Mayor: Antonio Villaraigosa

We’re disappointed and even annoyed that with five Democrats in the mayor’s race, we do not see an ideal candidate running for mayor of Los Angeles. We want someone who can represent all of Los Angeles, someone who will bring the city together. We want a candidate overflowing with ideas — and detailed plans for carrying them out. We don’t just want good intentions, we want someone who knows how to make the city’s departments work together. And we want to hear a strong orator fostering empathy and unity and inspiring residents to overcome the social forces and miles that make South L.A. seem so far away from Woodland Hills.

Antonio Villaraigosa is almost this candidate.

In the past, Villaraigosa displayed the leadership, drive, vision and risk-taking we want in a new mayor. Running against Jim Hahn in 2001, Villaraigosa energized many in the city around a movement to improve the lot of L.A.’s low- to middle-income residents and rallied us with a call to empower his new coalition behind unionization and living-wage drives. All that is now put at risk by his lackluster campaign. Villaraigosa must rekindle citywide talk of those aspirations, and nail down specifics on how he’s going to fix the city unless he wants to deliver another concession speech. He’s made a point of saying that he is not scaring voters this time around. Well, he’s overcompensated. He needs to stop being so afraid of alienating whites, or at least white moderates. The city’s demands have intensified in four years, and so have ours. He needs to be less arrogant around his natural constituency and more careful about the promises he makes — specifically, when he “unequivocally” assured residents from Eagle Rock to Boyle Heights in 2003 that he would serve his full City Council term if they elected him instead of the incumbent.

A good deal of Villaraigosa’s appeal in 2001 came from his personal story of overcoming hard luck — raised on the Eastside by his mother who was beaten by his abusive, drunken father, abandoned by his father at age 5, kicked out of Cathedral High School for bad behavior, graduated from UCLA and later rose to speakership of the state Assembly in four years where he brought together Republicans and Democrats to support health care for poor families and massive bonds for parks and new schools. Such a powerful story is no longer enough. We want to see more of the attributes developed in those harsh formative years: the brashness, the fighting spirit, the impetuousness. Years ago, Villaraigosa removed the words “Born To Raise Hell” that he had tattooed on his right arm as a 15-year-old. Too bad. He needs to draw on that spirit now because the city needs him.

More than a quarter of the city’s residents live in poverty and only 39 percent own a home, the second lowest rate in the nation. The police department, recovering from the Rampart scandal and now questioned for the senseless fatal shooting of 13-year-old Devin Brown, still resists steps to make itself fully accountable to the public. The environment, from our worst air in the nation to our polluted beaches, sickens and kills thousands every year. L.A. needs a big-city transportation system, with subways and light rail to serve more than a few pockets of the city. A major city institution, the 8,000-employee Department of Water and Power, is rocked by allegations of mismanagement and rampant discrimination of workers and retaliation against those who seek fairness.

Most important, Mayor Hahn and his administration face three investigations into allegations that the best way to win a lucrative city contract is to donate lots of money to Jimmy’s campaigns. If it were not for these investigations into his office by the feds, the district attorney and the Ethics Commission, Hahn would almost be appealing. Forget the fact that he seems like a guy who can’t wait to leave City Hall and go home at 5 o’clock, and has the personality more befitting an IRS auditor. Hahn gets credit for hiring PR-savvy Police Chief William Bratton, who’s spent much of his first two years restoring order in a department wracked by corruption. Hahn also fought off Valley secession and became much better on labor and environmental issues the closer he got to his re-election campaign. But the Hahn era of city corruption cannot be ignored. Even though he has been untouched so far by indictments, Hahn has done nothing to assure us that he will put an end to the malfeasance nor even shown real outrage over the wrongdoing. Villaraigosa, at least, has put out an ethics proposal and spells out plans for cleaning up City Hall. And when Hahn hesitated to get involved in the MTA strike of 2003, Villaraigosa stepped in and helped end the 35-day strike.

