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Take our Handy Print-Out Voter's Guide to the polls.
MAYOR — ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA
Photos by Debra DiPaolo
In the next couple of weeks, Los Angeles can make some history.
Now, we’re no strangers to making history here in L.A. Los Angeles, after all, is the only American city to have had two cataclysmic riots over the past half century.
But this is different. We’re talking the kind of history in which a city can take pride. The kind of history that New York made 68 years ago when it elected Fiorello LaGuardia as its mayor and fundamentally redefined what a city can do to better the lives of its residents. The kind of history that Los Angeles made 28 years ago when it elected Tom Bradley and tossed out the “Whites Only” sign that had hung over the mayor’s office and barred the doors to the city’s governing councils.
The opportunity to make that kind of history doesn’t roll around very often, which is what makes the June 5 election for mayor so uncommonly important. On that date, we can have our own version — actually, our own combination — of both a LaGuardia and a Bradley moment, in one day’s vote turning Los Angeles into the most dynamic center of progressive change in the nation and the place where a vast new population is first fully assimilated into a governing coalition.
Call it, if you will, our Villaraigosa moment.
The election of Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor of L.A. will have a transforming effect on this city. It will mean the forces that have worked to diminish working-class poverty — the janitors, the living-wage activists, the new generation of social-gospel clergy — will have their foremost tribune in the mayor’s office. It will mean that the groups that have been trying to green the city — the neighborhood activists seeking to block the overdevelopment of Playa Vista, the troublemakers who just won the fight to turn the Cornfield into a riverside park, the visionaries who want to re-naturalize the L.A. River — will have their leading advocate in City Hall. It will mean that the affordable-housing activists and the police-reform crusaders will have a mayor who’s not just a friend but a longtime champion of their causes. It will mean that neighborhoods that City Hall has treated as colonies will have a community organizer as mayor, building neighborhood councils with more than just advisory powers. It will mean that a whole breed of urban visionaries to whom City Hall now pays as little heed as possible — people like Lewis MacAdams from Friends of the L.A. River, transit-corridor advocate Nick Patsaouras, and a raft of planners, designers and preservationists from SCI-Arc and kindred institutions — will have a hand in shaping the next L.A.
Villaraigosa will bring to the mayor’s office a can-do spirit that has always characterized American progressivism at its best. He will shake up the civic order a bit to make this a more livable city. Unlike his opponent, he’s willing to legislate a fee on major developments to fund affordable housing. Unlike his opponent, he’s willing to condition city and redevelopment assistance to major employers on their agreeing to pay their employees a living wage.
More than just spirit, though, Villaraigosa has a can-do record. As speaker of the Assembly, Villaraigosa successfully cajoled the legislature into placing on the ballot the largest bond measures for school construction and urban parks in the history of the state, then steered them to enactment at the polls. He established the first affordable-housing trust fund in state history, and prodded then-Governor Pete Wilson to expand a health-insurance program for the children of California’s working poor. In all instances, he reached across the aisle to incorporate Republican ideas when they did not violate core progressive principles, not because he needed the votes — the Democrats controlled the legislature under his speakership — but to build a firmer societal consensus for important policy changes.
That record and that spirit are key to Villaraigosa’s support, not just from labor and environmentalists, but from Mayor Riordan, business leaders, the Republican leadership in Sacramento and homeowner groups in the Valley. They, and we, are impressed by his dynamism, his charisma, his commitment to inclusion and his fierce dedication to social justice. As Los Angeles prepares to vote, Antonio Villaraigosa has emerged as the most persuasive, gifted, compelling political leader the city has had in a very long time — perhaps ever.
By electing Jim Hahn mayor, the city would stir momentarily from its Riordan-time civic nap, roll over and fall immediately back to sleep.
Jim Hahn, let’s stipulate up-front, is a decent guy and a mainstream Democrat, a modest man of modest virtues. But his four years as city controller and 16 years as city attorney have been marked less by notable achievements than by a don’t-rock-the-boat mentality, by a slow, imperceptible absorption into the city’s permanent government of lobbyists, developers, attorneys and police.
In his years as city attorney, Hahn obtained a number of gang injunctions, and joined several notably successful civil suits against gun and tobacco manufacturers. But his sins of omission have been major, and legion. He’s been MIA on such environmental flashpoints as Playa Vista and the Cornfield, sites that the permanent government was determined to develop. Most crucially, for 16 years, Hahn has been the official charged with representing police officers in misconduct suits. The LAPD being what it is, he was compelled to recommend repeated settlements in cases brought against the same officers, but he never once bestirred himself to report those problem officers to the department. In the Rodney King convulsions of a decade ago, it was Hahn who devised the way to reinstate Daryl Gates as chief after Tom Bradley’s police commission had suspended him — laying the groundwork, however inadvertently, for the 1992 riot. In the Rampart scandal, Hahn has repeatedly reaffirmed his faith in Bernie Parks’ commitment to reform, though Parks’ opposition to civilian control of the department has been constant and clear. No one in city government has been better situated to clean up the LAPD than Hahn, and no one has shirked that duty more consistently than he.