The votes that really count are in, and the winner is MayorSam.com. In a special election next week, San Fernando Valley voters will choose from 10 candidates, two of whom are expected to face each other in a December runoff for Los Angeles City Council District 2. But perhaps a more lasting result of this hotly battled race, whose winner will enjoy fiefdomlike powers over development and land use in much of the Valley, has been the near-absence of media, who abdicated covering their own backyards, and the entry into that news vacuum by blogs.
“I read MayorSam every day,” says Jozef Essavi, a 35-year-old real estate broker running for the powerful City Council seat left vacant by Wendy Greuel, who was elected in March as city controller. “The blogs have easily had the best coverage of this race.”
Other candidates agree.
“I look at MayorSam and some other blogs most days,” says Valley Village activist Pete Sanchez, 46, who is also vying for the council opening. “It’s different from reading the papers. . When I read the blogs, I have to remember the writer has a favorite candidate and it’s seeping into the coverage.”
The political blogs are even sparking cyber-gossip.
“I got a call from someone saying the blogs are buzzing that Zuma Dogg dissed [me], saying, ‘How dare Mary Benson refer to me as living in a cardboard box?’ ” says Mary Benson, a 61-year-old community activist from Shadow Hills. “So now, I’m reading the blogs.”
In addition to MayorSam, edited by Michael Higby and widely read by civic activists, neighborhood groups, interested voters and other media, there’s extensive coverage in blog posts at RonKayeLA.com, Village to Village at phinvv.wordpress.com and cd2election.blogspot.com. Collectively, they are part of a sea of change: News about a significant city race whose outcome could alter the 15-member City Council, by ushering in an activist not beholden to big business or big labor, is being dominated by bloggers like former Valley newspaper executive Ron Kaye and certified public accountant Paul Hatfield, of Village to Village.
They and others have set the tone, raised the key questions and demanded answers — formerly the roles of L.A.’s now-disinterested major media.
The Times has written only four stories on the special election, most of them lacking any serious meat. Then, last Saturday, the paper issued its opinion-page endorsement of a well-funded carpetbagger candidate, Christine Essel, who moved to Council District 2 and into the Valley solely to run for the lucrative $178,789-a-year job.
The Daily News has published about a dozen stories, most of them short, devoid of key issues and showing very little interest in the several respected Valley activists who are running. Three weeks ago, the Daily News opinion pages endorsed two candidates from the activist side, Tamar Galatzan and Pete Sanchez, and rejected the two monied carpetbaggers, Essel, and Burbank politician Paul Krekorian, who also moved into CD 2 solely to run for the powerful Los Angeles political post.
The campaign stories unfolding in this special election, such as an unsuccessful drive among some Valley groups to unite behind one of the eight grass-roots candidates in order to stop Essel and Krekorian, were first framed by bloggers, not newspapers. Those and other issues were later picked up by L.A. Weekly and other major papers, all of which have been hit by staff cuts while the local political blogs are slowly adding contributors, often unpaid.
For the candidates, it’s been a long, hot summer of in-your-face radio debates, meet-the-candidate forums, daily blog analyses of their performances at those debates and forums, and lots of comment-thread trash talk on the blogs between the candidates’ supporters and critics.
“At first, I was scared to go on the blogs,” admits CD 2 candidate Tamar Galatzan, of Studio City, a member of the elected LAUSD Board of Education. “But the blogs have been kinder to me than I expected.”
The hyperlocal campaigning and digital digging — the blogs even reported that wild-card candidate and sometimes homeless van dweller Zuma Dogg (David Saltsburg) had declared his official residence as the corner of Victory and Laurel Canyon boulevards — have separated the 10 candidates into two distinct groups: seven or eight Valley civic activists in one, two or three special-interest outsiders in the other.
Some see the math as eight Valley civic activists versus two carpetbagger candidates backed by big special interests, counting school board member Galatzan as the eighth activist, since she’s getting a lot less cash than Krekorian from old-school Democratic Party insiders, labor unions and other big special-interest groups. Those groups went big for Burbank lawyer Krekorian, who has a long history of flitting from one political post to another before his term is up, and who now hopes to bolt from Sacramento just six months after his re-election to state Assembly. (Much of the money from the downtown-developer, Chamber-of-Commerce, big-business crowd went to well-to-do Westsider Essel.)