Bob Hertzberg Interview Transcript

This is a partial transcript of Bob Hertzberg’s interview with the L.A. Weekly’s editorial board. As with all of the candidate interviews, it has been only lightly edited and has not been fact-checked. L.A. WEEKLY: How’s it going so far? BOB HERTZBERG: I’m having fun. Don’t you think? L.A. WEEKLY: Why are both Mayor Hahn’s and Antonio’s campaigns both wrong? BOB HERTZBERG: I don’t know if it’s so much a prediction of the facts or a political spin of what they want. I think they’re wrong because everybody knows who Tony Villaraigosa is. Everybody knows who he is. And everybody knows who Jim Hahn is. They know who they are. And collectively their numbers are really low for people who are well known politically. We’re now in a situation where there’s a real strong sentiment in all corners of the city that we’re moving in the wrong direction. In 2001 when Jim Hahn got elected, there was a strong sentiment that we were moving in the right direction so you want to hire somebody to do the job that’s safe. Just like when Gray Davis got elected in 1998. The message was, we’re making money and we’re safe. And people didn’t want to change. The numbers that I’ve seen, they don’t top 45 percent. So, clearly, people are looking for alternatives and I think when they hear who Bob Hertzberg is I’ll be that alternative. That’s why I think they’re wrong. L.A. WEEKLY: But there have been debates and candidate forums, do you think people aren’t ready to focus on it yet? BOB HERTZBERG: I don’t know. I think that you’re going to see a lot of activity in the last three weeks. L.A. WEEKLY: Your name ID is not as high? BOB HERTZBERG: Right, right. L.A. WEEKLY: Do you need a paid political statement that appeals to particular segments of the electorate? BOB HERTZBERG: Correct. L.A. WEEKLY: Won’t that electorate overlap with Dick Riordan’s electorate? BOB HERTZBERG: That’s right. L.A. WEEKLY: What do you have that will really push their buttons? BOB HERTZBERG: I’m talking about schools and I want to talk about that in detail. Clearly, the issue of traffic is an issue that we know touches people in a very big way. That I’ve been able to articulate and grab people’s attention. You all know that Jim got elected in a city of almost 4,000,000 people last time with 125,319 votes. You guys have heard me say that, but not everybody else has. But, you know, you’re not talking about a city that has a turnout that’s higher than Uganda. It’s really a horrible situation. This great democracy we talk about. The analysis of who wins is based upon a totally informative set of premises. A premise that says that the turnout’s so low. Now, I changed the law last time. Gray wouldn’t let me do it all the way. I was really big on the same day registration. I tried to change it and at the end I changed it to 15 days. Because most people don’t, don’t think about elections until the last few weeks. And at that point they’re already frozen out because the old law was 30 days. Now, it’s 15 days. So, I’m hopeful that’ll help encourage people to participate, too. This time we only have one council district race that’s competitive and in the mayors race we have an incumbent. I would venture to guess people who are supporting the incumbent; there won’t be as much energy behind coming out for him. It’s going to be like Tom Bradley against Nate Holden almost. L.A. WEEKLY: Aren’t a lot of the Riordan constituents non-Democrats? BOB HERTZBERG: Right. L.A. WEEKLY: And very low profile? BOB HERTZBERG: Right. L.A. WEEKLY: How do you bring them in? BOB HERTZBERG: It’s somewhat of the formula but, I’m a Democrat and I’m not walking away from who I am. But I do think that the issues of economic development, the issues of attracting businesses here, and having a big picture about what this place looks like, are arguments that cross party lines. Even if these voters stay home, I mean, by orders of magnitude, the numbers are big. These are not statements of values, they’re statements of analysis. When you look at the San Fernando Valley, it’s 42 percent of the electorate. Right? Do they vote in larger blocks for somebody for the Valley? I don’t know. 18 percent of the electorate in the last two cycles according to the L. A. Times poll were Jewish. You count the numbers and you look at where those constituencies are and it’s not very hard to cobble together 150,000 people. L.A. WEEKLY: What can you say in terms of scope? BOB HERTZBERG: By the way, I’m personally meeting each one of them. L.A. WEEKLY: What can you say about the scope of your paid advertising campaign? BOB HERTZBERG: I’m not going to tell you. I was going to tell you in a very direct way, but I’m not going to tell you. Anything else? But all I can tell you is