Like in national elections, it takes a democracy-numbing amount of time and money to win a political post in Los Angeles.
Just ask Ron Kaye, LA Daily News editor turned City Hall watchdog. (If you ever feel like witnessing a city official burned at the literary stake, take a sadistic moment to peruse his blog, Ron Kaye LA. Not for the weak at heart.) Kaye tried running a citizens' endorsement entity called L.A. Clean Sweep last election -- a noble effort, but another reminder that in order to influence the polls, your special interest group better be turning a pretty profit.
Union endorsements almost always seal the deal. Which is why a new flex of Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL) muscle...
... will make the upcoming runoff election to become City Councilmember for District 15 an even hotter, heavier war between union giants.
The two candidates to replace City Councilwoman Janice Hahn are police Officer Joe Buscaino and Assemblyman Warren Furutani. [Previously on The Informer: "Joe Buscaino Has Momentum In City Council Race, But Could Unions Give Warren Furutani A Chance?"]
Furutani is backed by the L.A. County Federation of Labor. That's a tough act to beat: LA Weekly reporter Gene Maddaus wrote earlier this fall that an endorsement from the Fed "can make or break a politician's career. The Fed's endorsement brings an army of precinct walkers and door knockers, which can turn the tide in a local race." The union's new policy of requiring endorsement hopefuls to literally spend a day in the shoes of a lowly laborer is a testament to its almost bemused position of power.
And the LAPD's union isn't much further down on the influence meter. LAPPL coffers have paid for much of Buscaino's campaign paraphernalia so far, no doubt pushing him into the race's Top Two.
But a new signage drive by the LAPPL may be the deciding factor in the January runoff between the police officer and the career politician. Union president Paul Weber writes in his most recent newsletter:
Based on the number of voters in the district, we estimated that calls would result in approximately 1,500 sign requests in each council district. The actual results were dramatically better. Yard sign requests have outnumbered our estimates, forcing us to order a second round of yard signs to meet demand.
Since we began two months ago, the Public Safety First yard sign calls have produced a remarkable number of yard sign requests, exceeding 6,500.
The signs direct passerby to PublicSafetyFirst.com, where LAPPL endorsements can be found.
Though Weber is currently recovering from surgery, we spoke with union spokesman Eric Rose. He says the website has seen a "significant increase in traffic" since the signs started going up around L.A.
According to Rose, another contributing factor to the traffic surge was a recent email to the LAPPL's massive listserv of residents "encouraging people to get involved in political process." It asked Angelenos to oppose Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's "planned reprieve of 30-day impoundments of vehicles operated by unlicensed drivers."
The public-safety push is aligned with many right-wing values. Villaraigosa's impound relief, for one, is a nod to immigration activists; conversely, law enforcement entities in the Southland have stood their ground on harsh border policing. [Update: This post originally called Buscaino a Republican, as touted by his opponents, but Buscaino spokesman Brian VanRiper says the candidate became a Democrat three years ago."He doesn't really get into party politics," says Vanriper. Instead, his top priorities are "reducing the crime rate" and "getting the streets paved, the trees trimmed."]
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This small showing of citizen solidarity with a conservative union could make all the difference in a metropolis as municipally apathetic as Los Angeles. As noted by LAPPL President Weber:
While some people may say that the number of signs we have placed seems small when compared to the larger electorate, the potential effect of the League's ability to sway votes in any particular City Council district should not be underestimated. This number represents a significant voting bloc in City elections. Mobilizing a bloc of that size in each council district in City elections could have tremendous implications within those districts.
To put these numbers into perspective, consider these facts: In the 2009 Council District 5 race (Paul Koretz seat), only 3,100 votes separated all six of the potential council members in the primary election. In 2007, 100 percent of the contested City Council primaries were decided by fewer than 5,000 votes.
What do you think: Do police-friendly yard signs mark a new direction for Los Angeles politics? (Not you, Occupy -- we definitely know how you feel about bought-off democracy. Even if you're a little more confused about unions.)