Bicycle advocate Alex Thompson isn't one of those lazy, uninformed Angelenos you might have read about in The New York Times who doesn't vote. In fact, he has already voted, having mailed in his absentee ballot last week.
He left the mayor's section — Eric Garcetti or Wendy Greuel? — blank.
"I just don't believe in making choices like that," he says, his voice laden with the sort of grimness one has after contracting a stomach virus. "The only positions they differ on are just taken for the purposes of trying to win the race."
Thompson doesn't see much difference between Greuel and Garcetti, two friendly, intelligent, nonthreatening City Hall functionaries who are both white, pro-union, liberal Democrats. Both have campaigned with a sort of election-season amnesia, ignoring their own records as two of the nation's highest-compensated politicians, instead explaining what they may — or, just as likely, may not — do once elected: balance the budget, pave the streets, fix the sidewalks, achieve a consensus between business and labor, and so on.
The media has been complicit in this conspiracy of forgetfulness as it monotonously covers each promise-filled press conference, debate, talking point, television ad and strategist-on-strategist spat. The campaign at times resembles one of those 1980s sitcom where each episode stood perfectly on its own, without reference to the past.
Maybe that's why, in the March 7 primary, voters emitted a collective "meh." Voter turnout was 21 percent of those registered — a number that excludes, by the by, a vast population of eligible citizens who've never registered.
The numbers who vote to elect a new Los Angeles mayor on May 21 don't promise to be much higher.
"I don't know that I've ever seen a mayoral election in Los Angeles with so much disinterest," says Doug Epperhart, a San Pedro community activist and member of the city's Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. "There is no enthusiasm. I had a neighbor say to me, 'The only reason I'm voting for Wendy Greuel is because [City Councilman] Joe Buscaino endorsed Garcetti and I hate Joe Buscaino."
That perfectly captures what so many feel about two candidates with inoffensive yet less than stellar records who have spent much of the past decade awarding themselves and their colleagues gold stars for modest victories.
South Los Angeles community activist Shawn Simons sums the race up with even more bitterness:
"You've got two assholes who have been in City Hall for a decade, driving our city toward insolvency," she says. "It's not like they've been saving their good ideas for when they're mayor."
His opponents, derisively, call him Prince Eric. And there is something rather princely about Eric Garcetti, a former child actor and unabashed idealist who speaks in an almost melodic cadence, and whose father, Gil, was famous as L.A. district attorney thanks in part to the O.J. Simpson trial.
Simons initially was impressed and charmed by Garcetti, who had invited a number of community activists to meet with him. He reminded her of a character on the now-defunct NBC series Heroes.
"And then I started to watch him a little," Simons says. She started attending more City Council meetings and couldn't help but notice that Garcetti, and most other council members, openly ignored residents who had taken time off work and traveled to City Hall to comment on city proposals. Often, she says, Garcetti and the others rudely yucked it up with each other and staffers.
"You watch them tweet and chat and not spend a second listening to the people who come down there," Simons says. "You get a real distaste for them."
One of Garcetti's talents is his ability to be all things to all people. He can size someone up and know exactly the right compliment to offer, the right thing to say, to make the person believe he's on their side.
But that talent has left many critics and activists feeling that Garcetti is a likable phony with a veracity problem. Like Greuel, he has carried water for the widely hated Department of Water and Power, but he has been slicker than Greuel at avoiding political fallout.
In late 2008, Garcetti quietly hid a city report by PA Consulting that warned of the staggering costs of Measure B, a plan to hand unionized DWP workers an exclusive deal installing solar panels on government buildings and parking lots. The report called the plan "extremely risky," with projected costs in the billions.
While keeping the City Council in the dark, Garcetti convinced them to vote to hurry Measure B onto the ballot. When the Los Angeles Times discovered Garcetti's sly move, it helped fuel an anti-DWP uproar among bloggers, activists and neighborhood councils. Popular outrage scuttled the solar plan at the ballot box in 2009.
Koreatown activist Grace Yoo describes Garcetti like this: "It's, 'I'm your friend, I'm your friend. ... Oh, I'm not gonna be your friend in this instance.' "