Dear Losers

Photo by Debra DiPaolo

It’s one thing to refuse to fight dirty, and it’s another to just stand there and let a bully beat you up. This is a difference that Antonio Villaraigosa, unfortunately, never figured out in the last days of his losing campaign. With his unrelenting TV hit ads, some of them perfectly fair and many of them not, winner Jim Hahn turned his haplessly passive opponent into a punching bag. The outgoing city attorney hit him with the Vignali crack-pipe ad and with a shot at a tiny handful of his legislative votes — out of the former Assembly speaker’s many hundreds of good ones. It is tiresome to enumerate how many different ways the former front-runner could have defended himself without, as he was inclined to put it, fighting dirty, taking the low road. For instance, he could have dismissed the lies for what they were — lies. He could have pointed out that he asked for review of the crooked Vignali’s case, not clemency — a misstep shared with the reputable Cardinal Roger Mahony.

But if you do nothing but take it on the chin, if you insist that the act of defending yourself is wrong, you’re wounding yourself: Either you are passively agreeing with these attacks, conceding that you really are a bum, or you are telling the world that even you know that, whatever the truth of the attacks, you simply aren’t worth defending.

And you’re thereby declaring that, with so pathological a level of self-esteem, you lack what it takes to hold high office. Because officeholders are there to defend — it’s a major part of their job. They have to defend their policies, their supporters, their constituencies. If you don’t even care about Number One, how can we voters expect you to care about us? As the sage Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, then who is?”

This is a very basic social-survival thing that probably only goes back a million years or so. Voters want leaders with alpha genes, not wimp traits. In Villaraigosa’s case, thus went the majority of voters. I’m afraid that, in his quieter way, Mike Feuer — far and away the better of the two city-attorney candidates — also forgot that a campaign is really a fight, not a beauty contest. And accordingly, he neglected, in the final weeks, to keep his dukes up. Now that I think of it, over 25 years of covering political campaigns, I’ve noted a few candidates who thought they could ignore whatever their opponents were saying about them, all in the name of niceness. These candidates also all assumed that the voters would be polite enough to do the same. What else they all had in common was that they all lost.

Feuer also stumbled when he took for granted that most of the Los Angeles electorate knew his excellent City Council career from all those shots on the evening TV. We are, however, talking about a city in which probably half the voters can’t tell the difference between City Hall and the county Hall of Administration. It also often seemed that Feuer, because of his broad background in liberal legislation, assumed he’d get a lot of non-Anglo votes that were not his to take for granted. Couldn’t he, like winner Rocky Delgadillo, have done a little ethnic outreach himself, and recruited, say, Shaq O’Neal and Los Tigres del Norte for his campaign? Could he have learned to dance the cumbia? Without such breadth, Mike couldn’t help look a bit, well, aloof, like a member of the royalty of accomplishment compared to our urban realities. Which may be the way to win an election in Atherton — but not in L.A.

Finally, you had that awful — and retroactively symbolic — locale of Feuer’s election-night party. I think it perfectly symbolized the attitude that helped lose the election.

It is customary to have such affairs at public places, usually hotels and restaurants, and this for good reason. Well-wishers can come and go at will and create that form of camaraderie that elates victory and eases defeat. So Feuer, instead of doing the sensible thing and renting part of the Sportsmen’s Lodge or even the Mid-Wilshire El Pollo Loco, had his own event at someone’s stately private home in Hancock Park. Okay: There was probably not enough room there for a decent cross section of the number of campaign volunteers usually typical of a citywide election. But then, it was also not just anyone’s private home — but that of the politically prominent Democrat Jane Usher.

Yes, that’s right, folks. The House of Usher. How bizarrely inauspicious. I guess Castle Frankenstein was already booked for June 5.

Other Aftermaths

I know someone in Studio City with a spacious spare garage apartment. He says that he’ll be happy to rent it to apparent 5th District council-race loser Tom Hayden if Hayden wants to run for the seat soon to be vacated by Joel Wachs. The former state senator would do well to think twice, though. Hayden was a terrible fit for the 5th, an extremely middle-class, middle-of-the-road district of whose very boundaries he seemed a little unsure when he interviewed for this paper’s endorsement. He’d be an even worse fit for the Valley-centered 2nd District with its urban-rustic Tujunga hinterland.

Victor Jack Weiss ran a tough, sometimes mean, but ultimately fair campaign. And Hayden made a very creditable showing. Now, however, the voters have suggested that it’s time for the (in both senses) 60-ish political wunderkind to go back to writing books instead of ordinances. Hayden’s best writings so far have chronicled his pre-1980 activist years. I for one would like to read just what he’s learned from his 20 years of state elected office.

Congratulations to Eric Garcetti for his win in what was, almost until the end, a fair-fought race in our bohemian 13th District. Consolations to Mike Woo, the former councilman who almost proved — with a determined and hard-hitting campaign — that you can have a third act in your political career after having missed your second act.

Finally, the strongest showing by a loser in the runoff election: Hector Cepeda’s in the Harbor-centered 15th. Against perhaps the most recognizable, best-financed candidate in all the council elections, Janice Hahn, Cepeda put up one hell of a fight. He had diminished her early, overwhelming lead of nearly 80 percent to about 55 percent by the time the final returns were in.

This suggested that, had he only garnered stronger financing and a few major endorsements, he might have put Ms. Hahn in a photo finish. He is definitely the guy to watch next time.

Cepeda, you might recall, was the youngest candidate in the original six-person primary field in that race. He’s also the only contender who literally walked the entire district from bottom to top, knocking on doors all the way and sleeping in the homes of supporters. Cepeda noted early that the 15th is majority Latino, if by no means majority Latino registered voters. His good showing among African-American and Latinos both, in the light of a recent rebound in the Harbor secession movement, reminds us how few nonwhite people have been visible in that breakaway effort, whose proposed separated municipality would take the waterfront areas but abandon the 15th District’s Watts portion to Los Angeles.

Finally, Marlene Canter ousted Valerie Fields from the school board. Generally speaking, that was a good thing. Fields was the board’s major Belmont Learning Center–as–Chernobyl bomb tosser. Minus Fields, the superintendent, board and district may finally be able to deal with this complex and disruptive issue almost rationally.

But it should also be recalled that Fields also had some good positions — particularly on decent nutrition for LAUSD kids. She moved in May to study the relationship of bad school-food offerings to obesity and other child health problems. Superintendent Roy Romer (who struck out some of the motion’s original text) has picked up the ball on this one and is expected to report to the board on the matter June 26.

Let’s hope Canter will continue Fields’ worthy support of the healthy school lunch, and help the board to roll back the widespread industrial fast-food intrusions into our educational system.

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