Big questions left standing after the somewhat anal city inaugural ceremonies last week: What‘s Jim Hahn going to be like in office? What will his new administration look like? The insider consensus is that Hahn’s first official speech was long on generalities, short on assuring specifics.
”Everything right now is in free fall,“ said one council aide. ”A new council, new controller, new city attorney, new mayor; there‘s never been this much change in this city in so short a time.“ It sure feels like that. That’s why City Hall people, including yours truly, are so eagerly seeking signs, portents, omens.
The changeover confusion is doubled because, just as the government regroups for the new term, the city administration is also moving back into the old City Hall. Where, it turns out, someone forgot to get analog phone lines re-installed after quake renovations deleted them. Even a the ”new“ Mayor‘s Office had no direct phone service when I tried to call, and everyone in the council chamber was passing around cell numbers. The place itself looks fresh, terrific: like 1928. And, to those who knew it well, familiar: Whatever did L.A. do to deserve this wonderful, echoing Carolingian interior, stuffed inside the veneered white tower that the late architecthistorian Charles Moore described as ”great Deco, but mediocre architecture“?
But there are still lots of places where you aren’t supposed to go. Some of these are clearly marked, and some you find out about by opening a familiar door whose other side someone is trying to paint. It‘s disorienting.
So I was drawn to the figure of Mayor James Hahn, spotted leaving the council chamber among a clutch of TV reporters. One of whom, the outspoken Laurel Erickson of Channel 4, was scolding Hahn and a staffer about access. It turned out that during the inauguration, Hahn had been mobbed at the rostrum by well-wishers. But Hahn’s security had refused to admit the TV people to the area. Talk about creating a problem.
”We couldn‘t get up to the stage to take a picture of him as a human being,“ Erickson complained to veteran Hahn aide Kam Kuwata as Hahn exited the scene toward his office. At about this point, my note taking skidded to a stop, because someone had suddenly grabbed me by the shoulder and propelled me backward about a yard. The propellant, a tall, thin man in tweeds, identified himself as an LAPD officer. I in turn identified myself as a reporter and went right back to what I had been doing. But later I wondered if this was perhaps a new Hahn policy: to keep people with note pads away from the mayor unless they have a proven, professional need to be there. And of course I wondered a little about what this kind of skittishness — or plain interference — had to do with free speech, the First Amendment and whatnot. As well, of course, with the worthy project of capturing a picture of Hahn ”as a human being.“
Hahn certainly needn’t be this shy. He has advantages going in the door that no other new mayor in memory has shared. He‘s got Alex Padilla, his own close ally, running the City Council, sharing control over personnel matters, and selecting committee chairs who will almost certainly be both Hahn-friendly and friendly to the new Hahn commission appointees they will encounter in the line of business. He’s got a solid majority of council members behind him. And he has good relationships with the current school board. Not to mention the Board of Supervisors, most of whose members reckon him — literally, considering his late father‘s unequaled standing as a supervisor — the county’s favorite son.
Had Antonio Villaraigosa been elected, all these areas of accord might have become fighting fronts. Certainly, the best that Tom Bradley and Dick Riordan got from the late John Ferraro‘s council presidency was wary indifference. Riordan fought the county and had to elect his own school board. Yes, compared to his predecessors, Mayor Jim’s got a clear track. Perhaps it‘s about time that he gave the rest of us a better idea where he’s headed.
the Big Changeover
Watching the new council members settle down to business in the resurrected old City Hall last week, I couldn‘t help but recall the words of 5th District City Councilman B.B. Brainard on the day he was sworn in.
If you can’t remember him, don‘t worry. Brainard held office back when City Hall was nearly new, when council members had two-year terms and the 5th District bordered on USC and didn’t include UCLA. When Brainard was installed in 1933, in the same old wooden horseshoe (now realigned to face the audience) at which this year‘s crop of members sit, the newcomers’ desks were piled high with lush floral tributes, ”from my friends and from those who wished me to think of them as my friends,“ Brainard noted.
