Endorsements: Part 2
MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL
1st DISTRICT ROBERT NAKAHIRO
The race to succeed the term-limited Mike Hernandez in this immigrant-heavy, poverty-stricken district that snakes around downtown was thrown into happy turmoil last month when the heavily favored state Senator Richard Polanco one of the real powerhouses of California politics suddenly withdrew from the race, for reasons that still are not entirely clear. The two candidates left standing both bring considerable strengths to the race.
Ed Reyes is best known for having served as Hernandezs chief of staff during the time Hernandez was speed-freaking from his cocaine and alcohol addictions, and then altogether absent as he entered a rehab program to clean up his act. Not exactly an assignment that a City Hall staffer would jump at, but by all accounts, Reyes was exemplary before, during and after Hernandezs fall, bringing constituents in such historically ignored communities as Pico-Union into the planning process for their neighborhoods. A planner by profession, Reyes worked for a community-development corporation in Oakland, and for the L.A. City Planners Office before he went to work for Hernandez.
Attorney Robert Nakahiro is a Boyle Heights native and community activist president of an Eastside legal center and board member for Northeast Community Clinic, a seemingly ubiquitous figure at worker-rights and environmental events throughout the district. By his own account, hes a poster child for diversity (born to a Japanese-American father and a white mother, raised by his Latino stepfather) not a bad thing to have on the governing body of a city thats perhaps the most diverse on the planet.
There are some subtle differences of politics and some not so subtle differences of temperament between these two candidates. The 1st District is home to fewer parks and recreational facilities than just about any in the city, and both candidates opposed the warehouses that the mayor had slated for the Cornfields area and the industrial-commercial use hes planned for the Taylor Yards. But Reyes tends to favor a mixed-use designation for these sites a commercial stretch as well as parks while Nakahiro sides with such groups as Friends of the L.A. River in favoring a riverside greenbelt and schools for these venues. As to temperament, Reyes is a reserved insider, while Nakahiro is a voluble outside agitator. Reyes has a deeper knowledge of how to work the system, and would do so to generally good ends; Nakahiro would try to shake that system up a bit, to ends we think would be exemplary. In a close call, were recommending Nakahiro for the council.
3rd DISTRICT JUDITH HIRSHBERG
For the past two decades, this southwest San Fernando Valley district has been represented on the City Council by moderate, slightly left-of-center Democrats: first, Joy Picus, and then, for the past eight years, the now-term-limited Laura Chick. This year, however, two of the front-runners in the race to succeed Chick would mark a clear break from the Picus-Chick tradition.
Both Francine Oschin, long a senior aide to Republican Councilman Hal Bernson (from the northwest Valleys 12th District), and Dennis Zine, an LAPD sergeant and longtime stalwart of the Police Protective League, would signal a clear shift to right on some fundamental city issues. Both are running demagogic law-n-order campaigns; both oppose the consent decree between the LAPD and the federal government, which Chick supported. Zine has decent positions on bread-and-butter economic issues like worker rights and the living wage, but in a city still struggling mightily to assert civilian control over the police, his elevation to the citys governing body would be a big step backward.
There are two candidates in the race, however, very much in the Picus-Chick mold; problem is, theres a danger in the primary that theyll cancel each other out. Judith Hirshberg is the veteran here; she was a staffer in the Valley office of Mayor Tom Bradley, and for many years ran the Valley office of City Councilman Marvin Braude. More important, shes also a veteran activist whos taken a leadership role in community organizations and cause groups. Shes long been a leader in the National Womens Political Caucus, and a strong proponent of greater gender equity in the LAPD. An advocate for small-business interests, she also supports the living-wage ordinance and the proposal for an affordable-housing trust fund large enough to impact the citys housing market.
The other moderate Democrat in the race is Tsilah Burman, an urban planner whos worked for commercial real estate firms, the Hollywood Revitalization Committee and on the staff of such local elected officials as Henry Waxman and Zev Yaroslavsky. Like Hirshberg, shes an advocate of light rail for key Valley transporation corridors; she supports greater densification along some of those corridors as well. She, too, would push for a real municipal commitment to affordable housing.
Both Burman and Hirshberg would bring a good deal of insider experience and civic smarts to the job; Hirshberg, however, brings more experience as a crusader, both for reforms that have already helped the city or reforms that the city still needs realized. Burman is an attractive candidate, but her campaign has encountered some problems that suggest that Hirshberg is probably the stronger candidate. Either would be a good council member; we think Hirshberg would be the better one.
5th DISTRICT TOM HAYDEN
The 5th the Westside-to-mid-Valley district that runs up the east side of the 405 from Pico Boulevard all the way to Van Nuys is accustomed to having heavyweight representation on the City Council. For nearly two decades, its council member was Zev Yaroslavsky; for the past six years, its been Mike Feuer, who is leaving the council to run for city attorney.
Fully 11 candidates have entered the race to succeed Feuer more than for any other council seat in town. Many boast genuine achievements from Robyn Ritter Simon, whose volunteer work measurably improved one of the districts grade schools, to Joe Connolly, whose somewhat manic war on graffiti yielded positive results. But as we see it, there are only three candidates here worthy of serious consideration as a council member: community activist Laura Lake, federal prosecutor Jack Weiss and termed-out state Senator Tom Hayden.
Laura Lake, who ran for this seat against Yaroslavsky in 1989, is a liberal, community and slow-growth activist par excellence. She led the fight against an extensive redevelopment plan for Westwood, worked in the campaign against turning Ward Valley into a nuclear dumpsite, and served on the local Jewish Commission on sweatshops. When it comes to preserving open space or challenging the megadevelopments of megadevelopers, she can be counted upon to take a leading role. Lakes antipathy to densification makes sense throughout most of her district, but theres a lack of nuance in her approach that would cause real problems in the larger city. She is convinced, for instance, that L.A.s crisis of affordable housing could be solved largely through rehabilitating existing structures rather than constructing any new ones. How anyone could drive through the teeming MacArthur Park or East Valley neighborhoods, or witness the number of people living in garages in the Eastside or South-Central, and still reach this conclusion is beyond us. Theres more to the problems of the new Los Angeles than is dreamed of in Laura Lakes philosophy.