Bob Hertzberg, the most moderate Democrat among all the candidates, would be a near perfect fit for the job were it not for his pandering to the white-flight vote with a vague plan to break up L.A. Unified. His undefined plan won Governor Schwarzenegger and Richard Riordan’s backing. The ploy to curry the Valley and Republican vote is all the more disheartening because Hertzberg has resisted all attempts to get him to outline his plan. It’s simply too big of a deal to drop on voters and expect them to wait for specifics until he’s elected. Splitting up the school district is not a new idea, and would further strain the division of haves versus have-nots in the city. We want better L.A. schools, but too many things can go wrong for Hertzberg to expect voters to trust him on this one.

Councilman Bernard Parks is straight-talking and resolute, but possesses few political skills. He has no use for them. He shows signs of softening his rigid police thought processes and deserves to be commended for questioning the Devin Brown shooting. It’s never too late to acquire an open mind, though we’d have welcomed it when he was police chief. Parks is a steady voice on the City Council, and serves his district well. He’s not yet ready for a citywide post.

Richard Alarcón has done the best job of all the candidates expressing a progressive agenda. He’s relentlessly attacked the corporate influences in play at City Hall and won many of the mayoral debates. But he has yet to develop the presence and relationships needed to be a real contender to lead this city.

In the next 10 days, we hope Antonio Villaraigosa finds some of the fire that carried so much promise four years ago and made his campaign about more than himself. In recent comments on his 2001 loss, Villaraigosa recounted the scene at his election-night party: “I put everything I had in that race. There were thousands of people there, and I saw grown men crying, and I knew they weren’t crying for me. They were crying for what my candidacy represented. And I knew this candidacy was not about me. It was about the hope that I represented.”

We hope Antonio Villaraigosa still possesses the fire needed to express a worthy agenda and carry him through to the finish line.

Controller: Laura Chick

Surprised? L.A. Weekly has had some nasty things to say about Laura Chick. We noticed that she fired an investigator who seems to have made Chick nervous by flagging possible overbilling by law firms. Now the city has a wrongful-termination suit on its hands. We called her on her secret briefings of candidates challenging Mayor Jim Hahn. Some of us find her a bit hypocritical, motivated by her own political ambition rather than the city’s best interests.

Even as a city councilwoman, Chick would erupt in frustrated tirades about how hard it was for her to get information on city contracts. Now that she’s the first city controller under a new charter that gives her unprecedented power to probe into the affairs of every city department and agency, she still complains that she can’t get the contracting data she wants. That’s a little hard to believe. A more sober and directed use of her authority may be in order.

Still, under Chick’s direction her investigators have played a key role, along with the City Ethics Commission and county and federal prosecutors, in uncovering the rip-off of the city by PR giant Fleishman-Hillard and the messy, and possibly criminal, contracting procedures at the Department of Water and Power, the port and the airport.

The clincher is that Chick’s only opponent is Mervin Evans, an affable perennial candidate who is not a realistic alternative for the important job of keeping an eye on the city’s money and management.

We’ll be getting four more years of City Controller Laura Chick. With those years, we have every right to expect, finally, a Web-accessible database of every contract to which the city of Los Angeles is a party, together with every contractor, and a full history of that contractor’s work at City Hall, easily crosschecked against the Ethics Commission’s database of campaign donations.

It might be fun to take a look at the other complaints Chick had during her eight-year tenure on the City Council and crosscheck them against her agenda for her second term.

City Attorney: Rocky Delgadillo

Like the previous city attorney — the guy who is now mayor — Rocky Delgadillo has kept his office fairly quiet. One area in particular where Delgadillo has kept his head low is in advising city departments — say, the Department of Water and Power — that a particular contract extension, for example, with a certain public relations firm, is not in the city’s best interest. Delgadillo’s lawyers respond that their role is simply to review contracts for form and legality. Nonsense. That is the approach of an appointed county counsel, or some similar political pawn. Delgadillo is an elected city official, and if he sees something amiss at the DWP, he should take a more active role in advocating for his true clients, the people of Los Angeles.

