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
Against the twists and turns of the Hahn campaign, what Villaraigosa has to offer is really a latter-day version of what Tom Bradley offered L.A. voters three decades ago: a city that is a progressive model for the rest of the nation. Tom Bradley’s Los Angeles was the first city where the civil rights coalition of the ‘60s came to power. Antonio Villaraigosa’s Los Angeles could be the first city where the great wave of immigrants who‘ve come to this nation in the past 20 years makes common cause with other groups to remedy the vast economic inequities that now define urban America.
The Hahn people will doubtless argue that L.A. can’t get too far in front of the rest of the nation, that -- as urban historian Fred Siegel put it in last Sunday‘s L.A. Times Opinion section -- social democracy in one city doesn’t work. That all depends, of course, on what kind of social democracy you‘re talking about. The welfare policies of John Lindsay’s New York, which Siegel decries, were clearly unsustainable. On the other hand, here in Los Angeles the legacy of our homegrown turn-of-the-century social democrats, the municipally owned Department of Water and Power, puts us at a marked comparative advantage over other cities, in which privately owned power has run amok. Similarly, the kinds of policies that Villaraigosa has advocated -- promoting unionization in the un-relocatable service and tourism sectors, requiring major developers who receive city assistance to pay living wages and set aside funding for affordable housing -- would help rebuild the one thing L.A. most sorely lacks: a middle class. This is a far cry from subsidizing welfare; Villaraigosa is arguing, rather, that when the city subsidizes employment, it shouldn‘t be subsidizing a poverty-level wage; when it subsidizes development, it should be building a city with decent housing its residents can afford. Economically and politically, this is the sustainable version of social democracy.
More fundamentally, a Villaraigosa victory, like Bradley’s, would offer L.A. an opportunity to feel proud about itself, about its tolerance and its ability to build alliances across boundaries of race and class. In Bradley‘s candidacy, as in Villaraigosa’s, there was a last-shall-be-first storyline -- not just about the candidates, but about their core supporters as well -- that is both deeply moving and deeply, well, American, packing an emotional wallop that the tale of plucky Bill Wardlaw clawing his way back to gray eminence can‘t quite match.
The mayoral primary ended in a flurry of filth the likes of which L.A. hasn’t seen for quite some time. In the campaign‘s closing days, the Morongo Indians funded a radio attack ad on Villaraigosa, who had sided with the union attempting to organize their casinos. More bizarre, a recorded phone call, purporting to come from the Soboroff campaign, was placed to voters alleging that Soboroff’s campaign “was entirely dependent on Jewish money.” By the weekend before the primary, L.A. had become shmutz central for American politics.
The anti-Semitic phone call plainly emerged from a lower circle of hell than the Morongo ad, but its pedigree was wildly mysterious. The calls, which began the first night of Passover, seemed to go, by my own unscientific survey, disproportionately to Jewish voters. If that is indeed the case, the only logical beneficiary of the call would be Soboroff himself, as the victim of a scurrilous anti-Semitic attack. I know Soboroff well enough to be certain he himself would never have countenanced such a vile ploy, but in the closing days of a tight campaign, somewhat deranged operatives have been known to do amazingly stupid things of their own accord.
Soboroff‘s failure to advance to the runoff was the most prominent in a series of defeats for candidates backed by outgoing Mayor Riordan, who is clearly the biggest primary-night loser. Two years ago, Riordan-backed insurgents ousted three incumbents on the Los Angeles school board; this week, the two Riordan-recruited and -funded candidates, realtor Matthew Rodman and businessman Tom Riley (neither of whom had any kind of background in education), failed even to make the runoffs. Laurette Healey, a businesswoman whom Riordan recruited to run for city controller, lost to outgoing Council Member Laura Chick, whom Riordan gives all evidence of detesting. Of all the candidates for whom Riordan seriously campaigned, only Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo, who will go to a runoff against Councilman Mike Feuer for the city attorney’s position, did reasonably well, and that may have more to do with Villaraigosa‘s mobilizing the Latino vote than with Riordan’s efforts on Delgadillo‘s behalf.
Riordan wasn’t the only big loser, of course. State Controller Kathleen Connell, who campaigned belatedly and halfheartedly, ran so poorly -- she came in sixth of the six major candidates, with under 5 percent of the vote -- that her career in electoral politics seems effectively ended. Joel Wachs, after 30 years on the City Council and in his third race for mayor, couldn‘t muster more than 11 percent of the vote. Soboroff demolished him among Valley conservatives, while Villaraigosa led among Jewish voters. While Wachs has always been something of a City Hall showboat, he has also had a distinguished career in public service, fathering the city’s rent-control ordinance back in the ‘70s and, in the Staples Center controversy a few years back, reducing subsidies to some of America’s wealthiest developers. He and Connell personified the combination of fiscal conservatism and social liberalism that‘s often touted as the new center of American politics. We now know that it’s sure not the center of L.A. politics.