Our Choices in the April 13 L.A. City Election
For our handy one-page tear-out Voter Guide, see the inside back cover of next week's issue.
MEMBER, LOS ANGELES CITY COUNCIL
District No. 2 -- Joel Wachs
A case against term limits: Joel Wachs has been on the City Council since 1971, and he has just completed what is not only his best term on the council but one of the better terms in L.A. history. Over the past four years, Wachs gave crucial support to the living-wage ordinance, fought a lonely but finally effective battle to limit city subsidies to the new Staples Arena, and was a consistent voice for opening more of the council's business to public scrutiny. We haven't supported Wachs in the past, but this time around we support him enthusiastically.
District No. 4 -- No endorsement
A case for term limits: Old John Ferraro, the council's senior member, with 33 years on the job, has become a feature of the L.A. landscape, like City Hall, or the Hyperion Sewage Treatment Center. As the council's presiding officer, in fact, Ferraro has to sort through more garbage than just about any other Angeleno, a task he performs efficiently and with as much dispatch as is possible. He's also a far more conservative and unimaginative member than his district deserves -- though, as is invariably the case, he has no serious opposition on the ballot. We've never endorsed him before -- and, truth be told, he's never missed our endorsement in the slightest. Why muck with a perfect record?
District No. 6 -- Ruth Galanter
The erstwhile enviro-crusader from Venice can still rouse some rabble to good effect. It was chiefly Galanter who organized the opposition to the pell-mell expansion of LAX, and Galanter who's been the council's leading advocate of long-range transportation alternatives, including rapid rail to Palmdale and Ontario (two non-LAX airport options). As chair of the council's Commerce, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she's been instrumental in designating as nature preserves properties that might otherwise have been built up. But increasingly, and disappointingly, this onetime neighborhood organizer turned council veterano has become a knee-jerk defender of the established order, as attested to by her deep antipathy to the charter-reform measure. Nonetheless, she's clearly preferable to any of her opponents.
District No. 7 -- Corinne Sánchez
The election of incumbent Richard Alarcón to the state Senate last November created a vacancy in this East Valley seat, and six candidates are running to succeed him. The front-runners are Alex Padilla, a campaign functionary, and Corinne Sánchez, who heads up a community health-care center.
Padilla brings a résumé that's understandably short, since he just turned 26. An MIT graduate with a degree in mechanical engineering, he returned to the district to manage successful field campaigns for Alarcón and for Assembly Members Tony Cardenas and Gil Cedillo. As field director on Alarcón's Senate campaign, he wasn't in the loop when the campaign turned out its scurrilous attack on Alarcón opponent Richard Katz, charging Katz with discouraging Latino voter participation when the record showed precisely the opposite -- but neither has he repudiated it. There's no contesting Padilla's fundamental decency, or his commitment to working people and union causes. Beyond that, however, his record and his positions, or lack thereof, suggest he's not yet ready for prime time.
Attorney Corinne Sánchez combines the best of a movement past (she's endorsed by the United Farm Workers) and an activist present. For over 20 years, she's been president of El Proyecto del Barrio, a community clinic that is widely respected for offering some of the best health-care, drug-rehabilitation and AIDS programs in L.A. She'll bring to the council a healthy skepticism toward developers, a clear feminist perspective and a commitment to cross-racial coalitions -- three qualities the city can never have enough of. She has our enthusiastic support.
District No. 8 -- Mark Ridley-Thomas
We seem to be on the verge of a Mark Ridley-Thomas Civic Moment. After years of waging an often lonely battle to bring the NFL back to the Coliseum, Ridley-Thomas may well win this most long-shot of all bets. More important, his 8th District Empowerment Congress -- the multiracial assembly that sets district priorities for the councilman to pursue -- has become the model for City Council candidates and incumbents and civic activists who are scrambling now to set up neighborhood councils in their own back yards. The world is beating a path to Ridley-Thomas' door, and for the best of all possible reasons: to find a way to deepen democratic participation.
