The Hollywood 10-plus

This, the most varied Los Angeles City Council district, has predictably attracted one of the most diverse collections of council candidates ever to run. Yes, there are 13 distinct contenders in the 13th District, which includes not only the Hollywood entertainment capital, but just about every known aspect of Southland culture, population and geography except beachfront housing.

But the 13th has a political importance all its own. It has, over 20 years, birthed a local-political-consciousness upsurge in a city long renowned for caring little for such matters. Starting with Mike Woo’s initial candidacy in 1981, it‘s where the liberal edge of city politics has been honed. All the 2001 candidates interviewed agreed on things like the need for more cheap housing, a noncommercial redevelopment of the Cornfields rail yards, and LAPD reform, though only two, Eric Garcetti and Art Goldberg, emphasized that they would like to replace Police Chief Bernard Parks. All were strongly pro-labor.

In short, this is not the Los Angeles council district you win with George W. Bush’s endorsement. But the 13th is probably the best district in which to run if you are gay or lesbian, or of an ethnic minority not strongly represented in the area. As the openly out Jackie Goldberg and her Sino-American predecessor Woo prove. The pair might otherwise, on an imaginary political questionnaire, check the same boxes as to beliefs and convictions. Yet, it is hard to imagine two more contrasting incumbents. The contrast has to do, basically, with Woo‘s love of theory vs. Goldberg’s love of practice; it‘s tempting to say the current candidates evince one or the other preference. But most cleave to Goldberg’s ideals.

Goldberg left a huge gap when she was elected to the Assembly, simply by dint of her incredible seven-year burst of energy on behalf of the underdog. There‘s no one on the council now to care about how many women are in the Fire Department, what benefits are available for non-spousal partners, and her last important cause, fair benefits and work conditions for part-time workers. Although sometimes weak on constituent services, her staff worked strongly for what Goldberg saw as social change, in and out of her district.

Which brings us to Goldberg’s predecessor, Mike Woo, who now wants to succeed her. Woo‘s 1985 triumph was a rebound win. His 1981 loss to banal incumbent Peggy Stevenson was due in part to racist innuendo. Woo spent his first term backing some good causes -- such as Mayor Tom Bradley’s anti-apartheid campaign and his own bid to make Los Angeles a safe haven for Latino political refugees -- but seemed never to get the hang of city politics. As he puts it now, ”I tried to do too much at once.“ Woo says he burnt out his office staff. At the time, however, that staff seemed in a state of semipermanent purge that, curiously, rid it of Asian faces.

Woo‘s second term was highlighted by his brave early call for the ouster of Police Chief Daryl Gates after the Rodney King beating and lowlighted by his prolonged preoccupation with what was to be his calamitous 1993 mayoral candidacy. Woo was already pondering his mayoral ambitions when I interviewed him in late 1985.

Now Woo is back again, after a stiff little court fight that left open the possibility that council members who served before the current term limit laws took effect (think David Cunningham; think Arthur K. Snyder) might also run to rejoin the 15-member horseshoe. Woo’s got more flesh on him and slightly less hair, but otherwise, he still radiates the same off-wonky style and certitude of 16 years ago.

”The district hasn‘t changed that much,“ he now insists. ”It’s just as diverse as it has always been.“ Well, maybe. But eight years have also brought both prosperity to commercial Hollywood and new poverty pockets like the dilapidated Echo Park complex that recently collapsed, killing one resident. Then there‘s the bohemian-chic upsurge in Lower Sunset, the vast yupscaling of marginal neighborhoods. A fine distinction, here, between ”just as diverse“ and what others might call diversity re-diversified. Yet Woo remains extremely knowledgeable about the 13th: He can tell you the political history of the Glendale Freeway back to Lyndon Johnson. Woo has been moving around USC and UCLA classrooms and local nonprofits since 1993 and currently serves as director of Los Angeles programs for the Local Initiative Support Corper, a nonprofit group that provides low-interest loans for affordable-housing projects.

