By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Virginia Lee Hunter
After two years during which the Los Angeles city-charter-reform process had all the exhilaration of the America’s Cup race, the game suddenly turned into tournament pingpong last Friday, with what seemed like a new serve every moment. Most of the action involved our mercurial mayor, who, having started the day like Attila the Hun, went to bed that night as sweet as Bunny Pit-Pat.
When we last tuned in, Dick Riordan was still kicking up the warpath, demanding that the new charter include an unmitigated provision that would give his successor firing powers over city managers that virtually no other mayor of a major Western U.S. city happens to possess. This was not what you might call a casual request: It was more like those "non-negotiable" mandates the Black Panthers used to issue back when.
The mayor wanted the power to hire and fire managers without City Council interference, even though this would not become law until after his final term is up in 2001. The next best thing, of course, would be to award such powers to his successor, whoever that person might be. In any case, perhaps because Riordan is so determined to stick it to the City Council he’s so long detested, manager fire-power became the mayor’s primary goal in charter reform.
The problem was that once the mayor decided he wanted those powers in the charter, he didn’t seem to care how he got them there. Thus Riordan, long the poster boy of the weak-mayor system, waxed aggressively nasty. He behaved not just like a strong mayor, but like a strong mayor with a deep, personal grudge. Impersonating the kind of bullying executive our fair city has long learned to do without, he leaned on Elected Charter Commission members with all his might.
Commissioner Richard Macias, who was appointed by Riordan to replace an elected member who had resigned, sustained the deepest cleat marks. By several accounts, Riordan sidekick Bill Wardlaw actually influenced the boss of Macias’ law firm to order Macias to vote the mayoral line. Macias did so, but since his was the ninth and last vote cast for the mayor’s proposal last week, Macias’ zeal appeared substandard to the mayor. With the possibility of a repeat vote coming up this week, Deputy Mayor Kelly Martin asked Macias to resign Friday morning. Now, as it happens, the mayor can’t make his elected-commission appointees resign. Macias didn’t bail. So coming up around noon, the question was whether the mayor would feel obliged to call Dr. Kevorkian on Macias’ behalf.
Then, in midafternoon, everything suddenly changed. Dick Riordan sent out a clement message of compromise (which, notably, reached the Los Angeles Times’ newsroom before it reached the chair of either charter commission). The message asked that the joint conference committee of both commissions meet again, possibly to remove the supposedly sacrosanct manager-firing provision from the charter and make it a separate initiative on the same ballot. Riordan said he trusted the electorate, even though recent advance polling of likely June voters on this topic suggests that such a proposal might fail. But at least its failure would not drag the entire new charter down with it.
So the mayor blinked. And the possibility of a single new charter proposal going before the voters in June is once again before us. On Monday night, the Elected Charter Commission went back to the well and agreed, by a 12-1 vote, to substitute the joint, unified "compromise" document for its own proposal. It also voted at the same time to put a separate mayor’s-powers amendment on the ballot and, for good measure, a further separate amendment that would give the voters a chance to decide whether they wanted elected neighborhood councils.
There are people who will say the mayor’s wimped on this one: that his U-turn shows his innate irresolution on the basics of city government. Well, I don’t know. As one who firmly believes that Dick Riordan was way off-beam with the fire-power demand, I’m scarcely wont to condemn him for changing his mind. He should have done it earlier, but he did it. And that’s good for him, for the city and for the further independence of the charter process.In Another Part of the Valley
Winter can be paradise in the Northeast San Fernando Valley. The days are mild, and as evening draws near, gentle winds gnaw away the light smog, leaving the air so clear that it seems to pull the twilight mountains right into your back yard. Best of all, in Sylmar, San Fernando and Pacoi ma, this is barbacoatime.Barbacoais much more than barbecue: You sink a carcass in a pit full of coals and let it roast for days. When its aromas fill the neighborhood, everyone knows it’s time to eat. There’s jarochomusic on the backyard stereos, and as the wonderful stuff is ladled out with beans and salsa, the sun sinks and living becomes a celebration of itself.
But the barbacoaI attended Saturday near the city of San Fernando celebrated even more. It was the fiesta of a new cycle in Latino electoral politics.