On the downside, the incumbent from the 8th has often seemed an unnecessarily ornery cuss, particularly with constituents who haven't signed on to whatever program he may be pushing. We also suspect there's a circle of hell on which long-winded sinners are condemned to diagram Ridley-Thomas' baroque-verging-on-rococo sentences for all eternity. Syntax and disposition notwithstanding, however, Ridley-Thomas has our clear support for another term on the council.
District No. 10 -- Madison Shockley
Longtime 10th District incumbent Nate Holden is our ranking civic disgrace. No other local legislator has taken so many positions so plainly at odds with the interests of his constituents -- from his last-ditch defense of Daryl Gates to his lonesome-end opposition to city slum-abatement efforts. No other council member has so delayed and derailed the council's business with pointless and often venomous speeches during deliberations. Above all, no other local civic leader has played the race card so frequently or demagogically. Whether he's berating a city-contract worker for testifying in Spanish during a hearing on the living wage, or accusing council colleagues Mike Feuer and Laura Chick of being "like Westside Ku Klux Klan" for calling for Mike Hernandez's resignation, Holden consistently seeks to exploit whatever xenophobia he can stir up, to the sole end of keeping himself in power. He's playing a dangerous, and very racist, game.
Holden has two serious opponents on the primary ballot, both of whom practice the kind of cross-racial politics that are an anathema to the incumbent. Scott Suh, who as a teenager came here from Korea, was until recently a staffer for the county Department of Social Services, helping people move from welfare to work; he instituted a successful job fair in the Crenshaw district. On his own, he also initiated a program to help African-American businessmen get loans from Korean banks.
Madison Shockley, the pastor at the Congregational Church of Christian Fellowship, is an activist-cleric in the tradition of a James Lawson, a Leonard Beerman, a William Sloane Coffin -- that is, in the best tradition of American progressivism. Educated at Harvard and the Union Theological Seminary, Shockley's been convening multiracial dialogues at his church since the early '90s, discussions after which a number of national organizations have modeled their own programs. He's been particularly active in fostering discourses and building coalitions between L.A.'s black, Korean, Latino and Jewish communities. He's helped expose the brutal conditions under which maquiladora workers labor, and been a leader in the efforts of Peace Action to scale back the Pentagon's budget.
Shockley is the candidate of Coalition L.A. -- a multiracial network of activists from precincts across the district to whom he's pledged to be regularly accountable. He's one of the few contestants for any office this spring offering detailed and innovative proposals. In a city where hundreds of thousands of people live in garages, Shockley appears to be the only candidate actually addressing our housing crisis: proposing either a bond measure or a fee on major developers to fund more affordable housing. He would be a creative, as well as a healing, addition to the council and to civic life, and we support his candidacy with great enthusiasm.
District No. 12 -- Marilyn Stout
Hal Bernson, the city's most conservative council member, is seeking re-election for one last term in this, the city's most conservative district. Progressive activist Marilyn Stout isn't really running a campaign, but she offers an alternative for 12th District voters who believe, as we do, that Bernson doesn't deserve another term.
District No. 14 -- Alvin Parra
The Godfather is dead, or at least not running for re-election. Longtime incumbent and power broker Richard Alatorre is stepping down in the 14th, and 13 candidates are vying to succeed him -- six of whom, by virtue of either the content of their politics or the size of their bankroll, require some discussion.
Luis Cetina, a civil engineer with the Metropolitan Water District, has in recent weeks won support, most mysteriously, from some unions, not to mention some very public winks and nods from Alatorre himself. Cetina has no record of political involvement, having only recently re-registered as a Democrat, and that, by his own admission, at least partly due to the encouragement of former Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, a leading proponent of anti-choice positions to which Cetina also adheres. His familiarity with civic affairs is spotty at best: The controversy over the funding of the Staples Arena, for instance, seems to have slipped his notice altogether. Candidate Sylvia Robledo, a hospital administrator and a president of the Commission Feminil, knows about the arena and wouldn't be caught dead at a Bob Casey rally. But she also espouses a number of positions -- for instance, opposing any increase in the size of the City Council because of its (basically negligible) cost -- that simply aren't thought through.