Still, his oversight of city compliance with the consent decree for reform of the LAPD has been steady. His drive to create “community prosecutors” in each police division to handle nuisance and quality-of-life crimes seemed a bit odd to some, but he pulled it off and has managed the program well. As for his penchant for contracting legal work out to the city’s powerful and politically connected law firms — well, you could argue that either way. Do the work in-house and you’re knocked for not getting the best expertise for specialized cases. Send it outside and you’re spending too much public money on law firms that will owe you favors when you run for the next big office.

Will he do a better job than his opponent? Undoubtedly. Though a challenger took out papers to run against Delgadillo, that was as far as it went. He was unopposable politically and, so, unopposed. Rocky’s formidable campaign war chest and ties to the city’s law-firm elites will be put to use not too long into the future for a run for county or statewide office or, depending on what happens here in the next few weeks, the Mayor’s Office.

City Council District 1: Ed Reyes

We’ve heard lots of complaints from Ed Reyes’ constituents that their councilman is out of touch and that his staff is rude or disengaged. In the 1st Council District, that’s important. Communities like Westlake, Pico-Union, Lincoln Heights and Highland Park have long suffered from violence, unemployment and civic neglect. There are streets here that are literally crumbling, and beautiful but ramshackle historic neighborhoods that are being swept away by new apartment blocks constructed with little regard for design standards or for community needs.

These are among the chief concerns of a host of candidates who are mad at Reyes but who failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot and are running write-in campaigns, and for two who are posing legitimate challenges: architect-businessman Stephen Sariñana-Lampson and former Reyes staffer Ernest E. Sanchez.

Sariñana-Lampson is sharp, knowledgeable and passionate about the district, especially about his own Lincoln Heights. Sanchez is quieter but also has a handle on district issues and firsthand frustrations with the councilman himself.

We share their concerns about Reyes and his staff. In the end, however, we’d rather see four more years from Reyes than from either challenger because of Reyes’ singular vision for the future of the city and his unprecedented achievements in getting policymakers and bureaucrats to focus on the plight of Los Angeles’ increasing number of have-nots — concerns that, if addressed properly, will directly improve the lives of Reyes’ constituents.

He has been a tireless champion of affordable housing and of planning with a citywide vision in order to protect neglected poor neighborhoods like those in his district and, at the same time, provide a roof over the heads of working-class families who make Los Angeles function. He has worked to make sure that instead of those ugly apartment blocks, the city gets well-designed, high-density housing along transportation corridors — throughout the city — that can bear the new traffic. He deserves a salute for forcing the city to come to terms with its Planning Department, and will play a key role in reshaping the department under a new director in the coming months.

He has been an influential thinker on the environment, moving dreamy notions of a restored Los Angeles River into the realm of the possible. Some of his more harebrained schemes, like rubber dams, rooftop parks and gardens, and diverted rivulets through new parks and soccer fields in immigrant neighborhoods, are turning out not to be quite so crazy after all.

He played a lead roll in bringing the city an ordinance that gives neighbors and labor unions a say in whether, and where, any Wal-Mart Supercenter or other big-box grocery store will squeeze into town.

We need Reyes around to follow through on what he has started, believing that in the end his controversial agenda will serve his long-suffering constituents at least as much as it serves the rest of us. In the meantime, we call on him to re-engage with the 1st District residents who are put off by his citywide vision, and give them the attentive councilman that they deserve.

City Council District 3: Dennis Zine

Should the L.A. Weekly endorse a Republican ex-cop who voted against a City Council resolution for repealing the Patriot Act and another resolution condemning the looming U.S. invasion of Iraq? It gave us pause, and made us want to take a good look at his opponent, Jeff Bornstein. So we looked. We’re going with Zine.