Jack Weiss is the only person weve ever encountered for whom the federal prosecutors office is the family business: Both his father and mother were assistant U.S. attorneys, and he served in that position in the L.A. office from 1994 until last year. The onetime editor of the UCLA Law Review, U.S. Attorney Weiss successfully prosecuted a superior court judge who compelled a defendant to have sex with him; a Thai diplomat who was keeping immigrants as slaves; a Mouseketeer-turned-scam-artist a gallery of no-goodniks. Politically, Weiss is close to former federal-prosecutor-turned-Congressman Adam Schiff. Like Schiff, Weiss is a good government wonk with mainstream Democratic politics. Thus he is committed to expanding gun control, to implementing the terms of the LAPDs consent decree, to the kinds of ethics-in-government initiatives that incumbent Mike Feuer has undertaken. In contradistinction to Lake, and at times to Hayden, too, he leans toward densification in some transportation corridors; he takes more of a wait and see position on the megadevelopment at Playa Vista. ä
Problem is, while Adam Schiff is about as progressive as any elected official representing Glendale, Burbank and Pasadena could be, the Adam Schifflike Jack Weiss is not nearly the most progressive councilman the Westsides 5th District could support. On labor matters, questions like living-wage policy and a host of issues that matter greatly to less affluent Angelenos, Weiss admits to no special experience or expertise. And it happens that theres another candidate in the race with a vast amount of experience, expertise and dedication and energy on those and a host of other issues: Tom Hayden.
To some, we know, the thought of Hayden a national figure for four decades now, first president of SDS, author of the Port Huron Statement, antiwar leader, and state legislator for 18 years running for City Council sounds a little preposterous. Hes slumming, they say. He wont take it seriously. Why does he need it?
The real question, we think, is why do we need him? To begin, as colleagues on both sides of the aisle acknowledged when he stepped down from the Senate, Hayden was actually quite an accomplished and effective legislator, even if he lived in a wider world writing books, tackling some international issues than most of his legislative colleagues. With Antonio Villaraigosa, he played a key role in ensuring that last years state-parks bond would fund urban parks throughout L.A., and most especially, the restoration of the L.A. River. He authored the law banning MTA board members from voting on contracts for their own contributors. Many of the states protections from toxic substances are Haydens handiwork, as is the Parents-Right-To-Know Act, which mandates public disclosure of the condition of school sites a law he crafted in response to the Belmont debacle. (Another response was his bill creating an inspector generals position within the LAUSD.)
Youll note many of these endeavors were directed specifically to L.A.; in fact, Hayden has immersed himself throughout the past decade in L.A. issues a number of which his colleagues feared to touch. Hes been a consistent advocate for open space at Playa Vista, on the banks of the L.A. River and all across town. He marched with striking janitors and steadfastly championed the causes of L.A.s low-wage workers. Perhaps most notable has been his work with gang members and former gang members helping to broker truces, finding training and jobs programs to get them off the streets. No one on the L.A. scene has done more to undo the demonization of these predators (a term, Hayden reminds us, that was applied to the young Irish immigrants who came to America in the mid-19th century) whose biggest mistake is sometimes nothing more than growing up poor, nonwhite and male in L.A.s inner city.
This demonization, Hayden argues, is what laid the groundwork for Rampart. Indeed, the reason we think its particularly important to have Hayden on the council is that he will not be intimidated by various phobias that keep otherwise decent elected officials from even scrutinizing the kind of war-on-gangs programs that have led us to the Rampart debacle. If Los Angeles is ever to establish real civilian control over its police, and develop a crime-reduction program for the inner city in which the police are to become something other, and better, than an occupying army, its going to take Tom Hayden on the City Council to push for those changes.
Not to mention, as the city moves to establish neighborhood councils, we cant imagine anyone wed rather have shepherd them along than the original theorist, and still leading proponent, of participatory democracy. Tom Hayden is our clear choice for City Council.
7thDISTRICT NO ENDORSEMENT
two years ago, at the tender age of 26, Alex Padilla was elected to represent this fast-changing, long-neglected Northeast Valley district on the City Council. Increasingly, the 7th is home to a sizable chunk of the citys burgeoning Latino working class; indeed, more people are crammed into fewer housing units there than anywhere else in town. On some district issues air pollution and youth facilities, to name two Padilla has done fine work, often out of public view.
As a city legislator, however, Padilla has yet to demonstrate hes more than a pretty face. For too long, he placed himself under the protection and tutelage of totemic city father figures Mayor Riordan and now-ailing and absent council President John Ferraro. Often, hes gone along with their program, and it was a bit eerie to see the one council member whos young enough and nonwhite enough to fit the LAPDs demographic profile for harassment nonetheless dragging his feet on the consent decree because his elders didnt like it. We dont object if Padilla seeks out mentors; but Riordan, Ferraro and the Democratic Leadership Council (to which Padilla belongs) are hardly the folks youd go to if you really wanted to help the 7th District. (Riordans contribution to the debate on affordable housing, let us recall, is to deny that its a problem.) Nonetheless, Padilla is a well-intentioned young legislator, and we have reason to hope hell grow into the job.
