On their first day in office, new City Council members José Huizar and Herb Wesson showed they had already mastered the finer points of council decorum by making sure not to pay attention to public comment.
Having made their own speeches and having been praised by the mayor and the city attorney, both councilmen stepped out of the chambers while members of the public brought forward their thoughts and petitions.
We can cut them some slack. Tuesday was a day of ceremony, with oath-taking and speeches, family and friends. They campaigned, and they won, and it was their first day in office. One day to bask in victory is not too much to ask.
So maybe it’s okay that after each of them sang the praises of their new colleagues, they walked out of the room to pose for photos and to give interviews in the hall while Martin Rubin of the 11th District warned the council that he and residents all over the city are chafing at overdevelopment, or while Esther Loftin of the 10th District complained that she hasn’t heard back from Wesson after trying to contact him for three weeks, or while Candido Marez of the 12th raised the continuing problem of contracting at the Department of Water and Power. They missed a representative of the city’s Engineers and Architects Association demanding labor-contract talks, and they missed a group of Filipino-Americans demanding justice for losing City Council candidate Ruby DeVera, to whom we’ll return in a moment.
The City Council is almost legendary for ignoring the testimony of the people it serves, and you may remember that earlier this year, they actually lost a court challenge brought by a strip club because a tape of the meeting showed the judge that they weren’t paying attention while the club’s representatives made their case.
But let’s assume that Tuesday was a special situation. Huizar and Wesson are both uncommonly polite and gracious men, and generally got good marks for constituent relations in their previous elected posts. They should not be expected to make a habit of ducking out.
Still, the overriding theme of the morning’s ceremonies seemed to be that these two, while the newest onboard, have been welcomed in as members of an exclusive club, already well-versed in the City Council’s ways.
Wesson drove that point home by noting that he had worked as top staffer for Nate Holden beginning in 1987, when he met many of the current council members. “Greig Smith and Tom LaBonge and I were kinda young, good-looking guys running around this place,” he said of two fellow staffers-turned-councilmen, and he could have included Jan Perry and Ed Reyes in that group. He knew Dennis Zine as a leader of the Police Protective League, Bernard Parks as police chief, Wendy Greuel as a mayoral staffer. He recalled meeting Eric Garcetti through his father, former District Attorney Gil Garcetti. Alex Padilla made courtesy calls on him in Sacramento, where he served four years with “Tony Cardenas, my brother.”
As for former public-affairs cablecaster Bill Rosendahl, “The first interview I did [as Assembly speaker] was with Bill, and he treated me gently and kind, and it was probably one of the best interviews I ever gave.” Plus, Wesson threw in, he and Jack Weiss share the same campaign treasurer.
Wesson called Huizar “a friend of mine for years,” then called on the council to “give him and yourselves another round of applause.”
Don’t pay attention to critics, Wesson said. “I say to you, any new members, that in all my days, I have never seen a statue erected for a critic,” he said. “But to many that they have criticized, statues have gone up.”
Now that hurts. But we get it. You’re all each other’s biggest fans, and there’s nothing about that that’s inherently bad. Those close relationships and that common experience can be put to good use, if these council members work together to get big things accomplished. So, will they? Do they?
There’s the rub. When Alex Padilla rose to nominate Eric Garcetti to replace him as council president, he recounted the accomplishments of the past four years. Now, Padilla has been a decent enough council president, but listen to his recitation of triumphs: “We created the Education and Neighborhoods Committee.”
That’s achievement number one? You created a committee?
Then there was the joint commission on school governance. Okay, so far we have one committee and one commission, which, by the way, has yet to complete its work. Next? More committees. And? They put Proposition Q on the ballot, allowing us voters to tax ourselves to construct new police stations, and Measure O, giving voters the chance to pass a bond measure to improve the water infrastructure. In part to settle a lawsuit.
“And we defeated secession by working together.” Huh? The City Council defeated secession? “And we made it through 9/11.” Well. I’m speechless. No, I’m not. In Los Angeles, 9/11 happened on TV. Remember?
The current City Council is indeed a powerhouse of experience, but it has yet to reach its potential. Its primary achievement so far has been to rally around Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
One example of that took place Tuesday, when the council voted to confirm Villaraigosa’s nomination of attorney Douglas Mirell to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, the joint city-county board that oversees outreach to the region’s tens of thousands of addicted, mentally ill, poor and just plain unlucky people who live on the streets.
Earlier in November, Mirell became the first commission nominee to be rejected, in a move led by Jan Perry. Joined by the council’s three ex-cops — Zine, Parks and Smith — Perry blocked Mirell because of his role in bringing an ACLU suit against the city to challenge the way police stop, question and arrest homeless people.
But the challenge to Villaraigosa was temporary. It evaporated once Huizar and Wesson came aboard and cast their votes for Mirell. The mayor would have won this one even without the two new guys, since some of his allies who were absent in earlier votes made it in this time.
It makes you wish for the days of crotchety Joel Wachs, or even wily Nate Holden. Someone on the council to say, “Now, just wait a minute. What are we doing?” That job may now fall to Perry, and perhaps Smith and Zine. Sometimes Parks. Maybe Janice Hahn.
Even when the council squabbles, the members appear to treat one another as belonging to the same club. After all, they all ran, and they all won.
Which brings us back to Ruby DeVera. Just like Wesson, Smith, LaBonge, Perry and Reyes, DeVera was a staffer who ran for the City Council, this time against Huizar in the November 8 election. The difference is, DeVera lost. Everybody loves a winner, the saying goes, but when you lose, you lose alone. And when DeVera lost and headed back to work as Reyes’ office manager, she was fired.
Bloggers had it right away. Martini Republic first, then Mayor Sam. Then it was in the Times. Then it was, almost, forgotten.
But a group of DeVera supporters came to the council on Tuesday to complain.
“[Reyes] told me that I embarrassed him” by running against Huizar, DeVera told the Weekly.
Reyes declined comment, saying he could not discuss a personnel matter.
The bottom line is that this council is as tight as a football huddle. If you’re on the team, you’re on in a big way. And if you’re not, well, see you in Public Comment.