Apart from the Rev. Cecil ”Chip“ Murray of First AME Church, Woo names no major endorsers. Woo says he prefers to let the people speak. Okay, but in 1993 he had nearly every Democratic endorsement in the state. What’s happened? Meanwhile, he‘s the top fund-raiser -- by a hair -- with $144,000 plus $43,000 in matching funds reported.

Eric Garcetti was 10 when Mike Woo first ran. He’s the youngest candidate in the race and, apart from Woo, has the most recognizable name -- which he shares with his father, former District Attorney Gil Garcetti. He also shares his father‘s tennis-pro thinness, but projects a notably more progressive image.

A Rhodes scholar who now teaches political science at Occidental College, Garcetti says his doctorate in Ethnicity and Nationalism (and poverty work in Africa) well qualifies him for what may be the most ethnically diverse district in the city. He identifies with Goldberg and wants ”to be a successor.“ He draws an interesting (and perhaps Goldberg-ish) distinction between the ideals of social equity and social practice. Garcetti quotes Dostoyevsky: ”The easy work is to love humanity; the hard work is to love your neighbor.“ He says he’s committed to police reform and neighborhood councils, and wants to see input from the latter into the former: ”The current police advisory board is a joke,“ he says. He‘s alert to the poorest areas: ”If all Los Angeles had the density of the Temple-Beaudry area,“ he notes, ”it would have 22 million people.“ Noting that as a City Council member, he’d have little say in the Los Angeles schools, he supports the completion of the new Belmont High School complex if the gas hazards can be offset.

He drives an electric car. Perhaps he just can‘t help looking like the freshest face in the race. He’s that race‘s second biggest fund-raiser, just behind Woo, with $111,000, and has been endorsed by the National Organization for Women and L.A. County Young Democrats.

Bennett Kayser seems always to have been active in the 13th. But the LAUSD middle school teacher says he first became involved in local-government causes during the 1980s battle to bring Los Angeles’ zoning and planning objectives into mutual compliance. Kayser trounced a mayor-endorsed competitor in the 1997 City Charter Commission election. He became one of the hardest-working members of the Elected Charter Reform Commission.

”I believe in inclusiveness,“ he says, adding that to him the new charter opens up tremendous possibilities via neighborhood councils. Like Woo, he has a ground-level familiarity with the district. Moreover, he says, the district knows him. He won the charter election by 60 percent, and the charter itself passed by 63 percent in the 13th District -- despite Goldberg‘s own opposition. He wants better public transportation, and more affordable housing, particularly for people with AIDS. A landlord, he also says he’s a strong backer of rent control, plus Goldberg‘s cornerstone accomplishment, the city’s living-wage law. He‘s raised $25,000 as of last month.

It’s not just the name: Scott Wildman is the most outspoken candidate. The former assemblyman‘s public hearings on the Belmont fiasco got him lots of ink and the distinction of being perhaps the only candidate in this race who opposes further LAUSD educational use of the gas-fraught school site, which is not in this council district. Wildman’s got the backing of the Sierra Club and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. And the teachers. To whom (a former teacher himself) he‘s been good -- he takes credit for a $400 million textbook bill and the 1997 Teacher Training Act.

Wildman accuses the city of lackluster Sacramento lobbying. He’d change this, he says, although the city‘s lobbying responsibilities have, under the new charter, largely passed over to the Mayor’s Office.

In the context of the Belmont controversy, he made two factually dubious statements in an interview with the Weekly‘s editorial board. The first was that the site’s previous investors had bailed out ”because of contamination, frankly.“ But the Japanese consortia behind the project knew they were building on a former oil field. Further, the project collapsed (along with several others on downtown‘s outskirts) because of the simultaneous slump in the Japanese and Los Angeles economies.

Wildman’s second dubious statement in his Weekly interview was ”The massive mitigation [proposed for Belmont] would deal with methane but not the major concern of H2S,“ or hydrogen sulfide. I haven‘t heard of any proposed mitigation plan that omits hydrogen sulfide; the mitigation plan itself has been deadlocked by the school board. He’s supported by 13 state legislators, and two U.S. reps: Grace Napolitano and Joe Baca. He‘s the choice of the county Democrats and the Police Protective League. He’s third in fund-raising, with $139,000 in contributions and $37,000 in matching funds.