Not that we dislike Bornstein, who runs a family-owned audio store in the West San Fernando Valley and is concerned with development issues in the district. But he has no idea how to deal with the problems that face the city. It’s not enough to be a member of the Democratic Party or to agree with most of us at the Weekly on issues like the Iraq War. Zine has a handle on the concerns that face his constituents, and even if the Police Protective League (where he was once a board member) doesn’t top our list of favorite unions, he has a grasp of labor issues that he has put to good use as chair of the council’s Personnel Committee. Plus, he’s got kind of a big mouth. We like that.

City Council District 5: Jack Weiss

Jack Weiss will not win a City Hall popularity contest. He has a penchant for rubbing people the wrong way and, in fact, his vote against the mayor’s plan to revamp LAX so alienated the labor unions who already had endorsed him that they reconsidered, and revoked their backing. He has struck up a curious alliance with Antonio Villaraigosa, and it sometimes seems that he will vote whichever way Antonio is voting.

He is getting a run for his money from David Tyrone Vahedi, a Century City attorney who is running to Weiss’ left with support from several activists who supported Tom Hayden last time out. Vahedi, who is articulate and seems to have a promising political future, points out Weiss’ votes against council resolutions opposing the Iraq invasion and the Patriot Act. Gregory Martayan also is running an active campaign.

In the end, we’re sticking with Weiss because we like his spunk in condemning the contracting follies at the DWP and his support for merciless probes into City Hall functions, like the contract bidding process and the interminable (and five years late) renewal process for cable TV franchises.

City Council District 7: Alex Padilla

Alex Padilla, simultaneously the City Council’s senior member (after Cindy Miscikowski is termed out in June) and its youngest, is cruising to re-election for a final four-year term without a single opponent. That’s just pathetic. The dumped-on (literally) Northeast San Fernando Valley deserves a real debate about environmental justice, affordable housing, street paving and just generally a fair share of city services.

That’s not to say Padilla hasn’t continued in the tradition of Richard Alarcón, who finally got this area some attention from City Hall in the 1990s following decades of neglect. Padilla’s been good for his district, and we endorse his re-election. With term limits, though, anyone who might think to challenge a well-financed incumbent like him is just going to wait four years for an open seat. That means Padilla’s feet won’t be held to the fire this time, so there’s nothing but his respect for his home neighborhood and his ambition for higher office to compel him to produce. Seventh District residents deserve a debate, and a choice.

City Council District 9: Peter Torres

Jan Perry is popular north of the Santa Monica Freeway, where during her tenure the dozens of formerly abandoned 1920s office buildings have turned into post-yuppie condos, and where trendy bars and coffeehouses have begun to sprout among art galleries and hipster performance spaces. In this part of town, Perry is seen as responsive and responsible.

But south of the freeway, many of Perry’s constituents are angry over what they see as her neglect of the residents most in need of help from City Hall. This part of the 9th District is the most intractably poor and rundown swath of the city, where decades-old but struggling communities of African-American families are being supplanted by Latino immigrants grasping for a shot at a decent job, a decent home and a decent school. Opposition to Perry here has been organized by one of her challengers in this election, neighborhood-council leader Eddie Reyes, not to be confused with the councilman from the 1st District. This Eddie Reyes has built up a vocal and vociferous clutch of anti-Perry activists.

But there is another candidate who is more intriguing. LAPD senior lead officer Peter Torres has devoted himself to the people of his district — he says that he’s the only cop who both lives and patrols in the Newton Division, and as a representative of the LAPD he regularly organizes meetings to help residents engage in the revitalization of their district and of themselves. He practices true community policing.

As council member, he wants to find ways to help residents qualify for low-interest home and small-business loans so they will have a true stake in the community, and to address the shortage of libraries in the district by creating study halls within a one-block radius of every public school so that kids will have a place to do their homework and access the Internet and child-care resources for teenage mothers. “There are a lot of children [in the 9th] who want to succeed,” Torres insists.

It’s true that Perry has made a point to learn Spanish, and she draws a warm response from her constituents when she makes the effort. She offered staunch support to striking grocery workers and continues to speak out for Los Angeles hotel workers locked in a contract dispute with the major hotel chains. She also has devoted herself to a drive to end homelessness.