9th DISTRICT JAN PERRY
The 9th comes in two parts: upscale downtown (the office towers of Figueroa Corridor, Staples Center, the Civic Center) and downscale everything else (South-Central). Six candidates are vying to succeed the term-limited Rita Walters, among them Ted Hayes, the colorful and often thoughtful homeless advocate, whom we cant easily envision functioning on the City Council (though the councils distinct culture is certainly no less strange than that of the homeless).
Of the three leading candidates for this position, probably the most reliably progressive is Assemblyman Carl Washington of Compton. In his years in Sacramento, Washington has amassed a decent voting record, and if that was all that was required in this job, wed endorse him forthwith. Problem is, Washington has also emerged unmistakably as one of the legislatures dimmest bulbs, who once actually traded a vote on-mike during a committee meeting.
Woody Fleming has served for the last few years as a member of the citys Board of Public Works; before that, he was a district aide to Walters and a longtime political operative for some of the citys largest unions. Fleming is something of a living, breathing museum piece of labors ancien régime, its 40-year nap a deal maker of no discernible vision or organizing prowess. This aspiring representative of one of the most crime-ridden and transit-dependent communities in the country is no friend of gun control (Our little old ladies want their guns, he says) or police reform, and opposes the Bus Riders Union lawsuit to make the MTA buy more buses. He attacked the third major candidate, Jan Perry, for being married to a white man. On the other hand, he assured the Weekly, When the doors are shut and the deals are cut, Ill get my share for the 9th. The 9th would be better served if the doors were kept open and if Fleming were nowhere near the room.
Jan Perry served as Rita Walters chief of staff, and last year she coordinated the citys census outreach project. In the early 90s, she was a planning deputy for Councilman Mike Woo. Her roots in African-American politics run deep (her father worked with the Stokes brothers building black political power in Cleveland), but shes consistently practiced a non-racialist politics indeed, she was one of relatively few local African-American politicos who actively opposed the immigrant-bashing Proposition 187. We do not mean to damn by faint praise when we say shes heads-and-shoulders smarter than her opponents for this seat. We do have a hesitation, however: Though Perry espouses mainstream liberal positions, she was no fan of the living-wage ordinance when it was still before council; her closeness to the Central City Association and the Chamber of Commerce makes us wonder where shell come down on getting guarantees of living-wage jobs on pending downtown projects. Similarly, while she supports an expanded affordable-housing trust fund, she expresses some antipathy to levying fees on the developers of those projects to pay for such housing. In the end, however, we think it will be easier to improve Jan Perrys politics than Carl Washingtons intelligence. For this reason, were supporting Perry for the 9th District seat.
11thDISTRICT CINDY MISCIKOWSKI
Until recently, one-term incumbent Miscikowskis council tenure was courteous and conciliatory to a fault and when things are going wrong in government, conciliation can truly be a fault. Still, she faced few major problems in her very prosperous WestsideWest Valley district, and she inherited from her predecessor, Marvin Braude, the best of an efficient, constituent-friendly office staff.
Over the past few months, however, Miscikowski has grown into one of the councils most outspoken and forthright members on issues of importance to the city as a whole. As the chair of the councils Public Safety Committee, she issued by far the strongest condemnation of Mayor Riordans scapegoating and firing of Police Commission President Gerald Chaleff a condemnation not echoed by many of her normally more voluble council colleagues. She was a strong supporter of the consent decree, standing up to the mayors and the chiefs opposition. Finally, she took on nearly all of her council colleagues when she opposed their decision to leave Jackie Goldbergs council seat unfilled after Goldberg was elected to the Assembly. Where most of her colleagues seemed motivated by personal pique to keep Goldbergs chief of staff from temporarily filling that seat, Miscikowski actually dared to argue that the right of the 13th Districts residents to representation was really a more fundamental concern.
Where did she get this idea? When did Emily Post become Tom Paine? Well-mannered Cindy Miscikowski has become that most dangerous of legislative breeds: a small-d democrat. This woman clearly merits re-election.
13th DISTRICT ERIC GARCETTI
If it demonstrates nothing else, the field of candidates in the 13th District makes clear that Jackie Goldberg was no fluke. In her seven and a half years representing this HollywoodSilver LakeEcho Park district on the City Council, Goldberg was the outstanding progressive in city government author of one of the nations most far-reaching living-wage ordinances, a model domestic-partner ordinance, and such innovative project deals as the one at the shopping and entertainment complex at Hollywood and Highland which ensured workers rights to a fair union election.
Goldberg was elected to the state Assembly last November, and the field vying to succeed her contains a number of candidates with ideas and pedigrees just as progressive as Jackies. Whether any of them have Goldbergs considerable leadership skills has yet to be determined. But from the Weeklys perspective, this group of candidates confronts the voters of the 13th with an embarrassment of riches rather than, as is more commonly the case, simply an embarrassment. The candidates in this race tend to be ardent supporters of workers rights, of parkland and open space, of far-reaching police reform and of major initiatives in affordable housing. We could enthusiastically endorse several candidates in this race; wed happily redistribute them to other districts except, they wouldnt be electable in other districts. The 13th, though, has plainly become L.A.s progressive homeland, and here is the choice before it:
School teacher Bennett Kayser is a longtime community activist whos been promoting neighborhood councils for as long as anyone can remember a perspective he brought to the charter-reform commission, which embraced his position on the councils. Its not clear, however, that the conscientious Kayser has the leadership skills required to be a forceful council proponent for this or any of the other causes hes worked to advance.
Former Goldberg staffer Conrado Terrazas has had a remarkable career. Hes been an organizer for the United Farm Workers, received an MBA from Yale, worked as an executive at Fox and Disney studios, and founded the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, one of L.A.s leading gay and lesbian political institutions. After he ran unsuccessfully against Goldberg for this council seat back in 1993, she hired him as a field deputy, in which capacity he worked as a liaison with the Hollywood business community, cleaning up the neighborhood and shepherding a youth center into existence. What we havent seen from Terrazas are the kind of skills he would need to become a progressive leader on the City Council, though in a less stellar field of candidates, hed surely have our backing.
