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
Mike Woo is certainly no stranger to the 13th District; he represented it for eight years on the council, 1985 to 1993, running for mayor in the latter year, and making it into the runoff before losing to Richard Riordan. By a number of standards, his service on the council was distinguished and, at times, crusading. As immigrants from Mexico and Central American began to transform L.A., it was Woo who authored and steered to enactment the legislation legalizing street vendors, and banning the LAPD from turning undocumented immigrants over to the INS. In the wake of the Rodney King beating, Woo was the one council member to call immediately and consistently for Police Chief Daryl Gates’ firing; for a time, he was the only local elected official outside the African-American community who took that stand.
And yet, Woo is running with little visible support from the community leaders he worked with when he was on the council — or, for that matter, the leading Democrats who all backed him when he was their de facto standard bearer against Riordan in ’93. Woo proved to be something of a lightning rod for district discontents; his manner — more his aloofness than his wonky-ness — was plainly off-putting to many constituents.
In the years since his loss to Riordan, Woo ran the regional office of Americorps, chaired the board of a nonprofit that ran a farmers’ market, and, most important, became the director of the local office of LISC, a key funder for community development corporations and nonprofit housing developers. Indeed, organizers say Woo’s help was indispensable in starting up Housing L.A., the campaign for an affordable-housing trust fund. Woo knows the ins and outs of affordable housing probably better than anyone in city government; he’d be a real asset in the battle to increase L.A.’s meager stock of low-income housing. But while we’re sure about Woo’s smarts, we’re not entirely sure about his backbone. If the banking community should be appalled by the notion of using linkage fees on developments as a funding source for affordable housing, we’re not sure that Woo would be willing to continue the fight on that front. He’d be an excellent council member, but we think there are two candidates likely to demonstrate more resolve than he.
The first is Art Goldberg, Jackie’s brother, a somewhat legendary figure in the California left, and by common consent, an all-around good guy. With Mario Savio and Jack Weinberg, Goldberg was one of the three leaders of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in 1964. (Indeed, if both Goldberg and Tom Hayden end up on the City Council, those left- and right-wing polemicists who still write about the ‘60s will have a field day.) After a running, multiyear battle to get admitted to the California bar (Goldberg had passed the exam; the problem was his politics), he opened the Working People’s Law Center in Echo Park, where he’s handled thousands of family-law cases and more than 20 murder cases over the past 30 years. At the same time, he founded and helped run the Echo Park Food Conspiracy (that’s how ’60s people said “co-op”) and a community child-care center. In the course of his law career, he worked on the integration project back in the ’70s; represented the Reverend Luis Olivares, who was charged with giving sanctuary to undocumented Central American refugees in the ’80s; and handled scores of police-abuse cases before Rampart brought them to the public eye.
Goldberg would certainly be the most tenacious opponent of police abuse. “Everyone’s afraid of looking anti-police, but I’ll stand up to the PPL [the Police Protective League],” Goldberg vows. Anyone who knows his record — he’s been identifying bad cops for years — can’t help but believe him. And if there’s one thing the city needs, it’s someone in power who will work incessantly to change what is still the paramilitary culture of the LAPD.
But will Goldberg work effectively? Colleagues who have worked with Goldberg for years, and who like him tremendously (it’s hard not to), repeatedly question whether Goldberg has the sense and sensibility to lobby his colleagues successfully and to move public opinion. They express doubts that he can make his case without alienating people — elected officials, the media, the public — who don’t share his assumptions but whose support he’ll need to make actual change. They haven’t seen this Art Goldberg, they say — though they love the Art Goldberg they have seen.
There is, however, one more candidate in the race who shares Art Goldberg’s progressivism and at least some of his gumption and, we think, has the capacity to work inside and outside the system to change it. Like Art Goldberg, Eric Garcetti is related to a prominent L.A. politico (no points for guessing who): He’s the son of former District Attorney Gil Garcetti. He is also a 30-year-old Rhodes scholar who’s a political-science professor at Occidental College and USC, and a globe-trotting activist in the cause of human rights, women’s rights and environmental preservation. Garcetti is certainly up on a range of issues that don’t often surface in council chambers (e.g., female genital mutilation), but he’s also extremely well-informed on issues that do surface there, or should surface there, invariably with some thoughtful solution attached. On the cops, Garcetti proposes not just protection for whistle blowers and a civilian-review board, but an independent authority to take complaints at the station-house level. His affordable-housing prescriptions not only require linkage fees in return for all city subsidies but have a specific component for addressing homelessness, and a vision of Hollywood as a mixed-use paradise. He can rattle off the 41 brown-field sites in the district, specify which ones can be rehabilitated as pocket parks, and outline how they could link up to form at least a quasi-greenbelt.