Over the course of Bill Rosendahl's run as L.A.'s 11th District councilman, he has been called a lot of things by friends and foes alike: eccentric, opportunistic, someone who knows the issues and gets the job done. Few people have ever considered calling the politician courageous, but as a member of the City Council's Budget & Finance Committee, Rosendahl's tie-breaking vote on Wednesday to freeze police hiring may be just that.
Facing possibly more than a thousand city employee layoffs and a budget deficit of more than a half-billion dollars, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, with the blessing of LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, has still insisted that he needs to hire more cops. The prospect of major layoffs and slashed city services to pay for those police officers hasn't deterred Villariagosa from following through on his plan, which is one of the few campaign promises he's within close grasp of fulfilling.
The cop hiring freeze vote by Rosendahl, who was joined by council members Bernard Parks and Greig Smith, now puts a big kink in the mayor's agenda, especially if the rest of the City Council backs the Budget & Finance Committee's recommendation.
Rosendahl came into office in 2005, the same year Villaraigosa was elected mayor. Over the past four years, he's been known to say one thing publicly and then vote another way. “He's a waffler,” says L.A. Weekly contributor Tibby Rothman, who has extensively covered Rosendahl's time as a city councilman. “It depends on who he needs the love from on that day.”
Just recently, for example, he was a loud proponent of scrapping a project to build an elephant exhibit at the L.A. Zoo. He based his opposition on his concern for the elephants' welfare. But when the City Council finally voted on the project, he switched his position at the last moment and gave the exhibit the go-ahead. Something similar happened with his police hiring freeze vote.
Although Rosendahl had reportedly been a vocal supporter of Villaraigosa's plan to expand the LAPD, he decided to ditch the mayor and vote against the cop hiring plan. Rosendahl said the budget crisis the city is facing — with the possibility of mass layoffs at City Hall and decreased city services — had changed his mind.
Rosendahl isn't someone who likes to offend powerful people at the wrong time, so his vote seems to be a case of him drumming up a certain amount of inner courage to take on a mayor with a lot of political allies, a police chief who's become increasingly powerful at City Hall, and a police union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, that also throws around its fair share of political weight.
“Fundamentally,” says Rothman, “he's very fearful of the police union. That's why (the vote) was surprising to me.”
Rothman, who's followed Rosendahl since 2005, isn't so sure if the councilman is courageous, but rather sees the vote as an opportunity to look like a “populist” leader who can make the “tough decisions.” Whether he's brave or not, the vote was a major blow to some very politically-connected people, who are now angry as hell.
Rosendahl must have seen the blowback coming, but he voted to freeze police hiring anyway. It takes a certain amount of guts to take on the big boys that way. The only question now is will the rest of his colleagues, led by City Council President Eric Garcetti, follow Rosendahl's unexpected example.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.