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The Garfield Gamble

Photo by Ted Soqui

In next Tuesday’s special election to fill the 4th District seat on the Los Angeles City Council, the Weekly offers a qualified endorsement of Beth Garfield.

The election will take place only in the 4th District, which radiates from Griffith Park to cover part of the San Fernando Valley and substantial portions of Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Hollywood, Koreatown, the Wilshire district and the Fairfax/Farmers Market area.

Both Garfield and opponent Tom LaBonge have upsides that their campaigns managed to obscure. Garfield, 49, is a respected union attorney and community-college trustee who ought to be a strong and progressive force on the City Council. But she overshadowed her own considerable positives by running a misleading primary campaign against former state Senate leader David Roberti, her strongest progressive opponent. She must have thought the strategy necessary; as it was, she barely finished ahead of Roberti to make the runoff against LaBonge. But her negative campaign struck a sour note. It also prompted nearly all of the losing primary candidates — including Roberti — to endorse LaBonge.

Garfield also raised unnecessary questions about her commitment to progressive issues — with shifting positions on the living wage and police work schedules. Garfield, for example, gave a variety of answers regarding how hard she would push for a living wage. And when it comes to a proposed 3/12 schedule for police officers (a workweek consisting of three 12-hour shifts), she’s been on both sides (now saying she’s against it). The Weekly opposes 3/12 as antithetical to police reform and also as potentially unsafe, even while granting that it may have benefits as a recruitment and retention tool for officers.

For his part, LaBonge, 48, made himself look silly — if not insipid — by the extent to which he avoided saying anything controversial or even specific. This tack, along with a meandering rhetorical style à la pre–September 11 George W. Bush, makes you worry whether he can find his way home, let alone govern a council district. Yet he does, in fact, know the 4th District like almost no one else and has a real love of parks and open space combined with a sense of community and local history that could serve him and his constituents well — provided that he can separate the community interest from that of the special interests who have backed him in this election.

LaBonge was always known as the “good guy” staffer while a field deputy for Mayor Richard Riordan and the late John Ferraro, who represented the 4th District until his death in April. But it’s hard to give LaBonge the nod, given his unwillingness to articulate where he stands on so many issues progressives care about — especially considering his close ties to downtown business interests.

And he’s not especially reassuring when he can be drawn into specifics. He supports the 3/12 schedule, for example. In this campaign, he’s had less to say about how he would govern than Garfield. Perhaps this is just a campaign tactic, but it’s enough to push us into the Garfield camp.


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