From 1996 to 2000, Scott Wildman represented Glendale, Silver Lake and adjoining areas in the state Assembly, where he was a down-the-line progressive vote. Wildman was something of an accidental assemblyman an electoral novice whod worked as a political rep for the teachers union, and whose 96 election resulted chiefly from demographic changes and union voter drives in his district both in excess of anyones anticipation. In the Assembly, he did valuable investigative work on school-safety issues, though he has now locked himself into an unfortunate and unyielding opposition to any further consideration of the Belmont site, no matter what any future research may show. He avidly, if not adeptly, opposed runaway production in the film industry; and he marched and was arrested with striking janitors last year. Wildmans intentions are invariably fine, but he lacked the temperament to advance his causes in the Assembly, and we fear the same will happen on the council.
Mike Woo is certainly no stranger to the 13th District; he represented it for eight years on the council, 1985 to 1993, running for mayor in the latter year, and making it into the runoff before losing to Richard Riordan. By a number of standards, his service on the council was distinguished and, at times, crusading. As immigrants from Mexico and Central American began to transform L.A., it was Woo who authored and steered to enactment the legislation legalizing street vendors, and banning the LAPD from turning undocumented immigrants over to the INS. In the wake of the Rodney King beating, Woo was the one council member to call immediately and consistently for Police Chief Daryl Gates firing; for a time, he was the only local elected official outside the African-American community who took that stand.
And yet, Woo is running with little visible support from the community leaders he worked with when he was on the council or, for that matter, the leading Democrats who all backed him when he was their de facto standard bearer against Riordan in 93. Woo proved to be something of a lightning rod for district discontents; his manner more his aloofness than his wonky-ness was plainly off-putting to many constituents.
In the years since his loss to Riordan, Woo ran the regional office of Americorps, chaired the board of a nonprofit that ran a farmers market, and, most important, became the director of the local office of LISC, a key funder for community development corporations and nonprofit housing developers. Indeed, organizers say Woos help was indispensable in starting up Housing L.A., the campaign for an affordable-housing trust fund. Woo knows the ins and outs of affordable housing probably better than anyone in city government; hed be a real asset in the battle to increase L.A.s meager stock of low-income housing. But while were sure about Woos smarts, were not entirely sure about his backbone. If the banking community should be appalled by the notion of using linkage fees on developments as a funding source for affordable housing, were not sure that Woo would be willing to continue the fight on that front. Hed be an excellent council member, but we think there are two candidates likely to demonstrate more resolve than he.
The first is Art Goldberg, Jackies brother, a somewhat legendary figure in the California left, and by common consent, an all-around good guy. With Mario Savio and Jack Weinberg, Goldberg was one of the three leaders of Berkeleys Free Speech Movement in 1964. (Indeed, if both Goldberg and Tom Hayden end up on the City Council, those left- and right-wing polemicists who still write about the 60s will have a field day.) After a running, multiyear battle to get admitted to the California bar (Goldberg had passed the exam; the problem was his politics), he opened the Working Peoples Law Center in Echo Park, where hes handled thousands of family-law cases and more than 20 murder cases over the past 30 years. At the same time, he founded and helped run the Echo Park Food Conspiracy (thats how 60s people said co-op) and a community child-care center. In the course of his law career, he worked on the integration project back in the 70s; represented the Reverend Luis Olivares, who was charged with giving sanctuary to undocumented Central American refugees in the 80s; and handled scores of police-abuse cases before Rampart brought them to the public eye.
Goldberg would certainly be the most tenacious opponent of police abuse. Everyones afraid of looking anti-police, but Ill stand up to the PPL [the Police Protective League], Goldberg vows. Anyone who knows his record hes been identifying bad cops for years cant help but believe him. And if theres one thing the city needs, its someone in power who will work incessantly to change what is still the paramilitary culture of the LAPD.
But will Goldberg work effectively? Colleagues who have worked with Goldberg for years, and who like him tremendously (its hard not to), repeatedly question whether Goldberg has the sense and sensibility to lobby his colleagues successfully and to move public opinion. They express doubts that he can make his case without alienating people elected officials, the media, the public who dont share his assumptions but whose support hell need to make actual change. They havent seen this Art Goldberg, they say though they love the Art Goldberg they have seen.
There is, however, one more candidate in the race who shares Art Goldbergs progressivism and at least some of his gumption and, we think, has the capacity to work inside and outside the system to change it. Like Art Goldberg, Eric Garcetti is related to a prominent L.A. politico (no points for guessing who): Hes the son of former District Attorney Gil Garcetti. He is also a 30-year-old Rhodes scholar whos a political-science professor at Occidental College and USC, and a globe-trotting activist in the cause of human rights, womens rights and environmental preservation. Garcetti is certainly up on a range of issues that dont often surface in council chambers (e.g., female genital mutilation), but hes also extremely well-informed on issues that do surface there, or should surface there, invariably with some thoughtful solution attached. On the cops, Garcetti proposes not just protection for whistle blowers and a civilian-review board, but an independent authority to take complaints at the station-house level. His affordable-housing prescriptions not only require linkage fees in return for all city subsidies but have a specific component for addressing homelessness, and a vision of Hollywood as a mixed-use paradise. He can rattle off the 41 brown-field sites in the district, specify which ones can be rehabilitated as pocket parks, and outline how they could link up to form at least a quasi-greenbelt.
Garcetti, make no mistake, hails from the rarified world of the campus left. But hes also made himself a fixture at labor demonstrations and soccer clubs, and was last seen wowing a meeting of the supermarket clerks and meat cutters local union (which endorsed him). That is, he can talk to normal people and, in all likelihood, to City Council members, too.
