On Sunday, a handful of L.A. Times reporters participated in a panel at the Festival of Books on the mayor's race. Of the many titles that could have been used for the event — “Who will win?”, “What does it mean?” — the organizers chose “Why should you care about the L.A. mayor's race?”
Talk about putting someone on the spot. Imagine a panel of sportswriters convened to answer “Why should you care about the Lakers?” Or a bunch of film critics being asked “Why should you care about movies?” It's probably not a question they would have considered in a while, and not one that anyone who cared enough to show up would need answered.
But because turnout in the March 5 primary was just 21 percent, the question comes up. Low turnout is not a crisis — the city will find a way to survive if you stay home on election day. However, yes, you should care about the mayor's race. Here are five (good) reasons why.
1. You pay taxes
Voting is optional. Paying taxes is not. Ditto for the power bill, trash fees and parking tickets. Elected officials have a charming phrase for tax revenues — “other people's money” — the point of which is that it's much easier to spend other people's money than it is to spend your own. That's especially so when those other people choose not to pay attention. Since they're going to take your money whether you vote or not, you might as well vote and retain some small claim on how it gets spent.
2. These issues might affect you.
It's hard to predict how any one person will be affected by any one election. But chances are that at some point the choice about of mayor will touch your life. It could be an issue with your child's school, a new development in your neighborhood that could affect your property values, a bus line that gets cut, a new football team, or a thousand other things. Since it's hard to predict the precise issue that will become important years from now, the choice of a mayor becomes a very personal decision. Which candidate best reflects your values? Which one can turn those values into action?
3. This campaign is awesome.
We've heard a lot of grumbling from professional grumblers that this mayoral campaign isn't thrilling or inspiring enough. Most of the time, we're not sure what they're talking about. The campaign has been close and hard-fought, and it's covered a lot of interesting territory. It features two smart candidates who agree on a lot. But there are also multiple valid ways of distinguishing them. For example, Eric Garcetti is a blue-sky thinker reborn as a pragmatist. Wendy Greuel is a born pragmatist struggling to articulate a loftier vision. If this were a partisan race, most people would vote their party affiliation. But here, in order to draw a distinction, you have to go deep. That's a good thing.
Not convinced that this campaign is awesome? Check out this closed-door meeting. Check out this internal dysfunction. Check out this electric car fiasco. Check out this shadowy union boss. Or this shadowy right-wing billionaire. Check out this picture of Eric Garcetti with the Winklevoss twins. Or throwing the first ball at a polo game. Not awesome? What campaign are you watching?
4. A mayor's race creates community.
A mayor's race is the best opportunity for a city to look itself square in the mirror. For an individual citizen, a mayor's campaign tells you a lot about your community. And that creates context and meaning for your own life. Listening to the candidates will tell you a lot about your neighbors' hopes and fears. You may learn that some are slaving away launching tech start-ups, while others are struggling to find steady work. That might make you more ambitious, or more humble, or just more aware.
5. You are a citizen.
You are alive for only a short time, and all you can really do with that time that means anything is to engage with the world around you. You are a member of a polity. You have a stake in your neighbor's success, and she has a stake in yours. You are curious and thoughtful. You have good judgment. You are a blessing to society. Now just vote already.