Assistant District Attorney Nick Pacheco served diligently and often intelligently for the past year and a half on the Elected City Charter Reform Commission. Until last December, he was also an unpredictable vote on the commission. Thereafter, as he sought (successfully) the mayor's endorsement for the council seat, he became the mayor's unwavering ally. His abrupt conversion to All Things Riordan, and his longtime alliance with some of the more nationalist players within the Latino community, raise serious questions about his suitability to represent the 14th.
Victor Griego boasts the longest résumé of anyone in the race, or on the ballot. Working first as an organizer and then as a consultant, he has at various times labored on campaigns for the United Farm Workers, for Southwest Voter Registration, for progressive union leaders Maria Elena Durazo and Gil Cedillo, and against NAFTA. Perhaps most notably, he headed up UNO's successful 1987 campaign to raise the California minimum wage. More problematically, he represented Kajima Construction in the Belmont High fiasco, and handled such candidates of dubious merit as Vicki Castro and Alatorre himself. He is a deal maker par excellence in a district that has had more than its share of deal makers.
Griego has what one observer has called a "transactional agenda rather than a programmatic agenda." He's an organizer -- having used his considerable campaign resources to set up a large number of house meetings, out of which has emerged what he touts as a district cleanup program that, he tells one and all, has already picked up "10 tons of trash." The unfortunate corollary, however, is that his campaign has yet to produce one piece of paper bearing Griego's own ideas for the district or the city.
Any one of the major candidates in this race will probably be a good vote on issues such as the living-wage ordinance. Two of them, though, would be a good deal more than that, and are the candidates most worthy of consideration.
AS THE LONGTIME HEAD OF THE ONE STOP IMMIGRATION and Education Center, Juan José Gutiérrez has built one of the most effective advocacy and organizing centers in town. Under his leadership, One Stop has become a champion of the disfranchised city-within-a-city of L.A.'s immigrant poor. A Councilman Gutiérrez, we're confident, would bring the concerns of this consistently overlooked community before the council at every session. On issue after issue, Gutiérrez is ahead of the curve -- laying out a structure for neighborhood councils that would encourage the participation of noncitizens, prioritizing the building of libraries and the need for the city to keep them open when schools are out. His mere presence on the council would alter our civic discourse for the better.
Unfortunately, that's not all Gutiérrez brings to the table. His political judgment has been erratic: He was largely responsible for what was perceived as the strident nationalism of the massive anti-187 demonstration shortly before the '94 election, which surely hurt the anti-187 cause. His tenure at One Stop has been marked by controversies between Gutiérrez and his employees. The strength of his vision and his commitment, sadly, is sapped by his occasional lapses of judgment and conduct.
Alvin Parra offers almost a reverse image of Gutiérrez: He's not much on cosmic vision, but he boasts the most unblemished record of commitment to community concerns of any candidate in the field. A onetime field deputy for legendary Eastside Congressman Edward Roybal, and a Gloria Molina appointee to a county commission, Parra emerged from obscurity four years ago when he did the unthinkable: In 1995, he challenged Richard Alatorre for re-election, and by amassing 42 percent of the vote despite being outspent 10 to 1, he showed that the Godfather's power had drastically dwindled.
In a district where, during the 40-year tenures of Alatorre and his predecessor Art Snyder, money has talked and connections-to-the-councilman have screamed, Parra is the one candidate certain to prioritize the claims of communities over the demands of developers. He favors a moratorium on high-density developments, opposes the extension of the 710, and throws cold water on the subway fantasies that other candidates still harbor. As a neighborhood advocate, he's dubious about Police Chief Parks' assaults on community-based policing. Unlike Gutiérrez, he's not likely to alter the city's discussion of fundamental priorities, alas, but he is a sure bet to alter the 14th's culture of corruption. It would be nice to have a candidate who did both -- but since we don't, in a close call, we're going for Parra.
