City Council District 2 Special Election today, September 22, 2009: A race that pits normal Valley folk against slick Sacramento
By Paul Teetor
Someone on his State Assembly staff, or his campaign staff, might have done well by reminding Burbank politician Paul Krekorian that pride can come before the fall. The career politician, who jumped early from his elected post on the Burbank School Board to grab a much higher-paying job in the legislature, then as the number four leader in the Assembly played a key role both in the unfixed California fiscal disaster and that long-overdue 2008 budget you may recall, now wants to bolt his Sacramento gig early -- having just been re-elected in an Assembly district long ago gerrymandered to insure the incumbent's re-election (that is, short of a sex scandal).
That's a lot to take in. But suffice to say that Krekorian moved from Burbank into the San Fernando Valley's Council District 2 solely to make a grab for a spot on the Los Angeles City Council, running for the powerful council post today, just a few months after winning re-election to the California legislature, a group so unpopular it is breaking records in voter disapproval ratings.
Now Krekorian is trying to carpetbag his way into a far more lucrative job on the Los Angeles City Council. How lucrative is this job for a Burbank politician stuck up in Sacramento?
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A council seat pays far more that a state legislative spot, which roughly provides $135,000 a year. And it pays better than U.S. Congress or even federal judges, with each L.A. city council member raking in a stunning $178,789 a year -- plus getting handed a controversial slush fund of $100,000 in taxpayer money per council member every year, as L.A. Weekly reported in its February investigative report, "Los Angeles on $300,000 a Year" by Patrick Range McDonald.
Krekorian's strategy has been to carpet-bomb Council District 2 with mailers and commercials touting all his many big-money endorsers, and he's been showing signs that he has no doubt he will finish in the top-two when today's votes are counted tonight.
First Krekorian talked down to the seven highly committed Valley activists who are running for CD 2 today, describing this special election to replace the departed Wendy Greuel as "not being a time for amateurs."
That was a not-very-subtle put-down of seven serious candidates on the ballot today, all of them with long histories of civic activism and solving community problems, several of them veterans of the Neighborhood Council system, many of whom have learned to navigate the government bureaucracy and certainly don't qualify as amateurs.
Even David Saltsburg, best known as Zuma Dogg, the sometimes-homeless City Hall provocateur, is no amateur. He actually does understand how City Hall works and catches the Los Angeles City Council at bad behavior. It's a big job for a guy without a permanent address, to watchdog a richly-paid City Council best known for its bumbling -- for example, the council has played the key role in enabling the city's illegal billboards, illegal pot industry, illegal apartment densities, ad nauseum.
"I took that statement about this being no time for amateurs as total arrogance on Paul's part," says Mary Benson of Sunland-Tujunga, a longtime civic leader and fighter for her community, and one of the so-called Grassroots 7 running today, who Krekorian was slamming. "It was the statement of a professional politician who has already become separated from the people he represents. ... And it showed how frightened he is of losing to someone like me, who has not run for office before."
Noting that Krekorian's Sacramento failures closely resemble the fiscal bumbling of the City Council (many of whom also flit from political post to post like Krekorian does, to stay in office as long as possible), Benson adds that for Krekorian to do poorly against an actual community leader such as herself and the six other activists is "the worst thing in the world to someone like him."
In one bizarre moment last week at a Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council candidate debate, Krekorian clearly believed he had demonstrated his superior political savvy. The moderator was trying to introduce an older couple whose home had been tragically destroyed in the Station Fire. Before the moderator could finish, Krekorian leapt up like a Lakers fan, applauding so ferociously that, one by one, other candidates joined in.
Krekorian's effort to call attention to himself came off as strained because it was strained, prompting Benson to remark, "I know those two people who lost their home, and I bet Paul would be very disappointed to learn that they lived in the unincorporated area and couldn't vote for him anyway."
Voters are saying they are sick of the California legislature in a new poll by Public Policy Institute of California. Some 73% believe the state Senate and state Assembly are working for special interests.
One of Krekorian's back-scratchers in Sacramento, Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, spent $15,000 on a big ad gushing about what a great job Krekorian is doing in Sacramento. Now Krekorian is insisting the big expenditure should not be criticized as conflicted insider favoritism because Fuentes did not ask voters to actually vote for Krekorian today. (To date there has been no complaint filed with the California Fair Practices Political Commission.)
Last night, Krekorian's press secretary Jeremy Oberstein sent out a mass invitation to Krekorian's headquarters tonight, to "any bloggers interested in live-blogging election night, or covering the evening's festivities." Word is that the refreshments will be first-class catered fare, a spread in keeping with the style of Krekorian, whose campaign chest is stuffed with special interest cash from big labor and others with a vested interest in keeping the status quo at City Hall.
The cash pouring into Krekorian over the summer turned this Burbank politician into one of the "haves" in this race, up against the have-nots.
Michael McCue, one of the seven longtime community leaders running, has grown to become a popular member of the Grassroots 7, who have formed an easy camaraderie. McCue has a somewhat smaller party planned for his Studio City headquarters, without overwrought Sacramento trimmings: "We'll have a lot of lemonade, premium lemonade," he says after a final day of pounding the streets. "And if someone wants to slip a little vodka in, that's fine with this candidate."
Benson's campaign headquarters are at her house. She's a normal human being, running for office in a community where she actually lives, which she actually understands.
"We may go out to a little restaurant after we finish all the things we have to do on Election Day," Benson says. "I guess it depends on if there's enough money left in the budget to go out for a meal."
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