We can't remember the last time both big L.A. dailies endorsed a non-incumbent with relatively light campaign funding in one of the City Council races — and, even more unusually, the District 4 endorsements in the LA Daily News and the Los Angeles Times this year are for separate indie candidates.

The Daily News went with weathered bike activist and hippie fave Stephen Box, whom the LA Weekly has likewise applauded for his social-media savvy and leadership in the two-wheeled fight against L.A.'s army of gas guzzlers.

The Times, on the other hand, went with Tomas O'Grady

… who offers a more refined take on the neighborhood-empowering, salary-cutting shtick. He's certainly more the Times' type than radical Box, avoiding rants and charming the older, more conservative demographic with war-veteran outreach and a self-made-man back story.

Plus, O'Grady's pulling ahead in the cash department — which the Times has made crystal clear is essential to earning a spot on its VIP list. As of February 19, O-Grady is besting Box's $40,000 with $53,000 (still $120,000 behind incumbent Tom LaBonge, of course).

Here's how the Times editorial board sees it:

Stephen Box has valuable experience with the city's neighborhood council system, but he's so immersed in the minutiae of city government that it's hard to understand what his larger vision consists of. Tomas O'Grady, meanwhile, is energetic and likable, but his proposals for the budget — cutting the salaries and budgets of council members, making selective cuts elsewhere — are more symbolic than meaningful. Nevertheless, O'Grady's background in business, devotion to environmental issues and hard work as an activist in L.A. Unified schools make him the most appealing alternative to LaBonge. The Times endorses O'Grady.

Update: Today, Stephen Box tells the Weekly: I think [the endorsement] is tepid at best… They gave us both a nod, but still couldn't commit.”

He also finds a handful of discrepancies within the article, including the writer's mention of Box's detail-oriented approach as somehow a bad thing, and of him as the “Neighborhood Council guy,” when O'Grady is the one who sits on a Neighborhood Council.

And to hell with it, anyway:

“To be quite honest, the endorsements that really tickly my fancy are from … the people that vote,” says Box. “The endorsements are nice from the institutions, but the essence of a grassoots campaign is meeting with people.” (Also, to butter us up a little: “Between the two endorsements, the LA Weekly [coverage] makes me think, 'Man, we are on the right track.'” Awww.)

The only other non-incumbents the Times has endorsed for the 2011 municipal election are Rudy Martinez for District 14, who has all the wealth and PR skills of a seasoned city politician, and Rich Goodman for District 6 — the single real surprise.

(OK, there's also Mitchell Englander for District 12, but the fact that the Times even mentions him as a non-incumbent is BS. There's no incumbent in the race, and Englander is current City Councilman Greig Smith's right-hand man, with half a million dollars in the campaign bank. Enough said.)

But back to District 4: Box is a risky choice for the Daily News, and we're glad to see such an open-book fringey fellow recognized mainstream. The endorsement piece doesn't mention Times pick O'Grady, but does take a shot at LaBonge:

Though LaBonge clearly has a deep commitment and historical understanding of L.A. and CD 4, he hasn't offered any evidence during his campaign — or during his decade on the council – that he can help the city reinvent itself during this watershed moment.

By comparison, challenger Stephen Box has.

Box, a community activist with broad-based grass-roots support in the district, has fresh ideas about how to make the city work for its residents, an excitement about shaking up the status quo at City Hall and strong, though rough leadership skills — the kind of which are in serious shortage around the horseshoe in council chambers.

We're not trying to kid ourselves. The totally gerrymandered District 4 — which twists from the La Brea tarpits to the Hollywood Hills and up into the Valley — will probably be stuck with LaBonge for another few years. But these two renegades have managed to stick their necks out from obscurity and see their names in print — and that's a lot more than we're used to getting from L.A. City Hall's status-quo re-election machine.

Now, decide for yourself. HNN-TV interviews the challengers:


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