this. That just like good art, or media campaigns, there’s a general nomination driven by consultants who get commissions on TV buys that you have to inundate the airwaves and I would argue that often that’s the case because you got some guy walking down the beach with a coat over his shoulder, walking to a classroom, as the message. This is Hollywood; this is a place of creativity and imagination. You know, you’re going to see campaigns ads from Bob Hertzberg that will grab people’s attention. I’m pushing the envelope in everything that I do. L.A. WEEKLY: These ads are going to be special? BOB HERTZBERG: Special, they’re either going to be a 10, or they’re going to flop. It’s a risk; it’s out there. L.A. WEEKLY: Cartoons? BOB HERTZBERG: No, I save that for the L. A. Times. L.A. WEEKLY: Isn’t a TV campaign going to be really important? BOB HERTZBERG: Yes, of course. It’s unfortunate that I can’t sit in everybody’s living room. I take that all day long but it’s the nature of running for mayor and, yeah, Los Angeles rather than Missoula, Montana. The Good City, it’s a good book, you should read that. Written by the mayor. L.A. WEEKLY: Why is school breakup at the top of your agenda compared to some of the other issues? This is the first time in my recollection and you know L. A. political history as well as I that all the incumbents of the L. A. School Board are unchallenged. BOB HERTZBERG: It’s unbelievable. Now that I’m challenged, my consultant represents four of them. Think how much fun that was. Here’s my notion and what my thinking is about the school district. Let’s start with the premise about how I approach problem solving. I think it’s really important to understand. We in government tend to think in these silos…this my responsibility over here at the county and this is my responsibility at the city. Everybody’s got their responsibilities. The consumers of government are wise. Whose lives are affected is that politicians always have plausible deniability. Why? Well, it’s not my department. That’s not my responsibility. Get it done or get the heck out of the way is my philosophy. I start out as a holistic thinker. I’m the big picture, holistic thinker. And I say to myself, well if I have the responsibility for public and we find that 75 percent of the kids in jail don’t have high school degrees, there’s a nexus between what the school system isn’t producing and what’s happening with respect to the criminal justice system. My job is to attract high wage jobs, paid health benefits and all the stuff that we got to do and I got an adult illiteracy rate that’s worse than Mobile, Alabama, how am I going to sell the city and build a future for the city of Los Angeles? I have to be intelligent about it. I don’t want to be limited. When I sit down with any problem solving, I never start with a political analysis. I always start with the underlying factors and how you get the goal. The political analysis is only a message to implement the solution. I never anticipated breaking up the school district as a solution. I supported it all the way, when I first ran I sat at this table. I said the same thing. I wanted to fix schools. With Antonio, we did the $9.2 billion bond issue. And then two more bond issues for another $25.2 billion that I wrote with Jackie Goldberg to make schools work. I have a vision that I was doing with David Able on this notion of schools being the center of community. When you got 53 percent of ninth graders not graduating high school, in this society, where you have a global economy and you’ve got to compete and you’re trying to make it work, how am I supposed to do my job? The only way I could find success is solving the problems and getting it done. I am a believer. Sometimes, you run into a wall and you fall over. And sometimes you start revolutions. And I just wasn’t going to sit and make a bunch of dough. And Jim Hahn just doesn’t get it. I started with the schools because it is the foundation of everything. When people say that the charter doesn’t have authority, I say, well, you know what, I’m going to change the charter or I’m going to change the state Constitution. I’m going to do what I need to do to engage in the debate. Every single person who’s emailed me as a result of this effort, I’ve called them back personally when I’ve had their phone numbers and told them, I’m protecting their benefits and wages. I don’t want to hurt their wages. I don’t want to hurt their benefits. That’s not it. I want the school system to work. And so, how do you do that? Well, what you do is, we know from a bunch of other cities around the country, we know from models of schools what works and what doesn’t work. Under the Constitution, in order to insure equity and fairness in funding from rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods, we moved away from a property tax model of running schools to what’s called an average daily attendance. Every kid, no matter in a rich neighborhood or a poor neighborhood, it’s the same amount of money for them. But their butt’s got to be in the seat. So you have neighborhoods where parents are working two jobs, the teachers get gigantically overcrowded classrooms. The principals are trying to deal with all these other problems, and they can’t keep the kids in school. The average daily attendance in LAUSD is 74 percent. The average daily attendance in smaller schools sometimes is 95 to 100 percent, okay? High numbers. So think about it for a second, if you’re running a business, right, think about your business in advertising. All of a sudden instead of having a hundred percent of the advertising you just got cut 74 percent of the advertising. How do you have money, yet your overhead is the same? The cost of keeping the lights on…the cost of rent. The cost of employees, everything’s the same. You go look at these models of smaller schools where parents, where the teachers could call up and get the kids in school. Or the parent, or the principals can literally do headcounts and get them in school. Now all of the sudden you’ve got 20 more percent kids in school. You got 20 more percent to give people raises, to buy artwork, to do all sorts of stuff. Now, does it cost the state more money? Yeah, that’s a problem I want to have, okay? But you have these fundamental structural failures that are fundamentally affecting underserved communities. And it’s not right. And you can’t just walk away from it. I understand I’m walking into a whirlwind. But I am not walking away from this. You can’t have a city that’s going to succeed, you can’t have a city that’s going to be successful in this new economy with high wage jobs and all the things we want to have when the plate is just crumbling at its youth. Jim Hahn talks about after school programs. After school? I want to keep them in school in the first place. John Kerry lost the presidency by equivocating. Lost by nuances. Sometimes you don’t nuance. Sometimes you clean it up afterwards. It’s okay. I have confidence in who I am and what I’m about in my life, and I’ll take the heat as a result of it. I can’t tell you that I can be mayor of Los Angeles and not take this on. LAUSD is 26 cities, okay? It’s not just L.A. You could create a unified school district that is the equivalent of the size of the city, create a unity of interest in the city, between the city and the school system like some cities have done. You don’t have to break it up into a thousand deals. I don’t really care. I just want it to work. I want the kids to get an education. And the last point is, at the core of my kind of larger land use plan for the city, and what I did in the bonds, it’s to make schools the center of community. We have populations that leave the school system and don’t care about schools. They’re disconnected. So how do I create this synergy in the communities? How do I create centers of communities and reconnect the schools to community life? I have a school site here with the new bond money. And you take the library bond money and you leverage that, and you put a library here. And I have after school programs and adult care, and adult education, and I have preschool on the same site. And I take the bond money for parks and I buy a place that both could be used for a school site and to be used for a playground, what do I get? I crave a place that’s no longer locked up at the end of the day and separated from the community. I take senior citizens who have no skin in the game, ‘cause the kids may be of a different ethnicity or whatever, and I create schools as the center of community. I create a synergy, and here’s the interest, I leverage dollars, we don’t have enough government dollars. The bond money for, doing the same thing with housing, the bond money for housing in the state, the bond money we put in for schools. The bond money we put in for parks. The bond money we have for libraries. Leverage some of the county money on healthcare stock. t’s an intelligent way to change the pattern that would create a greater involvement with schools. L.A. WEEKLY: Do you have a secret ally in all this? BOB HERTZBERG: You got to defend these people. If you ask Romer about a takeover by the mayor, like they’ve done in some other cities, in Chicago and New York, and Seattle and some other cities that are working on those edges, you might see some level in that, you’re right. He’s got to defend his system, so I don’t know. I worked with him very well, and I fought to the death for him on a ton of issues, ‘cause I figured