As we noted, there are several stellar candidates in this race whom wed happily endorse. The best of them, we believe, is Eric Garcetti.
15th DISTRICT FRANK OBRIEN
Frank O' Brien
For the past eight years, L.A.s orphan district starting down at the harbor in San Pedro and Wilmington and topping out in Watts has been represented in the City ä Council by Rudy Svorinich, and its hard to remember how and why that is. The 15th, after all, is a solid, working-class Democratic district, more ethnic (that is, Southern and Eastern European) in character than any other part of town, though its increasingly heavily Latino as well. Svorinich, meanwhile, is a Republican, one of only two on the council, who slipped into office in the election of 93 as the Democrats were splitting their vote. Hes been no supporter of the living-wage ordinance or a particular friend of unions, though the district maintains a lively union movement. Hes been lax on environmental standards and cleanup, and it shows.
But Svorinich will soon be history, and theres a good likelihood that a Democrat will succeed him. There are two conservatives in the field police lieutenant Ken Hillman, whos running a law-n-order campaign, and city Rec and Parks Commissioner Robert Nizich (whom fellow Rec and Parks Commissioner Steve Soboroff must hate so much hes endorsed Hillman). There are also three Democrats: Janice Hahn, Hector Cepeda and Frank OBrien.
Janice Hahn is no stranger to elections in this part of town. She narrowly lost this seat to Svorinich in 93, narrowly lost a congressional seat here to Republican Steve Kuykendall in 98, and was elected to represent this district on the citys Charter Reform Commission in 97. And yes, shes one of those Hahns Kennys daughter, Jimmys sister. Shes also a garden-variety business Democrat. Professionally, shes worked as a banker and, until recently, as a government-affairs liaison for the friendly folks at Southern California Edison. (Not surprisingly, she doesnt finger SoCalEd as a culprit in the energy crisis, and reminds us that with all the pension funds invested in SCE, we dont want anything too drastic to happen to the company.) Like her brother, Hahn is reluctant to criticize Chief Parks. Shed be a clear improvement on Rudy Svorinich, but thats no great achievement, and the 15th has two candidates far more compelling than she.
The first is Hector Cepeda, who represents if were lucky the best possible future for L.A. politics. Cepeda was raised in the district, in the shadow of both the harbor and the Longshoremens Union (ILWU) one of the most vibrant and progressive unions on the local scene. After putting himself through school, he went to work for the union, and soon became the director of the Harry Bridges Institute, the educational arm of the ILWU. At various times over the past half-decade, hes also been a staffer for Svorinich, for liberal Democratic Assemblyman Alan Lowenthal, and for then-Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.
Cepeda, now 33, has a keen understanding of the ways in which the harbor is intended to serve the larger business interests of the city rather than the surrounding communities; he contrasts its sprawl to other ports like Singapore, which turn around a high volume of shipping in a fraction of the space. His analysis of the LAPD is equally detailed, while his commitment to expand the scope of the living wage is exactly what the city needs. And his campaign has galvanized the ILWU and other port unions, as well as groups within the Latino community. On certain areas, his inexperience shows, but he is manifestly thoughtful on a wide range of issues affecting the city, and we have no doubt hed make an excellent council member. Ninety-nine times out of 100, wed endorse Cepeda forthwith.
As events would have it, however, this is that 100th, and the reason for that is Frank OBrien. Perhaps because he was raised in the ward system of Boston, perhaps because he studied politics at the University of Chicago and planning at UCLA, for whatever reason, OBrien is an utter rarity in Los Angeles: someone who understands in his bones all the realities and all the potentialities of city politics.
OBrien arrived in San Pedro 15 years ago, working as director of planning for a start-up natural food business that eventually employed 150 people, and which OBrien and the original investors sold in 1998. His work within the community has been environmental in the broadest sense. Noting that the city was utterly indifferent to maintaining the Harbor Regional Park L.A.s third largest he founded the Los Angeles Recreation and Open Space Association, which secured funding for the L.A. Conservation Corps to maintain some trails and some wildlife areas within the park. He co-founded the Wilmington Citizens Committee, which cleans up streets and vacant lots. Around the time the county proposed walling the L.A. River, he became active in for a time, he was president of Friends of the L.A. River, where he organized the opposition to the countys proposal.
OBriens record is impressive, but his analysis of the centralization of power in L.A. and how to democratize the city is what sets him apart. San Pedro, after all, is our colony to the south, so it may breed more systemic thinking than is common about L.A., at least among activists. OBriens chief priority is organizing at the workplace, in the community; it is the key to enabling communities like San Pedro to have some say over the harbor and the other mega-institutions that loom over it. He sees Janice Hahn as the personification of the citys power elite, and Cepeda as the embodiment of the forces that would democratize the city and we think hes right in both instances. He sees himself, however, as somewhat more experienced than Cepeda in leading that fight, and we think hes right there, too.
We suspect Cepeda has a better chance of making it into the runoff against Hahn than OBrien does; a vote for Cepeda is eminently defensible. But we want to call OBrien, win or lose, to the citys attention: Hes a visionary and a pragmatist who can only enhance the conversation on where this city is and should be headed.
LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF EDUCATION
This years school-board races are Round Two of Mayor Riordans campaign to put his personally selected candidates in charge of the citys school district. Unlike 1999, Riordan is going head-to-head against United Teachers of Los Angeles in an unabashed attempt to weaken the unions influence and maximize his own. Also unlike 1999, when the Weekly endorsed the mayors choices, we are far less impressed with his slate this time around. William F. Buckley once famously remarked that you could find a better mayor of New York than John Lindsay by simply picking someone at random from the Manhattan phone book. Buckleys crack seems to have directly inspired Riordans method of candidate selection: Where did he find these guys?
