OffBeat section noted last week that longtime Eastside powermonger Henry Lozano is now, not quite apart from his personal problems in a child-custody case, grooming a challenger to the reportedly financially afflicted 14th District Councilman Richard Alatorre. Lozano thus gores with unrelenting tooth his longtime political foe, who (as was reported here two weeks ago) just happens to have custody of the child Lozano wants to parent.
This contingent Alatorre successor is Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Nick Pacheco, who last year easily won the race to become the 14th's volunteer representative on the Elected Charter Commission. As previously noted, Alatorre is said to be bleeding in the water, the sharks are gathering, etc. And Pacheco just won an election in his very own district. Slam-dunk council seat, right?
I've noted here before, though, that there's at least one other person (and I'm sure there are more) thinking of running: Alvin Parra, the onetime unknown who in the last election grabbed nearly 40 percent of the district's vote with a shoestring campaign against Alatorre. That Parra doesn't seem to have a big-time, or even a small-time, kingmaker behind him may impede his candidacy at least fiscally; morally speaking, that doesn't seem to me a truly infelicitous problem.
I admit that, since we live in the same district and sometimes run into each other on mad nights of weekend partying at the local El Pollo Loco, I do talk to Parra now and then. I once tried to do the same with Pacheco when he was visiting the Appointed Charter Commission's Eastside hearing last summer shortly after his election. I offered my congratulations to the new charter commissioner and stuck out my hand. He ignored it and looked the other way.
This was perhaps my own fault, due to my notoriously poor taste in neckties. Or possibly the newly minted official's mind was stuffed too full of policy matters to notice me. On the other hand, Pacheco may feel that, having the crucial support of the almighty Lozano, he really needn't ingratiate himself with us lowly 14th District voters.