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
One of the people not buying Garcetti’s argument is Greg Nelson, a spokesman for Not PropR and a onetime aide to former Councilman Joel Wachs, who stepped down a year before term limits would have ended his three-decade political career. Nelson said the very concept of reform has been rendered meaningless at City Hall, and that the ballot measure’s ethics proposals are too minor to be considered reform.
Maybe the concept of reform is already beginning to crumble. Teachers unions didn’t buy Schwarzenegger’s pitch last year, spending millions to crush his four “reform” ballot measures. And many teachers individually voiced doubts about Villaraigosa’s school-reform bill, which lacks any proposals for reducing the dropout rate or addressing the achievement gap facing Latino and African-American students.
“There’s not a thing in it about education or children or learning,” said high school teacher Warren Fletcher. “It’s a political bill. You can consider it a good political bill or a bad political bill, but it’s a political bill.”
SO IMAGINE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN if the city’s elected officials kicked the reform habit, calling things for what they are instead of wrapping them in gauzy verbal tissue. Garcetti would describe Business Tax Reform as something more straightforward, like lower taxes or even tax breaks. Greuel would call campaign-finance reform something more precise, like taxpayer-funded candidates. And City Controller Laura Chick, who embraces the word “reform” the way junkies turn to crack, would explain why reform means a municipal audit of L.A. Unified’s budget but not the district’s massive $19 billion school-construction program.
The irony is, term limits have only intensified politicians’ voracious hunger for publicity, which in turn causes them to embrace dumbed-down marketing strategies, from Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s endless press conferences on Reggie the Alligator to Villaraigosa’s use of confetti cannons. With both eyes focused on their next four-year term or their next step up, politicians are locked in a perpetual campaign.
“They figure that in order to stay in the public eye, they have to keep proposing things, as opposed to making the stuff that exists work,” Galanter said.
There’s something fitting in seeing Galanter and Nelson — fixtures on the council floor from the 1980s and 1990s, booted by term limits in this decade — pooh-poohing the council’s over-reliance on reform as a sales strategy. With 40-plus years of political experience between them, they are among the few who remember how reform has been used to help politicians get ahead.
Former Mayor Tom Bradley proposed the creation of the Ethics Commission to divert attention away from his own misdeeds; he had been steering City Hall business to a bank where he served on the board of directors. The City Council put on the ballot a package of ethics reforms once they were able to include a provision that put their salaries in line with judges’, a move that has doubled their pay to $150,000 in 15 years.
Then there’s former Mayor Richard Riordan, a political neophyte who worked hard in late 1992 to put himself in the public eye. With his first campaign for mayor looming, Riordan spent nearly $500,000 on a ballot measure limiting each of the city’s elected officials to two, four-year terms — a political campaign that got his name and face into newspaper articles and campaign mailers.
Riordan recanted a few months ago, telling the Los Angeles Daily News that he was dead wrong about term limits for the council. Yet only a day later, the former mayor wrote an op-ed for the same newspaper urging Angelenos to back Villaraigosa’s plan for L.A. Unified. But if he was so wrong about the term-limit thing, why should we trust his judgment now on the school plan? Oh, right. It’s reform.
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