Besides, after two years of watching Riordan trying to dictate district policy from his prompters box, were not persuaded that the district will be in better shape if an even larger majority of members jump to his call. If Riordan truly believes the mayor should run the school district, he should lobby to change state law so that the authority is statutorily the mayors. Instead, should his candidates prevail, we will have the unhappy spectacle of a board beholden to a couple of rich private citizens chiefly, ex-Mayor Riordan and Eli Broad who funded their campaigns. And under what theory of democracy, wed like to know, should the new board pay more attention to the former than the sitting mayor?
Herewith, our choices in this years school-board races:
DISTRICT NO. 2 NO ENDORSEMENT
District 2 starts downtown and runs south and east, hitting parts of East L.A. as well as such separate cities as South Gate and Huntington Park. Incumbent Victoria Castro declined to seek reelection, and, barring a meteor strike, the candidate who will win here is Jose Huizar, who has collected a host of endorsements, including those of Mayor Riordan and the Eastside Latino political establishment. His sole opponent, videographer Ralph Cole, has commendably progressive impulses and ideas on how to better teach math, but he is not running so much as a gadfly campaign for the seat. And the mayor is financing a campaign for Huizar, perhaps to instill a sense of obligation in the presumptive victor.
Like the mayors other endorsees, Huizar, a 32-year-old land-use attorney, has no children and no particular experience in education. He does have some civic experience, having worked as legal counsel for several L.A.-area cities and also having served on the East Area Planning Commission. For Huizar, the school board could be the first stop in a promising and even productive political career.
Whatever Huizars merits, however, the utterly undemocratic nature of his selection prevents us from endorsing him. Early on, a handful of Eastside Latino power brokers settled on Huizar, even before Riordan did. Then, according to sources close to Riordan, the mayor helped out by talking another possible candidate out of the contest. If the mayors goal is to give voters choices, hes done precisely the reverse in this race. Riordan certainly accomplished one thing, however: He avoided the challenge and cost of having to do battle in three school-board races at once.
DISTRICT NO. 4 MARLENE CANTER
The race in District 4, which covers the Westside of Los Angeles and much of the western San Fernando Valley, ä pits incumbent Valerie Fields against challengers Matthew Rodman and Marlene Canter. Rodmans candidacy is being lavishly financed by Coalition for Kids, Mayor Riordans fund-raising vehicle. Until recently, incumbent Fields had the mayors support, but he dumped her over her support for the teachers pay raise in the new district contract. Now, her core backing comes from the teachers union, which will muster plenty of foot soldiers, but not nearly as much cash as the mayor. Canter, a wealthy businesswoman, will depend heavily on a self-financed campaign a rarity in school-board elections.
In a close call, we opt for Canter over Fields. Canter is smart and driven, and combines maturity, energy and independence with a sound background in both education and business. With her then-husband, Lee Canter, she built a start-up into a multimillion-dollar company that specialized in teacher training one of the school districts most pressing needs.
The 52-year-old Canter, a former special-education teacher, is known for promulgating assertive discipline techniques, a useful class-management tool for beginning teachers. While assertive discipline is not by any means the linchpin of school reform, her expertise in teacher training should prove helpful in a school system that is held back by a staggering number of inexperienced teachers.
Canters work provided her with an instructive window into public education, as well as regular and still-continuing contact with effective school-district administrators. Her past clients include current school-board president Genethia Hayes, who hired Canter to provide staff training at a nonprofit parent-support program Hayes oversaw before joining the school board. Hayes says Canter did excellent work.
Hayes, however, is sticking by fellow board member Valerie Fields, and a case can certainly be made for this one-term incumbent. Fields is a veteran of L.A. liberal politics, having served many years in Tom Bradleys administration as his education adviser, no less. Today, she strongly supports Superintendent Roy Romer and his education program.
For nearly four years, Fields maintained the support of both Mayor Riordan and the teachers union the two forces whose mutual antagonism has defined this election. Critics suggest that she opportunistically tacked left and right to keep both political heavyweights in her corner.
We have different issues with Fields. We feel that she often was too detached from specific problems at school sites, and that her thinking on some matters, including potential solutions to the severe classroom shortage, has been too rigid and uncreative. We also cant fathom her lack of knowledge of Playa Vista one of the nations largest proposed housing developments, which sits in her district and could profoundly affect her areas schools.
Riordan broke with Fields in January, over her support of the teachers contract. (According to the mayors calculations, a 10 percent raise was affordable; an 11 percent raise was not.) Though Fields sided with the union, she contends shell be an independent agent in her next term, because at age 74, she says this election will be her last. She was never anyones lackey anyway. She was, for example, the only member of the pre-Riordan board to oppose the contract extension of former Superintendent Ruben Zacarias.
And what about 32-year-old, strip-mall builder Matthew Rodman, the mayors guy? Rodman has one year of service under his belt on the new West Area Planning Commission and also has headed the Brentwood Homeowners Association. We find him to be a quick study on education issues, but he reminds us too much of the smart kid cramming at the last moment for his final exam. His understanding wasnt formed in the trenches or by any long and dedicated study. With this thin record and a candidacy entirely propped up by the mayor we have to wonder about his moxie quotient the first time that Riordan or some other influential force presses him hard. On merit, the contest here is between Canter and Fields, and on merit, the choice goes to Canter, whose expertise and energy would be a welcome addition to the board.
DISTRICT NO. 6
For much of the 14-year period that incumbent Julie Korenstein has represented this eastern San Fernando Valley district on the school board, her critics have underestimated her, and we know why. At board meetings, she is too often shocked and dismayed, to use one of her favorite phrases. She asks the same questions over and over again. Her cautiousness leads her to duck some votes that she ought to take sides on. She falls too easily into woe are we speeches, rather than just fixing things without resorting to excuse. And last but not least, she is almost invariably a conveyor belt of the teachers-union position into the school boards deliberations.