LOS ANGELES UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, MEMBER OF THE BOARD
1st District -- Genethia Hayes
Imagine Nate Holden on the school board, and you've got a pretty good picture of 1st District incumbent Barbara Boudreaux. Like Holden, she's a civil rights crusader of yore who has curdled over the years into a divisive and demagogic nationalist, a board member whose interventions in policy discussions run the rather narrow gamut from the frivolous to the ineffective. Her chief contribution to ã the discussion of district curriculum was her strident defense of ebonics during the controversy several years back. It is on her watch, however, that the levels of educational attainment at the inner-city schools she professes to defend have continued to decline, and she is stunningly devoid of ideas for how to stop that decline.
There is, happily, an excellent alternative to Boudreaux on the ballot. Challenger Genethia Hayes has been an LAUSD teacher and a principal of a local religious school. She's been a member of the task force that founded the district's LEARN educational-reform project, and a compelling champion of fair but measurable standards of educational attainment. For the past several years, Hayes has been executive director of the Greater L.A. Southern Christian Leadership Conference -- the organization founded by Martin Luther King Jr. -- where she has overseen a gang-prevention program, Project AHEAD (which trains parents to be more involved in their children's schools), and other cross-racial dialogues and projects. Hayes had already declared her candidacy, and garnered support from a wide range of educational reformers and political progressives, when Richard Riordan hopped aboard her bandwagon. She would be an independent and highly intelligent addition to the school board, and we support her unstintingly.
3rd District -- Caprice Young
Eight years ago, Jeff Horton -- a progressive, intelligent, Yale-educated schoolteacher -- came onto the school board with a progressive, intelligent agenda. He was determined to demolish whatever vestiges of institutional racism remained within the district, and to secure full educational and human rights for the district's gay and lesbian students and staffers. Horton fought and won these and other battles, creating a more humane and decent district -- a notable legacy both then and now.
Over the years, however, Horton has evolved in ways that have at times surprised and disappointed. He has become the most able defender -- and enabler -- of an ancien régime that needs changing far more than it needs defending. He consistently failed to recognize or address any deficiencies in the district's bilingual-education program, laying the groundwork for the deeply flawed Proposition 227. With fellow board member Vickie Castro, he was the biggest booster of the Belmont High boondoggle -- displaying, in the process, a stubborn resistance to unpleasant new facts.
By fits and starts, Horton has inched toward the cause of educational reform -- all too often to back off, however, before real change could be achieved. He has, to his credit, been a constant champion of the LEARN process, and, with David Tokofsky, a proponent of testing and other accountability measures. He created a policy that links top administrators' pay to seven criteria of district improvement -- though these criteria are so lenient that no administrator has had to suffer consequences for the district's lack of improvement. He was very slow and plainly reluctant to endorse Tokofsky's proposal for a district inspector general, which should have been a no-brainer. He has never warmed to LAUSD's excellent magnet program, conveying the impression that it offends his sense of egalitarianism. The fact that magnets are one of the very few demonstrable ways of keeping middle- and upper-middle-class kids in district schools these days has barely dented his antipathy to them. Never mind, as the state of public transportation in L.A. clearly demonstrates, that any public system devoted chiefly to a working-class clientele is not likely to be nearly so well funded or maintained as a system with cross-class patronage.
But having to recognize the ongoing hemorrhage of middle-class Angelenos from the district would require Horton to recognize that the district is in crisis -- something he resolutely refuses to do. Increasingly, he sees progress where others can see only stasis, incremental movement where others see bureaucratic inertia. This onetime '60s radical sounds like nothing so much as those Johnson Administration officials reporting back hopefully on the state of the Vietnam War: He, like they, can always see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Squint though we may, things still look pretty dark to us. Sadly, we've reached the conclusion that this talented and conscientious progressive is no longer the right person for this job.
