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
Paul Krekorian is what some call a career politician, having lost two elections before finally parlaying a spot on the Burbank Board of Education into a seat in the California Assembly. Christine Essel is a Hollywood power player who has chaired big business boards and has never run for office.
Both have recently moved into the fiercely independent San Fernando Valley in hopes of nabbing the only spot open on the highest-paid city council in America. It’s a $178,789-a-year plum job that comes with eight free cars and a huge staff — and is worth some $2.5 million to $3 million to whoever wins a 12-year stint (assuming voters don’t oust them later).
Essel and Krekorian represent a rare — and maybe the very first — effort by dueling factions of the downtown establishment to stack a Valley race with two, monied, non-Valley residents and thus try to ensure that a non-Valley outsider wins and controls the powerful seat.
Essel is backed by ex-mayor and Brentwood resident Richard Riordan and is expected to get Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s nod. But that’s not much of a plus among residents fed up with Villaraigosa, who failed to win 50 percent of the vote last March in numerous CD 2 precincts in Valley Village, Sherman Oaks, Van Nuys and Sunland-Tujunga.
Krekorian is backed by SEIU, the state’s powerful, public employees union, whose successful pressure on Villaraigosa and the City Council to raise city-worker salaries and increase taxes and fees on Angelenos has created tense relations with tax-averse Valley residents, who distrust SEIU. The negative reactions to Essel and Krekorian and their backers are fueling hopes that two of the eight other contenders — none of them carpetbaggers and all of them winning strong applause at candidate forums — will prevail in an election set for September 22, and that two genuine Valley residents will face each other in a runoff on December 8.
Mary Benson, a respected community organizer from Shadow Hills, who is running and enjoys high name recognition, says, “This may be the race where money does not buy the votes and commitment earns the votes.”
Zuma Dogg (David Saltsburg), a rowdy City Hall activist who is also running, and has provoked big laughs and applause at well-attended candidate debates, warns that Christine Essel will be driven by the powers that be. “She has a history of going along for the ride,” Dogg notes.
Pete Sanchez, a candidate from Valley Village, who has impressed observers and was endorsed by the L.A. Daily News, as was Studio City candidate Tamar Galatzan, says Paul Krekorian is “leaving his job during the worst crisis that has faced us in our generation.”
Krekorian, a silver-haired Burbank attorney who recently moved inside L.A. city limits, is trying to ditch Sacramento just six months after being re-elected. In Burbank he pulled a similar disappearing act, dealing with a fiscal emergency in Burbank schools — but then leaving his post empty to run for the Assembly.
If he jumps jobs again, Krekorian will cause a special election to fill his vacant spot in the state Assembly — creating a new cost to taxpayers of roughly $1 million. “Taxpayers are funding ambition,” says Michael McCue, a Studio City Neighborhood Council member who is also running and has gained praise for his upbeat attitude about saving Valley neighborhoods. “People feel ripped off.”
During three years in the Assembly, Krekorian has garnered a generally favorable reputation and pushed a largely liberal agenda. But a larger issue trumps that: the worst financial crisis California that has faced since the Depression, and the role played by Krekorian as the state Assembly’s assistant majority leader. “What leadership did he provide to break the logjam, to avoid the catastrophe?” asks Ron Kaye, former Daily News editor, who is blogging about the race.
“That’s a hard question to answer obviously,” Krekorian says. “Are there things we could have done differently to better prepare for this? Maybe.”
“Absolutely,” counters Frank Sheftel, a CD 2 candidate hoping voters will see through Krekorian’s bullet-dodging. “He bears responsibility, he just doesn’t want to accept it.” He calls Krekorian as a “yes man” who signed off on a stream of bills that helped to push California into its crisis.
Krekorian stretches credulity, claiming that the state’s exploding general fund spending is really $15 billion less than when he was elected. “It’s not true when people say there have been increases in spending.”
Dead wrong, says Joe Canciamilla, a former Democratic assemblyman respected for his budget acumen, who says Krekorian is twisting data to make the illogical claim that state spending somehow dropped.
Krekorian falls back on blaming the global economic collapse and “institutional dysfunction” in Sacramento. “If that’s your attitude, then why should I vote for you now?” asks Sanchez. “You’ll have the same broken system in the City Council.”