But theres another side to this. Sometimes her shock and dismay are utterly appropriate. Sometimes her incessant questioning regards proposals she intuitively and often correctly mistrusts or opposes. She asked a lot of questions, for instance, when a majority of board members wanted to ramrod through the Belmont Learning Complex project, which Korenstein opposed from the start. Neither did she approve of ditching phonics for the hot idea of whole-language instruction, and she supported phonics return when it became politically desirable.
Incumbency, even in a struggling school district, is not an automatic evil. Korensteins institutional memory is formidable, an asset not sufficiently utilized by fellow board members.
Also, Korenstein devotes serious attention to constituent services (a part of the board members job that the mayors circle pooh-poohs). She listened, for instance, when parents complained about pesticides being sprayed outside open classroom windows while classes were in session and even though the administrators reflexive response was to dismiss the matter, Korenstein prevailed upon them to alter the practice. Such school-site issues may be far from the biggest item on the L.A. Unified agenda, but they nonetheless still need to be addressed, and Korensteins one of the few board members to do just that.
The candidate Mayor Riordan recruited to run against Korenstein is Tom Riley, an affable, intelligent and very big (he played tackle at Notre Dame) guy. But he concedes he doesnt know much about education except what hes picked up in the last couple of months. He also acknowledges that he wouldnt be running for this office absent the mayors financial backing.
In his day job, Riley runs a fledgling company that markets software for bingo machines. His political experience includes a brief stint working for a union and then for former Assemblyman Mike Roos and Senator Barbara Boxer. Like Huizar and Rodman, he has no children, and talks of wanting to send his future offspring to better public schools. Like every member of Riordans slate, Riley has some good answers to questions, but offers nothing that would be confused with expertise or insight.
On most questions that come before the current board today, Riordan endorsees already have a working majority. Absent a uniquely compelling candidate, we see no compelling rationale for handing Riordan the entire board, and some damned compelling reasons not to. Tom Riley is not that uniquely compelling candidate, and our clear choice for school board in this seat is Julie Korenstein.
LOS ANGELES COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT
MEMBER OF THE BOARD
OFFICE NO. 2
At this point, the lineage of 27-year-old Michael Waxman is still his most impressive selling point. Hes the son of Congressman Henry Waxman, arguably the most accomplished liberal legislator of the past 20 years, and young Michael can tell you tales from the Reagan and Gingrich wars that he learned at the dinner table. Barely beyond college age himself, he understands the needs of the colleges clientele, such as counseling, child care and varied class times. Currently a public-affairs director for a cable television company, Waxman sees himself as a team player who would bring energy and creativity to a board of trustees that has clearly begun to improve the district over the past half-decade. In a field without overwhelming options, Waxman is our clear preference.
OFFICE NO. 4
As president and de facto leader of the current board, Kelly Candaele is in good measure responsible for the districts turnaround in recent years, a sea change best reflected in the considerable increase in district enrollment. Under the leadership of Candaele and outgoing board member Elizabeth Garfield, significant autonomy was returned to the presidents of the individual campuses and semesters were aligned with those of the Cal State system. Candaele is currently steering the campaign for Proposition A, a long overdue bond measure that would help patch up what over the decades became a rundown system. In his spare time, the multitalented Candaele writes essays on Irish politics and soulful meditations on baseball, makes documentary films (including A League of Their Own, later remade as a Hollywood comedy; and a biography of Swedish socialist Olof Palme, which Hollywood has yet to pick up), and noodles in rock bands.
OFFICE NO. 6
SAMUEL JOEY HILL
If youre in the market for an anti-establishment candidate per se, your candidate in this race should be Nancy Pearlman, a part-time community-college instructor and full-time activist. She knows the campuses and is passionate about improving them. But moving a board and a district this vast takes more than passion, and Pearlman comes up short both in her knowledge of specifics and the political smarts it would take to accomplish what shes after. Besides, sometimes the establishment makes the right choice. In this case, the establishment in the form of the faculty union has endorsed Samuel J. Joey Hill, an accomplished and progressive senior staffer for state Senator Kevin Murray. Hill is hard-working and intelligent, and would give the community colleges a representative who knows his way around state politics. He also would be the boards only African-American member.
SPECIAL PRIMARY ELECTION, UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE
32nd DISTRICT DIANE WATSON
Julian Dixon was first elected in 1978 to represent this district, which runs from the Westside to South-Central and centers on Crenshaw and Baldwin Hills the most vibrant centers of L.A.s African-American community. Dixon was a classic congressional workhorse, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee who secured major funding for L.A.s transportation projects. At the same time, he was also an effective champion of civil rights and police reform. Shortly after last Novembers election, he died suddenly of a heart attack. Sad to say, none of the leading contenders to succeed Dixon strike us as particularly up to the task.
In all the other nonpartisan races on the April 10 ballot, the top two candidates move to a runoff if no one secures a first-round majority. Not so in this race: Whichever Democrat finishes first on April 10 is assured election, no matter how small his or her plurality. Thats one reason why we feel we cant endorse Tad Daley for this seat, though he boasts the most impressive credentials and much the most thoughtful platform of all the 16 candidates in the race. Daley, who has a doctorate in policy studies from RAND, spent the past several years working with the late Senator Alan Cranston on his campaign to abolish nuclear weapons. Currently on leave from UCLAs Burkle Center for International Relations, Daley is campaigning on his opposition to Bushs Star Wars proposals, on creating a United Nations Rapid Reaction Force that could intervene to stop genocide, on increasing the U.S. commitment to stop AIDS in Africa, and much else that is as sensible as it is unconventional. He is the only world federalist in the field. ä Unfortunately, he has no real political roots inside the district or its key institutions; it does not help here that Daley is white in a district that is the heart of African-American L.A. Daley also lacks the assets required to get himself known.
