By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
This, the most varied Los Angeles City Council district, has predictably attracted one of the most diverse collections of council candidates ever to run. Yes, there are 13 distinct contenders in the 13th District, which includes not only the Hollywood entertainment capital, but just about every known aspect of Southland culture, population and geography except beachfront housing.
But the 13th has a political importance all its own. It has, over 20 years, birthed a local-political-consciousness upsurge in a city long renowned for caring little for such matters. Starting with Mike Woo’s initial candidacy in 1981, it‘s where the liberal edge of city politics has been honed. All the 2001 candidates interviewed agreed on things like the need for more cheap housing, a noncommercial redevelopment of the Cornfields rail yards, and LAPD reform, though only two, Eric Garcetti and Art Goldberg, emphasized that they would like to replace Police Chief Bernard Parks. All were strongly pro-labor.
In short, this is not the Los Angeles council district you win with George W. Bush’s endorsement. But the 13th is probably the best district in which to run if you are gay or lesbian, or of an ethnic minority not strongly represented in the area. As the openly out Jackie Goldberg and her Sino-American predecessor Woo prove. The pair might otherwise, on an imaginary political questionnaire, check the same boxes as to beliefs and convictions. Yet, it is hard to imagine two more contrasting incumbents. The contrast has to do, basically, with Woo‘s love of theory vs. Goldberg’s love of practice; it‘s tempting to say the current candidates evince one or the other preference. But most cleave to Goldberg’s ideals.
Goldberg left a huge gap when she was elected to the Assembly, simply by dint of her incredible seven-year burst of energy on behalf of the underdog. There‘s no one on the council now to care about how many women are in the Fire Department, what benefits are available for non-spousal partners, and her last important cause, fair benefits and work conditions for part-time workers. Although sometimes weak on constituent services, her staff worked strongly for what Goldberg saw as social change, in and out of her district.
Which brings us to Goldberg’s predecessor, Mike Woo, who now wants to succeed her. Woo‘s 1985 triumph was a rebound win. His 1981 loss to banal incumbent Peggy Stevenson was due in part to racist innuendo. Woo spent his first term backing some good causes -- such as Mayor Tom Bradley’s anti-apartheid campaign and his own bid to make Los Angeles a safe haven for Latino political refugees -- but seemed never to get the hang of city politics. As he puts it now, ”I tried to do too much at once.“ Woo says he burnt out his office staff. At the time, however, that staff seemed in a state of semipermanent purge that, curiously, rid it of Asian faces.
Woo‘s second term was highlighted by his brave early call for the ouster of Police Chief Daryl Gates after the Rodney King beating and lowlighted by his prolonged preoccupation with what was to be his calamitous 1993 mayoral candidacy. Woo was already pondering his mayoral ambitions when I interviewed him in late 1985.
Now Woo is back again, after a stiff little court fight that left open the possibility that council members who served before the current term limit laws took effect (think David Cunningham; think Arthur K. Snyder) might also run to rejoin the 15-member horseshoe. Woo’s got more flesh on him and slightly less hair, but otherwise, he still radiates the same off-wonky style and certitude of 16 years ago.
”The district hasn‘t changed that much,“ he now insists. ”It’s just as diverse as it has always been.“ Well, maybe. But eight years have also brought both prosperity to commercial Hollywood and new poverty pockets like the dilapidated Echo Park complex that recently collapsed, killing one resident. Then there‘s the bohemian-chic upsurge in Lower Sunset, the vast yupscaling of marginal neighborhoods. A fine distinction, here, between ”just as diverse“ and what others might call diversity re-diversified. Yet Woo remains extremely knowledgeable about the 13th: He can tell you the political history of the Glendale Freeway back to Lyndon Johnson. Woo has been moving around USC and UCLA classrooms and local nonprofits since 1993 and currently serves as director of Los Angeles programs for the Local Initiative Support Corper, a nonprofit group that provides low-interest loans for affordable-housing projects.
Apart from the Rev. Cecil ”Chip“ Murray of First AME Church, Woo names no major endorsers. Woo says he prefers to let the people speak. Okay, but in 1993 he had nearly every Democratic endorsement in the state. What’s happened? Meanwhile, he‘s the top fund-raiser -- by a hair -- with $144,000 plus $43,000 in matching funds reported.
Eric Garcetti was 10 when Mike Woo first ran. He’s the youngest candidate in the race and, apart from Woo, has the most recognizable name -- which he shares with his father, former District Attorney Gil Garcetti. He also shares his father‘s tennis-pro thinness, but projects a notably more progressive image.
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