HORTON'S CHALLENGER IS A CENTRIST, intelligent, Yale-educated numbers cruncher. At age 33, Caprice Young is already a veteran of budgetary battles and high-tech skirmishes. At age 23, she was acting budget director for the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. Shortly after that, she became assistant to MTA director Franklin White, whose pessimistic budgetary projections may have helped lose him his job, but surely proved accurate. From 1994 to 1997, Young worked in Mayor Riordan's office on the city budget and infrastructure technology -- where independent observers gave her rave reviews. Since then, she's been a project manager for IBM Global Services.
One thing Young is not is an education expert. She has no background in the field; the closest she comes is her tenure on the board of a Hollywood home for abused children, her authorship of the state Democratic Party's platform plank on children and families -- and the fact that she is herself the product of LAUSD schools and magnet programs. She argues, though, that the board has at least one education-policy expert -- David Tokofsky -- whose judgment she respects. What it lacks, she asserts, is someone with an understanding of public finance and technology. "My skills complement [Tokofsky's]," she says. With some circumspection, we believe she's right.
Crucially, she understands two political realities that her opponent understands either imperfectly or not at all: First, that the massive increase in funding needed to improve public education will not be forthcoming until the public is convinced that administrators and teachers are held accountable for educational outcomes. Second, that the near consensus that there is a crisis in public education creates the political space for reform and innovation.
That said, we have major reservations about the process by which Young became a candidate. The mayor, corraling his usual gang of 30 rich friends, decided to fund a slate of candidates to take over the school board. His perception that the current board is dysfunctional was certainly correct, but his solution -- rich boys to the rescue -- is hardly a bright moment in the chronicles of democracy. And yet, the mayor settled on two sterling progressive candidates already in the race (Hayes and Tokofsky) and recruited a third (Mike Lansing) with first-rate educational credentials. The only candidate on his slate whom he plucked from the ether is Caprice Young. Yet even here, the mayor's lack of a specific education agenda of his own suggests that he won't be pulling her strings -- nor is there any evidence that Young is the kind of person who comes with strings to pull.
In short, while we're dubious about the process of her selection, we're far less dubious about the result. Caprice Young is a bit of a crapshoot, but we think she will bring to the LAUSD a belief in the need for comprehensive reform and the organizational expertise to help push it through. We urge her election to the board.
5th District -- David Tokofsky
Confronted with a board and a bureaucracy as brain-dead as he is brilliant, David Tokofsky has had a sometimes rocky first term. Happily, though, he's been there to stand in opposition to an entrenched bureaucracy on issues from Whole Language to testing and accountability.
Tokofsky's problem has been that he hasn't often been able to persuade his colleagues to undertake the changes that need to be made. In his zeal -- a quality not otherwise found on the current board -- he has needlessly, or heedlessly anyway, stepped on other board members' toes and trod upon their turf. His failure to win Horton over more consistently to the cause of accountability is one of the central mysteries of the district; the fault surely lies on both sides.
But no one on the board, or even near it, has the kind of plausible, innovative ideas to better the system that Tokofsky comes up with practically weekly. Most recently, he's been the chief proponent of establishing an internal audit process and an inspector general, so that -- heresy of heresies -- the board can actually monitor the district.
Four years ago, Tokofsky engendered some controversy by seeking (and winning) election in a district that was carved out to have a Latino majority. This time around, he's endorsed by many of the same elected Latino leaders who opposed him in his last outing. His opponent, Yolie Aguilar, is an appointed board member of the rather low-voltage L.A. County Office of Education, which was one of the last strongholds of the dubious pedagogy of Whole Language curricula.
Ironically, as he campaigns for his second term, the pariah is becoming a prophet. Tokofsky has become the touchstone for education reform, the one board member whose initiatives the other challengers consistently commend. This suggests that a re-elected Tokofsky may wield far greater clout than he did in his first term. We hope that's the case, and we strongly recommend his re-election.