Among the other minor candidates, businessman Philip Lowe is running the most visible campaign. We fear Lowe may be giving business Democrats a bad name; in one mailing, he says he supports a reduction in the estate tax that benefits working families not the ultrawealthy. Since the estate tax only is assessed on the wealthiest 1.4 percent of Americans, this would be a neat trick. If Lowe can peddle a line like this, hed be wasting his talent in Congress, so long as iceboxes remain that have yet to be sold to Eskimos.
The first of the three major candidates for this seat is the L.A. City Councils resident lulu Nate Holden. The incumbent councilman has been endorsed by Mayor Riordan and a number of his council colleagues, and we understand perfectly why that is: Theyll do anything to get him out of town. A demagogue not above pitting blacks against Latinos and Jews if it bolsters his support; a consistent defender of the LAPD old guard, be it Daryl Gates or Bernie Parks, against police reformers; a perennial deaf ear to his constituents pleas for more parks in his center-city district, Holden has long been the bottom of the council barrel. In council meetings, he revels in playing the malignant buffoon a shtick thats partly an act and partly, we suspect, genuine.
Happily, term limits will end Holdens council career in two short years. We do not have to inflict him on the nation with all the guilt feelings that would engender just to get him out of this place.
State Senator Kevin Murray has represented much of the 32nd in Sacramento for the past six years four years in the Assembly, the last two years in the upper house. Hes an accomplished legislator who deserves some credit for the urban parks appropriations in last years parks bond measure; he certainly embraces some of the more liberal positions youd expect a center-city Democrat to take. (He dismisses, for instance, the idea that energy is best rationed according to the dictates of the market.)
But Murray is consumed, almost visibly, by the culture and the art of the deal. His father was a legendary political consultant on L.A.s south side; Murray himself was an entertainment lawyer before he turned to elective office; deal making is in his blood. In trade deals, he says, his first impulse is to look for reciprocity which should surely be on the list, we think, but not before labor or environmental standards. He pronounces ideological as if it were a dirty word. And Murrays desire for the deal certainly served him poorly when he let Gray Davis water down his racial-profiling bill by removing mandates on police departments to monitor their traffic stops. Compared to Diane Watson, his opponent for this seat and his predecessor as state senator, Murray describes himself as the more operational legislator. He is that, and less principled, too.
Diane Watson is no newcomer to the L.A. political scene. She was elected to the school board in 1975, and became a state legislator in 1978, the same year Julian Dixon went to Congress. Term-limited out of the state Senate in 1998, shes spent the last two years as ambassador to Micronesia. In her years in the state Senate, Watson played a leading role in health and welfare issues increasing funding for child care, slapping a dime tax on cigarettes way back in 1982, helping develop welfare-to-work programs. While her political instincts are generally decent, shes not one to swim against the prevailing currents, even when they threaten to wash away some of her constituents. She speaks of welfare reform as if it were just one of Bill Clintons peccadillos, minimizing the extent of the threat it could pose in an economic downturn. Her focus on a number of key issues does not seem particularly sharp. She will be a more reliable vote than Murray, but its hard to see her leading any battles on behalf of the people she represents.
Asked to differentiate himself from his two main rivals, Murray said, since he was at least a quarter-century younger than either, hed be in a good position to accumulate more congressional seniority. Alas, we find that to be an argument that cuts in favor of Watson. The district that sent Julian Dixon to Congress deserves better representation than that which would be provided by any of the three front-runners in this race. If Kevin Murray is elected, the 32nd may not get that chance for better representation for many decades. Diane Watsons tenure is likely to be cleaner, and shorter. And for this lamentable set of reasons, shes our choice to go to Congress.
CITY OF LOS ANGELES MEASURES
This measure the first attempt to amend the new city charter L.A. voters adopted two years ago is a modest but important step to improve the citys ability to discipline police officers guilty of misconduct. It removes what is currently a double jeopardy prohibition on re-opening a disciplinary procedure against an officer when new evidence surfaces. It also amends a statute-of-limitations clause that currently restricts the time in which the department can take action against an officer. In short, Proposition 1 would stop the current practice of arbitrarily terminating a case against an officer simply because the clock has run out. Its no panacea, but it clearly merits your support.
Currently, when an L.A. police officer or firefighter hits the 25-year mark at the department, his or her pension benefits max out one reason why so many uniformed personnel leave the citys employ at that juncture. Proposition 2 creates a new deferred pension arrangement that, at no extra cost to taxpayers, makes it possible for these pension funds to continue to accrue after the officers and firefighters hit the big two-five. This will enable the city to retain a greater number of its most experienced workers who surely deserve more than silver nozzles or nightsticks for serving their city for a full quarter-century.
LOS ANGELES COMMUNITY COLLEGE BOND PROPOSITION
Over the past several years, L.A.s community college system has begun to come back. Course offerings have improved, enrollment is up and will continue to rise. The physical plant at L.A.s nine community colleges, however, is decades-old and badly in need of repair. Proposition A is a $1.2 billion bond measure that would go to air conditioning and new wiring for classrooms, constructing new technology centers, and building libraries and labs. As with the LAUSDs Proposition BB expenditures, an outside oversight committee will monitor the colleges expenditures to ensure they go only to the specified projects, and that the work comes in on time and at cost. L.A.s community colleges are the pathway for many working-class students to CSU and UC campuses, or to jobs in skilled trades. With Prop. A, those colleges will better serve the 110,000 students who go there now, and the thousands more who will follow.
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