Note: This is a partial list. We are continuing to interview candidates; more endorsements will appear next week and at laweekly.com.
L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF: LEROY BACA
The past four years have not been kind to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who oversees police patrols in 41 cities, scores of unincorporated areas and the buses and trains operated by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Reeling from the financial fallout caused by the September 11 terrorist attacks, the county Board of Supervisors cut $168 million from Baca’s budget, a move that provoked a terrible chain of events: the closing of jail facilities, reducing the number of deputies and embracing “early release” — a policy allowing inmates convicted of misdemeanor crimes to serve only a tiny fraction of their sentences.
In so many ways, we wish Baca had risen to the challenges of this turbulent period.
After his election in 1998, Baca showed a firm commitment to change the culture of the department, by making it more inclusive and imposing discipline on misbehaving deputies. Unlike so many in law enforcement, Baca talked candidly about the societal ills that complicate police work, from a dearth of shelter beds for the homeless to a lack of services for the mentally ill. Even in his campaign for a third term, Baca billed himself as a bridge between low-income neighborhoods hard hit by crime and affluent communities reluctant to fund public safety fully.
The past four years call into question Baca’s ability to serve as that bridge. He pushed for passage of a $500 million sales-tax hike in 2004 to reverse the cuts in his budget, only to turn off voters with a ridiculous campaign commercial showing a terrified white woman fending off a home-invasion burglar. Jail overcrowding and ghastly inmate deaths — caused by a mix of inadequate funds and poor oversight — turned the county into a fat target for law enforcement watchdogs, civil-rights advocates and an impatient federal judge.
And then there are the corrosive effects of early release on low-income communities. With so many low-level offenders being released soon after they arrive in jail, communities are getting the hint: Why take a risk? Why engage law enforcement in any way, when the criminals will be right back out on the street? Why let police know about a crime at all? Baca himself acknowledged that the effect on low-income communities has been horrendous.
This is the unhappy backdrop for the June 6 race for Los Angeles County sheriff — a five-way contest that has not exactly dazzled the voters. Sheriff’s Sergeant Paul Jernigan has not shown the depth needed to lead such a sprawling department, while retired Sheriff’s Captain Ken Masse lacks the temperament to run a system that serves so many different communities. Sheriff’s Captain Ray Leyva, a 24-year department veteran, shows promise and a keen understanding of the staffing shortages that plagued the system. Yet his own history with the jail system leaves us somewhat wary. The other strong challenger is retired police Lieutenant Don Meredith, who showed his own willingness at the Glendale Police Department to investigate misbehaving officers. Meredith has drawn praise within Glendale for his commitment to addressing gang violence. But Glendale is a small pond compared to the county system.
Furthermore, Baca has made some progress. We know that the department is becoming more responsive to community needs, as shown by Baca’s extraordinary apology to Compton residents after his deputies fired into the homes of innocent families. We saw it again in Compton when he ramped up patrols in an effort to curb a high homicide rate. Now that the supervisors have reversed their budget cuts over the past two years, we see even more reason for hope that Baca can add 1,000 deputies to his department.
So Baca should get a third term, so long as he takes along this to-do list: show the management savvy needed to run the department; forgo the Homeland Security junkets to Pakistan, Jordan and other far-flung locales when the jail system is so overcrowded, underfunded and occasionally lethal; find a more compelling way to convince the voters — and the county supervisors — of the need for the proper level of financial support. And, most important, find a way to become a true bridge between the county’s more affluent communities and the low-income ones — by running a public-safety agency that everyone deserves.
COUNTY SUPERVISOR: GLORIA MOLINA, FIRST DISTRICT; ZEV YAROSLAVSKY, THIRD DISTRICT
We know Angelenos hate politics. And we certainly get that it’s almost impossible to unseat an incumbent supervisor in Los Angeles County. Yet we sometimes daydream about a real opponent somehow scraping together the money and campaign prowess to force a real discussion of the county’s priorities — from foster care to health care, from transit to trauma centers. Just think of Supervisor Gloria Molina, a blunt representative of communities stretching from East Los Angeles to Pomona, squaring off against state Senator Gloria Romero — no shrinking violet herself. Or County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky fielding a challenge from state Senator Debra Bowen, another savvy Westside pol with her own policy prowess and a gift for public gab.
But this is the real world. And in the real world, we have Molina and Yaroslavsky, two intelligent yet frustrating policymakers. Both showed courage in difficult financial times, staring down angry employee unions as they made unpleasant budget decisions, especially those involving the health system. Both helped win passage of Measure B, which delivered $170 million per year to the county’s troubled trauma centers. Yet both need to wage an equally effective pitch in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., by demonstrating that Los Angeles County and the nation needs a concentrated response to the crisis of the uninsured.
Neither incumbent faces opponents even remotely up to the job. So we offer a few helpful suggestions for the next four years. Yaroslavsky, who delights in the rising ridership numbers on the east-west Orange Line busway in the San Fernando Valley, should work doubly hard to bring a subway deeper into the traffic-choked Westside. Molina, who is bringing light rail to the Eastside, must now think about the Westside, too. That means parting with her anger over the fact that the Gold Line East will remain largely aboveground — a situation that sucks but is now unavoidable. Molina and Yaroslavsky should finish the job of rescuing Martin Luther King/Drew Medical Center, by doing it so successfully that the facility once again houses a trauma center. Both should work to fill the county’s reserve fund, to shield the county from the next, inevitable economic downturn.
Yaroslavsky said on the campaign trail that he excels at turning around struggling bureaucracies, and he is right. Molina and Yaroslavsky have provided steady leadership. Yet having seen the disasters that have enveloped King/Drew, the county jail system, the Department of Children and Family Services and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority over the past decade, it would be nice if, during the next four years, they took steps to ensure that there are no more agencies in need of such dramatic rescues.
