By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
In a city where many council districts seem to have been pounded together out of random bits, Los Angeles’ 4th District is right at home. It includes a smattering of the east San Fernando Valley and a bit of bohemian Silver Lake. It has a gangy smidgen of the Rampart area. It has most of opulent Hancock Park and a swath of Hollywood. It contains all of Griffith Park, the city‘s largest open space. And it has a handy stretch of the Miracle Mile -- the scenic yet problematic commercial area that these days seems to be in both decline and revival.
The 4th District was compiled during the 35-year tenure of the most powerful L.A. council member of all time. It contains scarcely an inch that the late council President John Ferraro didn’t put there as he created a district that would re-elect him as long as he lived. Ferraro‘s death in April left City Hall handicappers scratching their heads. The two most plausible candidates were both associated with Ferraro: longtime aide Tom LaBonge and friend and former state Senate President Pro Tem David Roberti.
But voters saw it another way. In a special election on September 11, 17 percent showed up and gave nearly one-third of the vote to LaBonge. Roberti fell by the wayside to make room for labor attorney Beth Garfield, who got 18.6 percent of the votes, to qualify for next Tuesday’s runoff.
Garfield is banking on her recent success as a community-college-district board member and president. After all, if the community-college board could be a political springboard for county Supervisor Mike Antonovich and former California governor and present Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, Garfield seems to think it can certainly pop her into a council seat. Former City Controller Rick Tuttle says she deserves part of the credit for the passage of a $1.2 billion bond measure to renovate and build new classrooms.
Her private law practice specializes in labor issues. Says Tuttle: “At a time when a lot of people were leaving the labor-law field [for greener pastures], she got into it. She got into politics for the right reasons.”
Garfield characterizes herself as an outsider: “If you think things in Los Angeles are just fine, just as they are, then vote for LaBonge. If not, vote for me.”
Garfield exaggerates the disparity. But the two candidates do flaunt beliefs as different as their schooling (she went to Stanford and the University of Michigan School of Law; LaBonge attended Cal State L.A.). LaBonge, who started working for Ferraro at 21, is virtually the city‘s foundling: He champions Los Angeles’ government as the constructive source of neighborhood well-being.
Garfield, on the other hand, demonizes “city bureaucracy” as the major source of urban woes. “It‘s basically similar to the top-heavy, downtown bureaucracy I found in the college district,” she avers.
Well, yes. But then, the government of a city of nearly 4 million probably needs to be more centralized than the administration of nine nominally independent two-year colleges. Garfield does offer strong support for a “partnership” with developing neighborhood councils. She also stresses the new city charter’s provision that makes department managers accountable to the Mayor‘s Office, instead of both the mayor and the council. Constituents should not be asking their council members, she says, for stop signs and pothole mending. Rather, Garfield contends, such services ought to be the equal right of every Los Angeles resident.
LaBonge says that he glories in helping constituents get the services due them. He says this is part of a larger duty: “I love to empower the people, help them achieve their goals. This city is a good place to be a public servant. I’m proud of what I managed to do here.”
Julie Butcher, leader of Local 347, which represents most of the city‘s #unions and supports LaBonge, says that it’s a mistake to differentiate City Hall from the city itself: “Our entire community is the city,” she says.
LaBonge asserts that a councilman must intercede on behalf of the residents -- to keep an eye on things, to make sure he knows when services falter or fail and then to restore them.
In parts of the 4th District, those services look weak. Hancock Park housing prices remain high and Museum Row still shines like an urban gem, yet the densely populated areas on the district‘s eastern fringes still have too much blight and crime. LaBonge acknowledges that residents near the district’s northeast boundary complain how bad their neighborhoods look, compared to nearby Burbank. It‘s not reasonable to blame all this on LaBonge, who worked in the Mayor’s Office during Dick Riordan‘s last term.
LaBonge, with the support of key city unions -- including police and firefighters -- and the downtown establishment, has led Garfield in fund-raising, with nearly $220,000 by October 6, to Garfield’s less than $11,000 raised. But Garfield, who has an affluent family, has loaned herself $350,000, plus, according to the Ethics Commission, she received $41,000 from County Federation of Labor locals. (LaBonge got $5,000 from the city firefighters union.)
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city