7th District -- Mike Lansing
You could do a lot worse than incumbent George Kiriyama, now completing his first term on the board. There are George Kiriyamas sitting on school boards across L.A. County -- across the country, for that matter. A retired adult-school principal whose chief preoccupation is insisting on due process for all LAUSD employees, Kiriyama's service on the board is the capper to a life spent in education. There's no pedagogical agenda here, no particular zeal for reform, just good-guy decency.
Problem is, we're not talking East Podunk Unified here, but the nation's second largest and most complex school system, which happens to be in something of a crisis. That's a challenge, unfortunately, that we don't think Kiriyama is up to. Kiriyama tends to rely heavily both on the district bureaucracy and on the union leadership, neither one a flawless weather-vane for educational policy.
His opponent, the 42-year-old Mike Lansing, was a teacher and administrator for 17 years in Catholic schools in San Pedro. For the past four years, he's been executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of San Pedro, which by numerous accounts he's built up both qualitatively and quantitatively (the annual budget has more than tripled during his tenure there). Lansing brings to the campaign a level of energy, a record of innovation in after-school programs, and an insistence both on standards and on the special programs that enable students to meet those standards, that make him our clear choice in this southside district.
LOS ANGELES COMMUNITY COLLEGE DISTRICT, MEMBER OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Office No. 1 -- Sylvia Scott-Hayes
Office No. 3 -- Mona Field
Office No. 5 -- Georgia Mercer
Office No. 7 -- Warren T. Furutani
Over the past year, the Community College District has begun to institute ã some of the fundamental kinds of changes that still elude the LAUSD. Under the new leadership of trustees Elizabeth Garfield and Kelly Candaele, the board has moved to give individual campuses the flexibility to develop academic and vocational programs, along with the responsibility for their own budgets. In each of the following election recommendations, we've endorsed a candidate who's committed to push the reform agenda even further.
In Office No. 1, we support Sylvia Scott-Hayes, who heads up the Testing Center and who helped found the Writing Center at Cal State L.A. Though you wouldn't know it from her name, she'd also be the only Latino member of this at-large board.
In Office No. 3, we support Glendale Community College professor Mona Field over 12-year incumbent Julia Wu, who's always been a featherweight force in board deliberations, and challenger Jules Bagneris III, an energetic and politically active minister. Field is probably the single best-qualified nonincumbent candidate for any office on the April ballot. As head of the teachers union local on the Glendale campus (which is not part of the L.A. district), Field has fostered the very kind of labor-management-student-community relations almost never found on college campuses: collegial relations. She's an educational reformer who has demonstrated she knows how to enlist her fellow teachers in that cause.
In Office No. 5, we support Georgia Mercer, who was appointed to the board nine months ago to fill the vacancy created by the death of Kenneth Washington. Mercer has already played a key role in making campuses accountable for their budgets and course offerings, and in beefing up the district's lobbying prowess.
Our choice in Office No. 7 is Warren Furutani, a former member of the LAUSD board and currently the director of Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa's Office of Asian-Pacific-American Affairs. While hardly the most dynamic of reformers, he's a firm supporter of the decentralization plan. His opponent, Mark Isler, is one of the few truly flaming Gingrichesque right-wingers on the April ballot.
LOS ANGELES CITY MEASURES
Proposition 1 -- Yes
This proposition is a $744 million city-bond measure that will fund improvements to the city's 911 emergency communications system and its helicopter-rescue system, as well as the building of six new or replacement police stations and 18 new or replacement fire stations. You may note, rightly, that some previous bond measures that made similar commitments did not always deliver on them. The difference this time out is that Proposition 1, unlike its predecessors, clearly dedicates its funds for specified projects, and its implementation will be supervised by an independent oversight committee such as that created to oversee school construction under Proposition BB. Moreover, it allots the police and fire departments only about one-third of the funds they initially had planned to seek, with the understanding that the only way they'll be able to go back to the voters in future years for the balance of their funding is if the sums allotted in Proposition 1 are spent as promised over the next half-decade. With those caveats and safeguards, Prop. 1 is a measure worthy of support.