here’s a guy who’s seventy some years old. He doesn’t need the money. I want to give him every opportunity possible when I was in government. This guy’s working hard. The system’s just out of control and it doesn’t work. And every year these kids are going down the tubes. And what do you do? L.A. WEEKLY: How do you go about getting that across to people who wouldn’t vote for that, for you? BOB HERTZBERG: I say the same thing every place I go. this doesn’t change. L.A. WEEKLY: Are people responding? BOB HERTZBERG: Thousands have signed the petitions. I get emails from all over the place. L.A. WEEKLY: Let’s get into questions about the DWP. BOB HERTZBERG: I don’t want to answer those questions. L.A. WEEKLY: Some of your opponents have tried to draw connections with Fleishman-Hillard. There are a couple areas that haven’t come up. A former staff member of yours… BOB HERTZBERG: Right. Well consultant, yes. L.A. WEEKLY: Not a staff member? BOB HERTZBERG: Well, assembly… we brought him into the energy crisis, yeah. L.A. WEEKLY: General manager of the DWP when a lot of these problems are going down. Is it accurate that you recommended him to the DWP? And do you bear any responsibility for the Fleishman scandal? BOB HERTZBERG: That’s a good question, I don’t know. What happened was, he was the interim director during the Riordan administration. He was there for a while. And then he left the DWP, and then when the energy crisis happened, I said I want to get the best people around and this guy had been the general manager of El Paso Electric, when it had gone through a bankruptcy. I thought we were facing bankruptcy. So I brought him in, brought people in from all around the country, the best experts, and he helped me. He was a consultant for the assembly for probably five or six months. Riordan hired him again. Did I tell Riordan I liked him? Yes, but Riordan already had an independent relationship with him. Now does he bare responsibility? I don’t know, I’ve never thought about that question. I don’t know if he inherited this, what the circumstances were. I just don’t know. I don’t know what his role was; I just wasn’t around that much. L.A. WEEKLY: Troy Edwards, when did you first meet him? BOB HERTZBERG: I met Troy Edwards. It must be years and years and years ago. He was a kid fundraiser for Charlie Dobbs. He worked for Gray Davis. He was a kid who was just kind of around. But he was a young kid, and I’d know him around, 1397518451 it was clearly probably in the early ‘90s. I don’t know when he started, but I can’t place it, I’m sorry. Now, what else did you want to know about? I knew him since way back then, what else do you want to know? L.A. WEEKLY: Did you ever state publicly that Mayor Hahn, putting them in charge of those three proprietary departments was a good idea? BOB HERTZBERG: Publicly? No. No. L.A. WEEKLY: So if anyone says that you said that... BOB HERTZBERG: Oh, Troy... L.A. WEEKLY: They’re either mistaken or... BOB HERTZBERG: I had talked to him about it. He called and talked to me about it before he did. But I didn’t think it was an intelligent idea. L.A. WEEKLY: That it was or was not? BOB HERTZBERG: Was not. L.A. WEEKLY: And did you tell Edwards that? BOB HERTZBERG: Of course. L.A. WEEKLY: And why didn’t you? BOB HERTZBERG: Because he’s a kid and he’s in proprietary departments that you need to be an expert. This is really serious business. The budgets of departments are larger than the entire city budget of the city of Los Angeles. I wouldn’t hire anybody like that in that situation, absolutely not. L.A. WEEKLY: Did you sit down with (Controller Laura) Chick and discuss any of the audits that you’ve done on Fleishman? BOB HERTZBERG: I had a number of conversations with her a lot of times. But not just audits. L.A. WEEKLY: Did she contact you this week? BOB HERTZBERG: I talked to her a ton of times about all the audits. I’ve read the audits in the courts and the police, the airport… real estate issues…everything she’s done. L.A. WEEKLY: But did she contact you? BOB HERTZBERG: I told you, I’ll tell you later. L.A. WEEKLY: Do you think that the Fleishman-Hillard stuff is going to have any impact on the campaign? And could it get stuck on you? BOB HERTZBERG: You can make up anything they can stick on somebody. The question is: what’s the truth and what happened? One of the horrible things about this process is that somebody can create a 30 second ad, and just make it up. And you know, unless you have millions of dollars to refute it, and the ability to refute it, it’s impossible. So can you make it up? So far they’ve been making up everything else. They talked about something that happened six years before I got there. Just making it up. It’s the old Lyndon Johnson style. L.A. WEEKLY: Well do you think Jim Hahn is running an extraordinarily dirty campaign? You’ve been around politics a long time. BOB HERTZBERG: Oh, I think he will. L.A. WEEKLY: Is it an extraordinarily dirty campaign? BOB HERTZBERG: Yeah, but it will be. L.A. WEEKLY: It will be? BOB HERTZBERG: Sure it will be. Because that’s what he does. He’ll do whatever he’s got to win power. I get the risk I took. I knew that in terms of the city and what they were going to try to do. I didn’t know all this other stuff in respect to Fleishman at the time I entered into the race. But do you walk away from it because of that? You know. L.A. WEEKLY: Right now you’re piling on Mayor Hahn, but in this group, when we figure out our endorsement, what’s the best argument you can give us to differentiate yourself? BOB HERTZBERG: My relationship with the guy has been forever, right? And it’s a hard situation. I never anticipated that I told you Antonio running for office, I just didn’t think he was going to run. L.A. WEEKLY: Did he tell you he wasn’t going to? BOB HERTZBERG: No, he didn’t tell me. He told everybody else, publicly and in every interview all over the place, he never thought it was going to happen. I think the difference between both of us is we have different styles…we have different symbolism and the like. My commitment to public policy and public life had nothing to do with running for office. I wasn’t going to other communities of the city, South L.A. and East Side, and Chinatown, and Korea Town, all over the place in order to gain political points to then turn it into political power. You didn’t see me going to other communities to do that. It really boils down to the issue of getting the work done. I am sick and tired of the noise. Sick and tired of the empty promises. I understand I’m out there and people could say I’m doing the same thing. I’ve just been in the back rooms. I’ve been around and seeing what happens. And what you really see are so many people grabbing the cameras and they’re throwing elbows to get themselves in the cameras to punch up their name ID. You see Bob Hertzberg never running for the cameras. And that’s the reason why my name ID is so low, but I will go in the back room and finish it. I am now sitting here fighting an uphill battle. Not because I’m not the guy that held the budget open, I held the budget until we got the East L.A. Hospital. The two Latino speakers before me couldn’t make that happen. Hertzberg did it. I’m not the guy who called the press conference. I’m the first person in California history to get a United Farm Worker bill signed by a governor. Nobody else could before me. Look at the trauma care stuff that happened. Go analyze the budget. When we made trauma care a top priority when I was speaker to keep the money in the budget. Go look at the study that was done. L.A. WEEKLY: In your first year as speaker there was a legislative traffic jam there at the end, and some people were saying we expected Bob to have these managerial skills, and here you get this car crash. Go through that for a second. BOB HERTZBERG: Let me tell you why I caused it. Assembly members went into the Senate and amended 128 bills in the last four days of the session. I said I’m going to have a transparent government. I will not pass out of this House unless there is a hearing. I will not play the game. I will not do it. It got played that way ‘cause I didn’t sit and play the press the way I did. But the truth be told is, there was, if you didn’t have a hearing, you didn’t get out. We got plenty of laws. We got plenty of bills. There was nothing that was critical that failed in the last dozen or so bills. I think there’s plenty of laws, I did it because I wanted some discipline in the system, and I didn’t like the gamesmanship. I just said I would not run a speakership unless there’s a hearing. That’s why it happened. It was intended. It wasn’t mismanagement. I would argue that it was courage ‘cause everybody’s beating the crap out of me. I was telling them to go to hell; this is what we’re going to do. I’m not walking away from this. L.A. WEEKLY: There are some political and ideological differences between you an Antonio. BOB HERTZBERG: There probably are. I think that’s a fair statement. But I think it’s more a matter of process about how to get things done than an end game issue of values. It was me who started the UCLA Center, and funded the six million dollars for the UCLA center that I thought was really important. It was me who did, I mean, a whole host of issues... L.A. WEEKLY: Are you talking about the center? BOB HERTZBERG: That was me, with Kent Wong. That was my speakership. That was my six million dollars. So part of it is more kind of the rah-rah stuff that I don’t otherwise