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Never Too Early To Run

Let‘s see, last time we had us a real mayor’s election in Los Angeles it was 1993. Indeed, the eventual winner didn‘t enter the race, officially, until the fall of 1992.

Certainly, you could not say the last mayor’s race began in 1991. By then, we‘d just started wondering whether the great Tom Bradley would ever announce -- after a just-made-it showing in his fifth and last run for office -- that he was ready to relinquish his grip on the Mayor’s Office and the Getty Mansion. But even in the last months of 1991, if people thought “mayor‘s race,” they remembered that of 1989, when Bradley’s allure proved so faded that he was nearly driven into a runoff by maverick city councilman Nate Holden. Had he only faced a stronger opponent then, Tom Bradley might have been a four-term mayor. But the weak win was also a general storm warning: Bradley‘s Los Angeles was sailing into troubled waters, both economically and socially. The economy had begun to skid, and we were just months away from the Rodney King riots.

Maybe, if he’d chosen to run in ‘89, Zev Yaroslavsky would be terming out right now (the limits having been adopted, nonretroactively, in 1993) instead of Dick Riordan.

There are, of course, reasons this did not happen, none of them involving an excess of audacity on Yaroslavsky’s part: Yaroslavsky also decided to wait out the 1993 race, even after Bradley bowed out. But 27 other candidates did not. And, then, in late September, Dick Riordan announced he would save Los Angeles just as he had saved Mattel Toys and Adohr Farms. Thus, Los Angeles acquired its rubicund fractional-billionaire for mayor.

So if the 1993 mayor‘s race didn’t begin in 1991, why are we kicking off the 2001 race in 1999? As, for instance, in last week‘s “Lively Mayors’ Race Shaping Up” Los Angeles Times editorial, which could as well have been held until November of next year. At worst, it‘s because we journalists (and, in the Times’ case, editorial writers) like to fuss about future events well beyond our purview. At best, it‘s because whoever becomes mayor in 2001 will command the amplified executive control systems created by the new City Charter: This mayor will, the surmise goes, turn on the tap for a more efficient and less obscure form of local government -- much the way Bill Mulholland brought in the Owens Valley water a century ago.This mayor, if he or she plays the cards right, will be able to create new powers for the city executive. Making this race more important than most.

One thing certainly can be said for the early-bird candidates and crypto-candidates for Los Angeles Mayor of the Millennium: Each and every one of them -- Jim Hahn, Joel Wachs, (only perhaps) Zev Yaroslavsky, Xavier Becerra, Kathleen Connell, Steve Soboroff and whoever else -- can probably handle this transition. They all seem competent, qualified, experienced and generally honest. When you get right down to it, if there’s anything this field lacks so far, it‘s a real wingnut of a candidate who’ll keep the reporters awake and give the postmillennial race a zestful zing. But there‘s plenty of time left -- at least a year -- for that essential zany hopeful to sign on.

But now that the 2001 primary candidates have been officially proclaimed elsewhere, let’s go ahead and handicap a more interesting election -- that of 2009. At which point, for one thing, the local 800-pound gorilla that is the empowered Latino vote in this by-then-majority Latino city ought to be standing up and looking for a place to sit down. Or may, by that time, already be sprawled in its power seat.

This probability presents us with a far more interesting array of potential mayoral candidates. Possibly even Supervisor Yvonne Burke‘s yet-unknown but likely Latino successor in the increasingly Hispanic Second Supervisorial District, for instance. And, more probably, there will also be by-then-former City Council members Nick Pacheco and Alex Padilla to contend with -- both of whom are termed out by 2007, and each of whom could (absent some grave career missteps) be sitting in the Legislature, or even Congress, by then.

Each would also have something no legislative seat could provide -- the citywide visibility that only a stint on the council can furnish (which is exactly what Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa and even U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra lack as mayoral candidates in the 2001 election).

Of course, it’s probable that by 2009 several as-yet-unknown mayoral competitors will be sitting on the council. They could also be Hispanic -- the 2001 through 2007 elections will very likely see Latino candidates for the increasingly Hispanic electorate of the 8th and 9th Council Districts. Including the three districts that have Hispanic incumbents and hence may continue to be Latino, that could make 5 of 15 council districts into Hispanic seats.

Even more interesting will be the ethnic transformation the 2010 Census may reveal in the westerly 5th, 6th and 11th Council Districts, all of which already have large Latino populations in their more concentrated areas. (So does the Hollywood-centered 13th District.) By 2011, Los Angeles could, conceivably, have a nine-seat Latino majority on the council. That‘s the mirror image of today’s Anglo majority. Accordingly, a Latino as Los Angeles mayor could become as predictable an electoral outcome as it is now in Tucumcari, New Mexico.

But maybe not until then. That 2009 mayoral election will precede the post-decennial-census disclosures, and also there‘s the nascent, post-term-limits convention of a two-term, eight-year incumbency to reckon with.

Thus term limits, which were intended to eliminate career politicians, have instead, unintentionally, created a new form of career official. This serial office holder of the 21st century may well end up holding five or more separate offices in a 40-year career. For instance, by 2009, Councilman Mike Feuer, who proposes to run for city attorney in 2001, would be termed out of that office and (let us presume) looking for his next political challenge. As, conceivably, would be Councilwoman Laura Chick, who is a strongly rumored candidate for city controller in 2001. Either might be tough to beat in the 2009 mayor’s race.

So Los Angeles might actually have to wait until 2017 for its first Hispanic mayor. By which point, one might hope, candidates‘ ethnicity will matter less than their other qualifications for office. Who knows, maybe even the shy, but by-then-totally experienced late-60ish Zev Yaroslavsky will finally file papers to run for mayor that year. But by that time, I plan to be retired, reading the L.A. election returns on the Internet from some faraway place with decent fishing, food and bookstores. Y’all drop in sometime.

Suppose you‘re a Los Angeles city councilman who’s lost your plum committee-chair assignment and been handed a prune -- like Mark Ridley-Thomas, booted from his Information Technology and General Services Committee the moment that said committee became the public center of the current broadband-telecommunications controversy.

Due to his longstanding feud with council president John Ferraro (who makes committee assignments), the 8th District veteran forfeited the choice chair to freshman (and Ferraro fave) Alex Padilla. Instead, Ridley-Thomas got handed the down-and-dirty Environmental Quality and Waste Management Committee -- that means sewers, folks.

But it turns out you literally can‘t keep a good councilman down. Last week, Ridley-Thomas came up with a clever-sounding plan to combine his past responsibilities with those of his present committee. Since the city needs both new sewers and new fiber-optic data cables, why not combine the projects to create what the councilman insists on calling “smart sewers”?

Building both projects tears up streets and makes for much public inconvenience; so the councilman suggested that fiber-optic cable be laid in the new sewer trenches. This would bring fast Internet service to parts of the city that otherwise might never get it, and even garner some much-needed new revenues.

I like the concept. But not the name: If a sewer were smart, would it be a sewer?


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