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
Anthony Thigpenn, who, as the leader of the L.A. Metro Alliance, is probably the most successful community organizer in South-Central, first met Villaraigosa in the mid-’80s, when Villaraigosa co-chaired, with Mark Ridley-Thomas, the Black-Latino Roundtable. The goal of the organization, says Thigpenn, was “to create a common agenda, to assert we have more in common than we have in opposition.” Thigpenn sees Villaraigosa‘s mayoral campaign “as a historic moment in Los Angeles, in terms of getting the most progressive mayor the city has ever seen, who has a vision, a commitment, a strategy to bring all parts of the city together. We want to be a part of that historic moment.”
Villaraigosa understands his role in that historic moment; he milks it for all it’s worth. A couple of weeks ago, he attended a candidates‘ forum sponsored by the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the venerable working-class community organizing group, based largely in Catholic churches, which has only now geared up its efforts in L.A. after years of inactivity. After Soboroff and Becerra make their closing statements, Villaraigosa takes the mike, walks out from behind the panelists’ table to center stage, looks up to the packed balcony, and tells the crowd in an impassioned Spanish how he was there with them in the janitors‘ strike, the hotel workers’ strike, the fight against 187, the fight for health care, for parks, for schools; he is guttural, bellowing, on overdrive: Garland at Carnegie Hall; Jolson at the Palace. He needs their vote; he needs their help. And he‘ll get it.
VII. Alternative Futures
Soboroff’s attendance at the forum hosted by the IAF -- a group that in Los Angeles is dedicated to increasing the clout of the city‘s largely Latino working class -- is one of a succession of appearances that he and Wachs have made at progressive conclaves where they stand no chance of winning support. There’s an element of calculation in this (Maybe I‘ll end up in a runoff against someone they like even less than me), but sometimes, as in Wachs’ appearance at the UCLA demonstration, also an element of Why the Hell Not?
That certainly seems to describe Soboroff‘s performance at the IAF, where he begins, with a kind of disarming desperation, with a cry of “Hola! Shalom!” In forums such as these, Soboroff will answer questions on the living wage by talking about his programs to turn kids away from gangs (a non sequitur he has down pat by now). If he’s lucky, no one will ask him about the consent decree (which he opposes), since all these lefties view it as a done deal.
On the stump, Soboroff comes across as a somewhat less awkward, more articulate version of Richard Riordan -- a minor achievement if ever there was one. At his worst, he calls to mind the second-term Dick Riordan, the Riordan who could no longer deal with the City Council or strike deals with other power centers in the city, after he‘d cut his ties with his longtime consigliere Bill Wardlaw.
The cause of the Riordan-Wardlaw rupture was Soboroff himself. Wardlaw didn’t share his longtime friend‘s appreciation of Soboroff’s skills (which my colleague Marc Haefele details in the accompanying piece). He thought L.A. was more ready for a centrist Democrat like himself -- someone like Zev Yaroslavsky, whom he tried and failed to recruit into the race. At that point, Wardlaw discovered virtues in Jim Hahn that had previously gone undetected, and he became the power and brain behind the Hahn campaign. The Riordan-Wardlaw relationship was, for all their differences, a friendship of peers. The same cannot be said of the Hahn-Wardlaw relationship.
For those trying to glimpse the shape of the next mayoralty, then: Soboroff gets us Riordan without Wardlaw. Hahn gets us Wardlaw without Riordan.
Joel Wachs gets us a highly intelligent running commentator, socially liberal, fiscally conservative, not much in the follow-through department: a more benign Ed Koch. Kathleen Connell has the same basic ideological pedigree as Wachs, but she‘s never been called upon to act in the public spotlight in the arena of day-to-day, let’s-make-a-deal retail politics. On such matters, she is virtually a tabula rasa, and her mayoralty is accordingly the most difficult to foresee.
Xavier Becerra gets us a studious liberal of innocent mien and byzantine political calculations -- but he will be manifesting these qualities on the floor of Congress rather than in city hall. Antonio Villaraigosa turns Los Angeles into the next proving ground for American progressivism, the place where the great wave of new immigrants stakes its claim on the nation‘s conscience, bounty and future.
It’s an uphill climb for Villaraigosa to get there, and his first TV commercial -- a dull and pointless ode to education -- hasn‘t helped him a bit. The second ad is an improvement on the first, however, and, most important, Villaraigosa’s not making his climb alone. The powerhouse of local politics, the County Federation of Labor, is calling its members from 200 phones every night until the election. Thousands of union activists are walking the east San Fernando Valley to pull out the union vote; thousands more are going to the Democratic Party‘s effort to pull the Latino vote on the Eastside. Then there are groups like the IAF that aren’t working for a particular candidate, but whose efforts are focused entirely on increasing turnout in the Latino working class. The IAF calculates that 60 of its member churches and school-parents groups will hold house meetings for prospective voters -- 20 to 30 such meetings per institution. Not to mention the South L.A. operation, steered by Thigpenn, which will target 40,000 voters; or the Sierra Club‘s outreach to its own members, or NOW’s . . . By every indication, Villaraigosa will be the beneficiary of the single largest field operation any local campaign has seen in decades.