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Fourth and Long Shots 

How about putting a good politician into a politician’s job?

Wednesday, Sep 5 2001
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A few of you lucky readers out there are going to get a chance to vote in next week’s special election to select the successor to the late John Ferraro, longtime City Council president and, for well over a generation, representative of Los Angeles‘ 4th Council District. Go to it!

Last week, this newspaper encouraged an idealistic vote for Denise Munro Robb and backed David Roberti among the more mainstream candidates. Harold Meyerson, in a dissenting opinion, supported Beth Garfield. I suggest, counterintuitively to the Wisdom of This Generation Here, that 4th District voters throw their support behind Roberti, the most experienced politician in this race. Even if he is one of those folks that we progressives are sometimes inclined to call old party hacks.

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Just look at who else is running. Sorry, but the top-money candidate, Garfield, has, to me, no real qualification or experience to be a council member, apart from a law degree and a suddenly flaring and indeed impressive ambition to get elected. She does, of course, come with the county Labor Federation’s endorsement. But, as noted in this paper last week, she waffles on the key issue of the living wage, is weak on housing and supports the Police Protective League‘s addlepated proposal for a 36-hour Stuffit workweek.

On the other hand, endorsing Robb, a member of the Green Party, is, in my opinion, asking the voters to stay home on Election Day. It may be that the sleeping entity that is the 4th District’s liberal renter population is finally waking. But very slowly. The 4th (despite Antonio Villaraigosa‘s good mayoral showing) is a long way from being the most progressive district in the city. In fact, apart from Republican Hal Bernson’s North Valley 12th District, it could be the most conservative. Candidates like Robb, who doesn‘t even have serious money in this overmoneyed council race, get elected in places like hinterland Santa Barbara, not Hancock Park. I would seriously expect that the Greens will hold at least eight other Los Angeles council seats and a majority on the Board of Supervisors before one of them even gets into a 4th District runoff.

I liked the idea of Ferris Wehbe dropping out of the Hollywood-secession faction to run for City Council: He seems a decent enough person. But there is a question of affiliation here. Not since that upstate legislator (I forget the name) from a backwoods county abandoned his proposal to divide our state across the middle after getting a Pete Wilson appointment has one seen so sudden a change of heart. Wehbe might be great for Hollywood -- or that portion of Hollywood that lies within the 4th District. But there is a lot of the rest of Los Angeles in the 4th District -- and this is territory that Wehbe was so very recently wont to spurn. This is too big a turnaround in too short a time for credibility. a

In any case, our current City Council is, as of this past election, sufficiently saturated with direly inexperienced members. These people are still, for the most part, too busy learning Robert’s Rules of Order and bumping into one another while seeking the restrooms to be genuinely effective. We sure do not need (and this goes doubly for Garfield) another neophyte.

The remedy for this pathological -- and, thanks to term limits, fast-growing -- lack of experience on the council is to elect former state Senate President Pro Tem Roberti. When you‘ve been in the Legislature for 28 years, it’s easy for others to pick apart your faults and failings, and Roberti‘s got a respectable trail of both. His stance on women’s choice will never be acceptable to progressive voters: This, according to insiders, is what lost him the countywide labor endorsement.

But the City Council has no say in public matters involving abortion or birth control. And otherwise, Roberti‘s shaped all of California’s politics for the better over a period far longer than his friend John Ferraro sat as council president. If you like the fact that fewer ozone-depleting chemicals are going up into the stratosphere, that hazardous wastes are far less prevalent in our drinking water, or that the sullen young man down the street can no longer purchase his fill of exotic assault weapons, you‘ve got David Roberti to thank. Robb may have organized the tenants in an apartment building or two. Roberti’s not only been the state‘s key supporter of rent control: He’s helped create some 9,000 units of low-income housing and has a strong tenants‘-rights legislation record.

To me the simple fact that he appears on at least one anti-gun-control Web site’s Hall of Shame is enough reason to vote for him. But there are even better reasons. His 13 years as leader of the state Senate mean that he would bring to the council a huge dose of the leadership skill and parliamentary and legislative experience that the City Council‘s Class of 2001 lacks utterly. His candidacy presents a unique opportunity to elect to this term-limit-encumbered body someone with the ability and background to leaven the entire council for the next eight years. And to make it work much better.

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