41ST ASSEMBLY: JONATHAN LEVEY
Few sections of California are as ecocentric as the 41st Assembly District, a stretch of Southern California that takes in Santa Monica, Malibu, Calabasas, Agoura Hills and other suburbs on each side of the L.A.-Ventura County border — not to mention the Santa Monica Mountains and a good stretch of coastline. Five candidates — four of them waging persuasive campaigns — have stepped forward to fill the seat being vacated by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, an outspoken leader in Sacramento on environmental issues. Pavley and another force in the district, state Senator Sheila Kuehl, have thrown their considerable support behind Julia Brownley, an extremely likable school board member for Santa Monica and Malibu who has promised to make public schools her No. 1 issue. Yet despite her promise to direct more funds into the classroom, Brownley showed a surprisingly limited understanding of education funding issues, particularly the strategies needed to increase per-pupil spending. Attorney Barry Groveman and activist Kelly Hayes-Raitt show an impassioned interest in the environment, yet neither seems entirely suited to the work of getting difficult bills through the state Legislature. Our choice is a relative outsider to the world of politics — college teacher Jonathan Levey, an attorney who shows an understanding of state government and an ability to communicate his progressive ideals to moderate legislators and a doubting business community. We like that Levey speaks with specificity on complex topics, and with candor on the challenges facing the Democratic Party agenda, such as comprehensive health care. We also like that Levey tried to engage voters with a 162-page policy booklet, even one that went a little heavy on the platitudes.
42ND ASSEMBLY: MIKE FEUER
We’ve never been happy with term limits. Since 1996, state lawmakers repeatedly have been shown the door just as they learned to navigate the corridors of the Capitol and advance meaningful legislation. The race for the 42nd — which includes West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Sherman Oaks and other well-heeled communities — leaves voters with yet another reason to hate term limits: a nail-biter between two extremely qualified, well-matched potential replacements for departing Assemblyman Paul Koretz. Former Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer and West Hollywood City Councilwoman Abbe Land easily outshine the other Democrats in this race, offering strong track records on health care, gay rights and the environment. Feuer showed a strong interest in ethics reform during his time at City Hall and would likely place a strong emphasis on clean-air issues. Land, on the other hand, has promised to parlay her work at the Los Angeles Free Clinic into a one-woman campaign for universal health care. While both are strong liberal Democrats, we give a slight edge to Feuer, a thoughtful community advocate who recently gained a strong understanding of the inequities within the state’s education system by helping to negotiate a settlement to a lawsuit over access to education resources. But Feuer must learn to curb his penchant for self-righteous finger-pointing. For someone who calls for restraint on campaign fund raising, he took an awful lot of money during his failed 2001 bid for city attorney from lawyers — whose firms were on the prowl for city contracts. We look forward to a Mike Feuer who persuades, not alienates.
ATTORNEY GENERAL: JERRY BROWN
In the churning political waters created by term limits, Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown stands as the oddest of political symbols: a safe harbor for California voters. Yet with dozens of would-be lawmakers scurrying across California seeking office — many without the slightest clue on how to fund education, expand health care or lure good-paying jobs — it’s oddly reassuring to encounter Jerry Brown, candidate for attorney general, a 68-year-old veteran policymaker with a full menu of life experiences. Who’d have thought 30 years ago that we’d be debating the merits of Jerry Brown, elder statesman?
Brown comes to the job with an impressive résumé: mayor, secretary of state, governor, presidential hopeful — perhaps the broadest background in politics and policy of any candidate in the state. He speaks with ease about the work of the Attorney General’s Office — the legal advice, the opinions, the advocacy — and, even better, has an enjoyable sense of perspective about the absurdities of politics. Unlike other candidates seeking the job, Brown wouldn’t be tempted to weigh his every move as attorney general on whether it could provide a springboard into the Governor’s Office. Let’s remember, he already was the governor.
Throughout his campaign, Brown has promised to elevate the profile of the Attorney General’s Office, making it comparable to New York’s, where Attorney General Eliot Spitzer remade his office into a political powerhouse. Spitzer showed a ferocity in his attacks on corruption and questionable business practices in the private sector, taking on securities firms, banks, and other financial giants — a strategy that secured billion-dollar settlements and protected the interests of investors and the general populace. Brown is setting a very high bar, and we intend to hold him to it.
With the Spitzer model in mind, Brown would not say exactly where he would place his focus. But he points out that there are more than a few workers being cheated out of overtime pay, minimum wage and other legally required protections. Brown also hinted that there are some major inequities in California’s education system that may deserve a look.
Which is not to say that everything that Brown touches turns to gold. Brown learned some hard lessons in Oakland about policing, economic development, ethics laws and public education. We’re anxious about the city’s recent spike in crime. And we have strong doubts about his promise to use his contacts to improve what he described as the “highly poisoned partisan environment” of Sacramento. To be honest, we’re not sure the Democratic Party wants to be anywhere near him. Wasn’t he the guy who couldn’t get the party to keep the volume on when he reached the stage at the 1992 Democratic National Convention? Considering the state of the Democrats, all of this is fine with us. We welcome his independent voice.
Brown easily outshines his opponent, Los Angeles City Attorney Rockard Delgadillo. Despite small-scale achievements involving neighborhood prosecutors and student truancy, Delgadillo simply has not demonstrated bold leadership. A bland political presence, Delgadillo has mastered generating bad press over his dealings with slumlords, billboard companies and contracting.
So vote for Jerry Brown, the guy who’s been around the block. Vote for political experience and real-world experience, and a candidate who’s promising to push the political envelope.