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
5th DISTRICT — TOM HAYDEN
The 5th — the Westside-to-mid-Valley district that runs up the east side of the 405 from Pico Boulevard all the way to Van Nuys — is accustomed to having heavyweight representation on the City Council. For nearly two decades, its council member was Zev Yaroslavsky; for the past six years, it’s been Mike Feuer, who is leaving the council to run for city attorney.
Fully 11 candidates have entered the race to succeed Feuer — more than for any other council seat in town. Many boast genuine achievements — from Robyn Ritter Simon, whose volunteer work measurably improved one of the district’s grade schools, to Joe Connolly, whose somewhat manic war on graffiti yielded positive results. But as we see it, there are only three candidates here worthy of serious consideration as a council member: community activist Laura Lake, federal prosecutor Jack Weiss and termed-out state Senator Tom Hayden.
Laura Lake, who ran for this seat against Yaroslavsky in 1989, is a liberal, community and slow-growth activist par excellence. She led the fight against an extensive redevelopment plan for Westwood, worked in the campaign against turning Ward Valley into a nuclear dumpsite, and served on the local Jewish Commission on sweatshops. When it comes to preserving open space or challenging the megadevelopments of megadevelopers, she can be counted upon to take a leading role. Lake’s antipathy to densification makes sense throughout most of her district, but there’s a lack of nuance in her approach that would cause real problems in the larger city. She is convinced, for instance, that L.A.’s crisis of affordable housing could be solved largely through rehabilitating existing structures rather than constructing any new ones. How anyone could drive through the teeming MacArthur Park or East Valley neighborhoods, or witness the number of people living in garages in the Eastside or South-Central, and still reach this conclusion is beyond us. There’s more to the problems of the new Los Angeles than is dreamed of in Laura Lake’s philosophy.
Jack Weiss is the only person we’ve ever encountered for whom the federal prosecutor’s office is the family business: Both his father and mother were assistant U.S. attorneys, and he served in that position in the L.A. office from 1994 until last year. The onetime editor of the UCLA Law Review, U.S. Attorney Weiss successfully prosecuted a superior court judge who compelled a defendant to have sex with him; a Thai diplomat who was keeping immigrants as slaves; a Mouseketeer-turned-scam-artist — a gallery of no-goodniks. Politically, Weiss is close to former federal-prosecutor-turned-Congressman Adam Schiff. Like Schiff, Weiss is a good government wonk with mainstream Democratic politics. Thus he is committed to expanding gun control, to implementing the terms of the LAPD’s consent decree, to the kinds of ethics-in-government initiatives that incumbent Mike Feuer has undertaken. In contradistinction to Lake, and at times to Hayden, too, he leans toward densification in some transportation corridors; he takes more of a “wait and see” position on the megadevelopment at Playa Vista. ä
Problem is, while Adam Schiff is about as progressive as any elected official representing Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena could be, the Adam Schiff–like Jack Weiss is not nearly the most progressive councilman the Westside’s 5th District could support. On labor matters, questions like living-wage policy and a host of issues that matter greatly to less affluent Angelenos, Weiss admits to no special experience or expertise. And it happens that there’s another candidate in the race with a vast amount of experience, expertise — and dedication and energy — on those and a host of other issues: Tom Hayden.
To some, we know, the thought of Hayden — a national figure for four decades now, first president of SDS, author of the Port Huron Statement, antiwar leader, and state legislator for 18 years — running for City Council sounds a little preposterous. He’s slumming, they say. He won’t take it seriously. Why does he need it?
The real question, we think, is why do we need him? To begin, as colleagues on both sides of the aisle acknowledged when he stepped down from the Senate, Hayden was actually quite an accomplished and effective legislator, even if he lived in a wider world — writing books, tackling some international issues — than most of his legislative colleagues. With Antonio Villaraigosa, he played a key role in ensuring that last year’s state-parks bond would fund urban parks throughout L.A., and most especially, the restoration of the L.A. River. He authored the law banning MTA board members from voting on contracts for their own contributors. Many of the state’s protections from toxic substances are Hayden’s handiwork, as is the Parents’-Right-To-Know Act, which mandates public disclosure of the condition of school sites — a law he crafted in response to the Belmont debacle. (Another response was his bill creating an inspector general’s position within the LAUSD.)
You’ll note many of these endeavors were directed specifically to L.A.; in fact, Hayden has immersed himself throughout the past decade in L.A. issues — a number of which his colleagues feared to touch. He’s been a consistent advocate for open space — at Playa Vista, on the banks of the L.A. River and all across town. He marched with striking janitors and steadfastly championed the causes of L.A.’s low-wage workers. Perhaps most notable has been his work with gang members and former gang members — helping to broker truces, finding training and jobs programs to get them off the streets. No one on the L.A. scene has done more to undo the demonization of these “predators” (a term, Hayden reminds us, that was applied to the young Irish immigrants who came to America in the mid-19th century) whose biggest mistake is sometimes nothing more than growing up poor, nonwhite and male in L.A.’s inner city.
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