In some instances, our endorsement is accompanied by this insignia, which notes our choice is the lesser evil, or just one of lifes gloomier compromises.
MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA
Antonio VillaraigosaPhoto by Gregory Bojorquez The Los Angeles that goes to the polls to elect a new mayor on April 10 is an utterly different city than the Los Angeles that elected Richard Riordan in 1993, or Tom Bradley in 1973, or Sam Yorty in 1961, or Norris Poulson in 1953.
In all those earlier years, L.A. could stake a plausible claim to being the epicenter of the American Dream. Amid the postwar prosperity that created the worlds first majority middle class, L.A. was the place with the most homes going up and the most cars cruising the boulevards, the most upward mobility and outward mobility.
Over the last 15 years, and the past decade in particular, this perpetual-motion dream machine has largely shuddered to a halt or, bewilderingly, actually been thrown into reverse. Americas number-one middle-class metropolis has become instead its number-one two-tiered city. Not the bottom but the middle fell out of the economy during the past decade; middle-income Angelenos moved away in huge numbers when aerospace closed up shop; their places have been taken by millions of immigrants who work in a booming low-wage economy. During the 90s, as the overall population of L.A. County grew by 8.5 percent, the number of poor people grew by 64 percent almost 900,000 new residents living under the poverty line, as if wed annexed a city slightly larger than San Francisco, all of it poor. In the new Los Angeles, two out of every five children grow up in poverty, 17 percent of us live in overcrowded homes and apartments, 15 percent of us in substandard homes and apartments. This at a time when unemployment is at a 30-year low, when the mid-90s blues are a dim memory, when L.A. is back.
This division of Los Angeles into two cities, one soaring, one struggling, one largely white, one largely not, is the fundamental problem that underlies, exacerbates and connects most of our discrete social ills: the lack of affordable housing, the condition of our schools, the inaccessibility of health care, the culture of our cops. It hangs over L.A. like smog on a summers day and, like smog in the 1950s (before the advent of modern environmentalism), everyone knows its there and hardly anyone knows what to do about it.
In 2001, the question of how to make Los Angeles a better city is at bottom a question of how to rebuild our middle class, lessen these polarities, kick-start our rusty dream machine. By that standard, and by most other ones we can think of, theres really only one choice for mayor among this years candidates: former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.
By no means are Villaraigosas rivals a dismal bunch. By the historic standards of L.A. politics, this is an actually pretty decent field.
Steve Soboroff enters the race as the last in a series of outgoing Mayor Richard Riordans wonder boys. At various times during his term in office, Riordan would come to rely upon some public-spirited outsider who could get things done, quick and dirty if necessary, no matter what the rules and regs. In Soboroff, Riordan found a kindred spirit, a deal maker like himself. Soboroff has made his fortune by finding sites for stores such as Circuit City and Office Depot, by brokering and investing in shopping centers across town and, eventually, across the West. Riordan brought him into government to be president of both the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Proposition BB Oversight Commission, which monitors the school districts performance in spending bond money on new and improved facilities. Most of the time, hes performed these tasks thoughtfully and conscientiously, though in one instance he ended up taking a site the school district wanted and back in his day job brokering its sale to a car dealer. In time, Soboroff became a closer for the city, at Riordans behest putting together the Alameda Corridor project and the deal to build Staples Center. Staples wasnt much of a model of open governance, however; it took considerable public outcry for the city to stipulate exactly how much the deal would cost the taxpayers.
Like Riordan, Soboroff is a Republican; like Riordan, he is opposed to many of the reforms the city most badly needs. Hes the one candidate who opposes the LAPDs consent decree with the federal government, charging that it undermines police morale and distracts the department from more important things. (At his worst, he sounds like the candidate of order, never mind the law.) He ducks all questions about the citys living-wage policy. While hes greened a large number of school yards from his post at Rec and Parks, hes certainly the most development-friendly candidate in the pack. Hes shown himself open to listening to just about every group in town, but his policies are those of the developer elite, the low-wage employer sector and the LAPD old guard. Just what L.A. doesnt need.