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
IV. Help From Beyond
Kathleen Connell is uncorporeal in a much more common way than Jim Hahn. That is, to voters, she exists almost entirely through her television advertising.
Her ads, crafted by Mandy Grunwald, are the best of the lackluster mayoral spots now flooding the airwaves. The “hard” and “soft” sides of Kathleen Connell -- fiscal watchdog, single mom -- come across in attractive balance. Whether that synthesis is enough to overcome her obscurity, and to make Angelenos want to vote for her, is not at all clear, however.
Connell has had a substantial career in the public sector, though often far removed from the public’s view. While still in her 20s, she impressed Tom Bradley so much that he asked her to start up the city‘s first housing program in a quarter-century. “She created it from whole cloth,” says Gary Squier, who was Bradley’s housing coordinator in the final two terms of his five-term mayoralty. Accessing federal funds, she helped create 10,000 units of affordable housing. After a stint in the private sector (including several years as an investment banker for Chemical Bank of New York), Connell came out of nowhere to win election as state Controller in 1994. There, she has audited a range of state programs -- most notably, Medi-Cal and the lottery, uncovering over a billion dollars in fraud and abuse. She also helped restore some of the state‘s public-employee pension funds to solvency -- though it’s notable that none of L.A.‘s public-employee unions endorsed her bid.
The auditor’s lot is often a thankless one, and Connell has made strikingly few friends in her years as controller. (Her audit of the state Controller‘s Office, performed just after she was first elected, certainly didn’t endear her to that office‘s previous occupant, one Gray Davis.) For whatever reason, her candidacy has the shortest endorsement list of them all. A more immediate conundrum is how far she can get positioning herself as the business Democrat in the field. Her agenda as mayor, she’s made clear, would be to audit a government she bemoans as riddled with waste and mismanagement, to the tune of $1 billion in liabilities. It is not the most inspiring of agendas; at times, she sounds as if she‘s running for city controller rather than mayor.
Affordable-housing advocates credit her with targeting more funds to low-income housing in her role as a member of the state’s Tax Credit Allocation Committee (a name that should give you some idea of the obscurity in which Connell often labors). But Connell is very wary of imposing any fees on local developers to create affordable housing, and expresses real reluctance to expand the city‘s living-wage policy beyond the city contractors it currently covers to recipients of community-redevelopment aid. “The impacts could be quite negative for business owners in the city. We don’t want to discourage small mom-and-pops from investing capital in the city.” In fact, there‘s not a living-wage advocate in the land who’s proposed extending the policy to small mom-and-pops; even in Santa Monica, its most ambitious proponents speak only of a extending it to the large beachfront hotels.
When Connell talks about improving jobs, her emphasis is on education, and bringing in more jobs in fields like biomedical research and digital editing. Unarguable goals, but how this can improve the lives of the million or so working poor in today‘s L.A. is unclear at best.
Connell is cognizant that she must grapple with Wachs for the green-eyeshade vote. “I admire Joel’s effectiveness in reducing the subsidy to Staples Center,” she says, “but while he was crusading about a single project, somebody forgot to look at the city budget. As a result, we have a billion-dollar liability that is far more expensive than any subsidy we could have given to the developers at Staples.”
Connell may be short on endorsements, but her campaign more than makes up for that by claiming one from the Great Beyond. As she concluded her interview with the Weekly‘s editors and reporters, her campaign consultant, John Shallman, thought to add this notable suggestion: “Tom [Bradley, who died in 1998] chaired Kathleen’s  campaign for controller, and what would be surprising to a lot of people is that if the former mayor were alive today, he‘d be endorsing her candidacy.” Connell herself then added, “On election night, I can see Tom Bradley smiling down from heaven and saying, ’Good job!‘”
If you’re keeping score: Hahn runs as a dead man; Connell, with a dead man‘s support.
V. D.C. Bound
Congressman Xavier Becerra, by contrast, is a living, breathing candidate with living, breathing supporters. It’s his campaign that‘s on life support.
In a sense, Becerra is paying for his virtues -- and for the brevity of his career in Los Angeles. Born and raised in Sacramento, educated at Stanford, Becerra did not move to L.A. until 1989, when, as a staffer for state Senator Art Torres, he split his time between Torres’ Capitol and district offices. In 1990, at Torres‘ suggestion, he ran for and won a state Assembly seat. In 1992, at the urging of other Latino power brokers, including Supervisor Gloria Molina, he ran for and won a congressional seat just north and east of downtown. In the years since, Becerra has been a conscientious liberal member of Congress -- immersed in the House Ways and Means Committee and in addressing constituent concerns, and otherwise invisible not only to Angelenos generally but to the city’s political elites as well. In 1999, I began routinely asking political types around L.A. how many of the possible mayoral aspirants they had personally met. Very few of them -- even very few liberal activists who shared his politics -- had met Becerra.