That homelessness initiative, though, often seems to be as motivated by pressure from business groups who want the “problem” removed from downtown as by humane concerns for the thousands of people living in misery on the streets or in shelters. Perry’s agenda seems to coincide too closely with the agenda of big-business interests who run downtown.

So, what to do?

In this case, we’re endorsing Peter Torres as a passionate, caring voice for the desperate neighborhoods of the 9th District who can prod the heavily favored and well-financed Perry into doing more for her constituents south of the 10. There are plenty of moneyed insiders pushing Perry to do more for downtown business interests — which we don’t wholly oppose — but a vote for Torres will send a strong signal to Perry that she must do more for her district’s least influential voices as well.

City Council District 11: Flora Gil Krisiloff

The only open seat on the City Council in this year’s election has three good candidates vying for the job held now by Cindy Miscikowski. We back Flora Gil Krisiloff, a neighborhood activist who has worked hard to add a pragmatic and slightly progressive edge to the NIMBYism of this most NIMBY of districts that includes Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Venice, Mar Vista and Westchester.

Council District 11 also includes LAX, so of course all three candidates oppose Miscikowski’s and Mayor Jim Hahn’s LAX revamp plan, and it includes an especially nasty stretch of the 405, so all three have suddenly discovered traffic and transportation planning and believe it’s finally time for the rail lines that the rich locals resisted for years.

But Krisiloff has actually worked on neighborhood and development projects for decades. You’d think she’d have NIMBY written all over her, having organized the Brentwood Community Council, and having advocated for constraints on growth along heavily trafficked corridors on the Westside.

But she has proved to be neither a tool of developers who would like to plant new Playa Vistas up and down the coast nor a voice of homeowner associations who believe everything is just fine the way it is right now, thank you. As a member of her Area Planning Commission, and as an advocate for open space and sensible development of the Veterans Administration property in Westwood — she blocked the federal government from proceeding with a Century City–type monstrosity on that land — Krisiloff has shown herself to be a master of policy, detail and balance. It’s most likely that with her as the council member, the 11th District won’t simply fight over affordable housing or transportation planning, but will actually get some of each.

Bill Rosendahl has been a community activist and has the endorsement of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and — let’s be honest here — we at the L.A. Weekly usually are suckers for that kind of stuff.

But when he presents his platform in debates, in interviews and in campaign materials, Rosendahl disappoints. He speaks in broad generalities while Krisiloff discusses the kind of details that show she knows how to attack a problem from every angle. The host of a cable talk show of 16 years’ duration, Rosendahl claims to have the skills to “bring everybody to the table” to hammer out solutions to the region’s problems. No doubt he can indeed bring everybody to the table, since his program was for years pretty much the only place policymakers could chat about civic affairs. But there is a difference between getting opponents together to discuss issues, and getting them to agree. It also rankles a bit that Rosendahl complains about special interests when, along with his cable show, he was the top executive and lobbyist for Century Cable and Adelphia Cable in Los Angeles.

Angela Reddock is an accomplished trial lawyer and a member of the city Transportation Commission. She would be good council member. But Krisiloff is ready to hit the ground running.

City Council District 13: Eric Garcetti

Garcetti gets a free pass for his second term representing Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park and points adjacent. No challengers. It’s a shame, not because Garcetti doesn’t have a lot on the ball, not because he isn’t the council’s leading voice for public funding of elections and for progressive causes like affordable housing, but because the district deserves a debate. He’s almost too cool for school, what with his Slate blogging, his bit parts on TV, his standup routine and his musical composing. But he’s also responsive and creative on the council and in his district. We’re glad he’ll still be around.

City Council District 15: Janice Hahn

Janice Hahn, the mayor’s sister, is brash, outspoken, slams her colleagues, speaks without thinking, and sometimes makes a scene at council meetings. Four more years!

LA Weekly