Monday, December 06, 2004

Los Angeles Mayoral Debate Round-Up

In effort to be more locally oriented, Leftside will be focusing on the upcoming Los Angeles Mayoral election. As Leftside works in LA City Hall, hopefully we can bring some insight.

First off, watching the debates last week was a difficult chore. I didn't think this would be the case, but this debate was downright wonkish, boring and unpolished compared to the slicker high-stakes Presidential debates. Even as someone in City Hall, I found it hard to follow the insider jabs at each other.

In terms of focus, it appears the press and majority of candidates, are content to have the contest be about two non-issues in my opinion - corruption and the police. This is a shame as they crowd out time and space for critical locally-decided issues such as affordable housing, transportation and planning for growth. Instead we got half the debate wasted on these two issues, along with 20 references to "scandal" and "special interests" This is not the same as proof. Everyone should be more concerned with the passing the pretty bold solution the Mayor has proposed, that is banning contractors and developers from buying influence at City Hall by funding campaigns. (Alacron seemed to come over to this idea already). On police, Hahn seems intent on repeating declining crime stats, his push for more officers on the streets and reminding voters of his popular (white) Chief (thereby reminding them of times when white officers were babbling to the press about not being happy under (black) Chief Parks - now also a Mayoral candidate.

Bernard Parks appears to be running as the anti-political candidate... there always has to be one I guess. I never get this... imagine going to a job interview to be a CEO in the private sector saying you hate capitalism and stress your lack of immediate experience. Nevertheless, Parks looked meek and sounded uninspired, even as he argued with the Mayor on crime statistics.

The stealth-like Mayor, in the first real extended glimpse I have ever gotten of him, seemed as I though - aloof and somewhat cocky though in a boring way. After not even wanting to be at the debate, he was really not there in other much than body. His "everything is cool, don't worry about it" attitude may turn off his Valley and middle-class supporters.

Bob Hertzberg on the other hand, is running an inspired and well-organized campaign thus far - big on blogs and ideas for change. He probably came off best for most people in the debate - he challenged the Mayor and seemed to mean it. It is just that I think his ideas are pretty clearly a disguised right-wing, growth machine, Valley-oriented agenda. While everyone else was bemoaning the bad development LA gets stuck with, he said we have too many regulations already on development. He wants to split up the already fractured LAUSD system even more - and give the nascent Neighborhood Councils a significant role in making local planning and zoning land-use decisions. While I am all for more participatory democracy (I wrote my thesis on it), I am afraid that the City has not made the commitment yet to truly build the Councils strength and competence - let alone deal with the rampant NIMBY (city needs be damned) attitudes one often hears come out of them.

Richard Alacron perhaps suprised me the most, not knowing much about him until last week. He spoke in the clearest terms about working class struggles and seemed sincere in his desire to address them. But I did not hear enough in terms of policy proposals to really feel like he's serious about a vision to make it happen.

Antonio Villagriosa, my favorite candidate, on account of long-distance newspaper articles from the last election (i know i'm eweird for reading about other city's elections but...) was about what I thought he woul be - mild mannered and not too controversial. He has already scared the rich people of Los Angeles and desperately needs the business community's support to stay on top the list of contenders. With this, he has already appeared to back off from his support of the critical affordable housing proposal called "inclusionary zoning." We'll be watching Antonio closely.


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