do, but I do think that there probably are some differences. But it’s mostly a matter of process about how to get things done. L.A. WEEKLY: Where won’t you go on living wage? BOB HERTZBERG: Well I, I don’t know. I don’t know the numbers in terms of how it works. I’m not as learned as I should be on it. I should really learn more about it, and I apologize. If there are other issues you want to ask, I mean, prevailing wage, I mean I fought all that to the death. I mean there’s so many issues that I’m there on. L.A. WEEKLY: Just as a side note, why didn’t you barter to shell out for the? Was it not a sign of disrespect to not even show up and make a pitch? BOB HERTZBERG: I don’t know. I got a lifetime of respect. I’m not somebody who just woke up yesterday and all of a sudden met everybody. I know them all. I know we all tend to be instantaneous in our analysis, and forget history. I don’t. I know my friends don’t forget that I have. I’ve got a lot of great friends. I made a lot of calls to a lot of people and touched base with them. So, you know, I just thought it was being part of a charade, and I just didn’t want to be part of it. Not out of disrespect for the underlying issues but for purposes of what was going on. L.A. WEEKLY: Organized labor, well you said that Hahn had already made the deal. BOB HERTZBERG: Yeah. It was transactional. L.A. WEEKLY: Is organized labor too big of a special interest in Los Angeles if it can make this deal with Hahn? BOB HERTZBERG: I don’t know. It does have a lot of power, there’s no question about it. A lot of what happens in special interest has to do not about what you do, but it’s about how you do it. Do you jump fast enough? Do you call them and give them the gossip fast enough? It becomes such an insider game. I was always focused on the big picture and doing the work and doing the work and doing the work. And I wasn’t really good at schmoozing, and calling them back and telling them this and giving them the gossip of the day. I’m not someone who’s fixated on the corruption issue. Although it’s pretty bad. I’m fixated on the fact that we’re living in a very fast-paced society and decisions are being made every single day that adversely affect us. And he’s just asleep at the switch. It’s really just an aggressive malfeasance. He gets out and talks about this idea of plugging in the ships. He fails to tell you that he had to be sued to do it. He talks about Measure O and about the runoffs. He fails to tell you he had to be sued to do it. Every idea he’s got he stole from a council member. But the patterns of management are denial, and discredit the opponent. Steal somebody else’s idea and claim victory. We need somebody who’s working their heart out. This is L.A. This is the place of creativity and imagination. But we should be on the cutting edge. There are so many things that we could be doing on the environmental front, on truly converting a new DWP, and changing fundamentally what it looks like. There are things that we need to be doing from an economic standpoint to build incubators and move to create jobs that aren’t exportable. L.A. WEEKLY: You were advising Arnold during the transition. Were you surprised by his move to the right, if that’s how you would characterize it? BOB HERTZBERG: Yes. L.A. WEEKLY: What you would do to lower the homicide rate in Los Angeles? BOB HERTZBERG: What I wanted to do was to show that Jim Hahn had the money to hire the cops. He’s saying he didn’t have the money to pay a thousand police officers. He has 47 more police officers today than he did when he started in office. L.A. WEEKLY: What did he spend it on? BOB HERTZBERG: He spent it on salary increases…pay raises of 75 percent. 335 million in pay raises, plus 375 million dollars in benefits. L.A. WEEKLY: That’s how you get the endorsements. BOB HERTZBERG: That’s right. He’s got, in addition to the 335, there’s 375 million dollars in benefits, right? I don’t begrudge people’s pay. I don’t have to quarrel with it. But just tell the truth about what you’re going to do. He spends only three percent on new cops, with the new money, or almost 15 million dollars. So what I’m saying is, at a minimum, you have the money to hire the cops. This is 48 hundred new cops. He could have easily, with the 100 million dollars of this cash, hired the cops. L.A. WEEKLY: There’s an existing contract... BOB HERTZBERG: Well he wrote new contracts, too, that go through 2006, 2007. L.A. WEEKLY: So if it were your choice, you would not have given pay raises? BOB HERTZBERG: I would have spent a hundred million dollars on cops. A thousand cops would have been a hundred million dollars. A hundred million, you still have 350 million dollars left.

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