Attorney Art Goldberg acknowledges just one failing in his sister Jackie‘s council career. She was bad at returning phone calls. ”I thought this accusation was bullshit, but I found out it was true when I talked to [her] constituents on the street . . . [even] those who loved Jackie.“

”I can’t afford not to return phone calls,“ Goldberg says. ”I am in a small business, and some other hungry warrior out there will get my [client].“ Goldberg‘s law office in Echo Park provides services for low-income clients, so he both lives and works in the district. He’s handled thousands of divorces and other family-law matters, and about 30 murder trials.

He‘s been practicing for most of the 30 years he’s lived there. He studied law at Howard in Washington, D.C., and Rutgers in New Jersey, and claims that even after he passed the California bar, his radical past held up his license to practice. Even more than his sister, he was deeply involved in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of the mid-1960s, and recalls ”printing 10,000 pamphlets a day, and they flew out the door,“ all on political topics, all on paper stolen ”by the truckload“ from the university.

His candidacy does, he surmises, ”attract the more off-the-wall people.“ And although he ”is the most left [candidate] ideologically,“ he says he‘s a people person, who expects that negotiation skills learned from years of poverty and family law will enable him to mediate in City Hall. He worked in the sanctuary movement in the 1980s and the co-op movement before that -- the ”Food Conspiracy“ of Echo Park--Silver Lake, which, he claims, provided the core constituency for his sister’s 1982 school-board election.

When Goldberg talks objectives, you hear nostalgia for the Bay Area of his youth. ”People in Los Angeles don‘t hang out together“ as they did in Berkeley, he says. He maintains that he wants to instill ”communications among the tons of good people in L.A.“ Oh, and one other unifying goal, as he sees it. To make it possible ”to swim in the L.A. River“ by bringing that clogged and desiccated waterway back to its pristine state. He’s got his sister‘s endorsement and is the number-five fund-raiser, with $108,000.

Conrado Terrazas has master’s degrees in both business administration and filmmaking. But after some years of union organizing, he found himself engrossed in local politics. He ran against Goldberg in 1993, and then worked for her for six years. Although she endorsed her brother, Terrazas sounds more like the direct council successor -- speaking of the accomplishments he participated in throughout the district. These include creating a new park on Las Palmas Avenue in the once drug-ridden Yucca corridor and a clinic for low-income residents in the district‘s impoverished eastern end.

”We’ve paved 35 miles of streets in just three years,“ he says. But he also states that keeping housing affordable is a priority: ”I want to make sure people can afford to stay here.“ As is better maintenance of apartment buildings in poor districts; he wants to improve inspection schedules and the number of building inspectors, ”given limits on the city budget.“

He says he‘s skeptical about the future of LAPD Chief Bernie Parks, whose second-term approval comes up late next year. He has participated in LAPD complaint resolution as a council staffer. He is strongly committed to the support of the LAPD federal consent decree. He also supports Goldberg’s living-wage commitment, and says he‘d continue her efforts on behalf of city labor.

Terrazas is not only openly gay, but Latino in a district that is 57 percent Hispanic, according to the 1990 census. He is the lead Latino candidate running in a district with relatively low Latino registration. He is the fourth biggest fund-raiser, too, according to the latest figures, with $120,000 raised and $56,000 in matching funds. His endorsements include state Senator Richard Polanco, school-board member Victoria Castro, Episcopal Bishop John Bruno and the Stonewall Democrats.

The above sketches omit seven candidates by representing the five top fund-raisers in the race, plus the only other contender to have held elective office. But the range is typically broad for this most varied of local political reservations: Terrazas and Woo bring the most experience in running the district. Garcetti and Goldberg (oddly, the oldest and youngest major candidates) are the most visionary. Even in the middle, you have opposites: Wildman, the rabble-rouser, and Kayser, the quiet neighborhood activist. Whoever is elected, the choice is going to affect not only the future of the district, but the political style of city government itself for at least the next four years.


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