Inaugural tributes are no longer that flamboyant, but those who wish to be thought of as friends — the varied blooms of the lobbying industry — pretty much filled the hall last week. Just as they‘d filled the stands during the inauguration: Virtually every individual who ever had his or her name placed in the official Ethics Commission house register, who ever sat in a council member’s outer office with a developer‘s check warming his or her pocket. In 1996, when it looked as though the city might be unable to finance the restoration of the building’s upper floors, a deputy manager suggested — half seriously — that City Hall floors six through 20 be renovated and sold as lobbyist office-condos, so that these worthies might have 24-hour access to the building that centered their careers. Instead, the feds came along with more earthquake money, and those 15 floors got fixed up without undue privatization.
Last week, however, it seemed like those lobbyists — the term of art is ”consultants“ — might as well be living upstairs. Looking out over the house for the Tuesday meeting that saw the first true council-presidency shootout in 20 years, the big event looked as pre-booked as the Frazier-Ali fights. But instead of mobsters and high rollers, the darkly dressed-to-the-nines, standing-room audience in the 400-capacity old room were lobbyists. And when Alex Padilla, the youngest person on the council, was declared council-president winner over Ruth Galanter — one of the council‘s most senior, and wisest, heads — they applauded and cheered for minutes. You could almost see a vast cartoon thought-balloon hanging over the entire crowd, exclaiming: ”At last, someone we can really work with.“
At last, indeed. The Riordan years hadn’t been the best of eras for the city lobby. Not that it had declared bankruptcy. There‘d been plenty of vastly remunerative projects whose masterminds recruited lobbyists by the busload: Playa Vista, police towing contracts, the broadband ordinances and the new police-communications network alone kept plenty of baguettes on lobbyist dinner tables during the ’90s.
But things had definitely declined since the golden Bradley years, when the lobby was so well-accommodated that one top lobbyist got to park his red Ferrari next to the mayor‘s official Lincoln. Dick Riordan, bless him, tended to play his own hand, to help his favorites, rather than those who represented the favorites. And so the lobby grew tarnished, even in the council: Jackie Goldberg hung out a lobbyist-taunting sign that said ”No Gifts.“ Ruth Galanter shared her own, lobbyist-ridiculing light verse. The Times even exposed the intricate connections and conflicts that result from so many lobbyists’ shared status as campaign consultants, not to mention as former council members, former council staff, former appointed city officials. No, not a great time for the trade.
But mid-2001 is Morning in Los Angeles — for the lobby, anyway. To the rest of us, there was something scary about a public event as important as Padilla‘s election playing to what looked like a reserved house: just the old and new council members and this vast army of immaculately turned-out wannabe pals, eagerly seeking common interests, while those who actually voted the council into office were scarcely to be seen. Let’s just hope that some of the newcomers were as chary as Brainard managed to be, 68 years ago.
So who is this guy, council President Alex Padilla, anyway? Well, as you may recall, he got himself elected two years ago to the latterly Latino North Valley seat that Richard Alarcon abandoned for higher office. And while he may be inexperienced and 28, he is also tall, Tyrone Power handsome, real smart, and boy is he slick. Although he‘s not exactly the first guy you’d want to count on to return a favor. Hardscrabble labor supporters — janitors, hotel workers and so on — elected him to the council. Dick Riordan was his early mainstay. The workers and the mayor supported Antonio Villaraigosa, but Padilla went for Hahn. Padilla certainly didn‘t want another Latino getting ahead of him in his lunge for the Mayor’s Office. And as Joe Stalin used to put it, ”Gratitude is a dog‘s disease.“
Anyway, this Padilla is definitely a guy who knows what he is doing. Both he and Galanter made allegedly impromptu stump speeches Tuesday to sell their qualifications. Galanter’s was informal, frank and to the point, just like she‘s been over the past 14 years, for better or worse. Padilla orated a valedictorian special that included high-flown phrases like ”their history, their bruises and their scars.“ When it came time for the obligatory mention of his council-president mentor, ”the late John Ferraro,“ Padilla accomplished a delicate tremolo on those words that would have been the envy of the finest clavichordist alive. And, of course, he won big: 9-5.
But I know one thing about John Ferraro that I bet Padilla knows too: Were he still alive, Big John would have engineered his wily old adversary Nate Holden into the presidency before he allowed this key post to go to the youngest and most visibly ambitious member of this current august body.
But Big John is dead. Welcome to the new era.