Our Next Mayor Should Belong to Us, Not to Political Consultants

MAILANDER MUSINGS - I've been trying to interview Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for over six years.  In that time, I've interviewed and profiled three U.S. Senators and half of LA's City Council, along with hundreds of others, from Zev Yaroslavsky to Maestro James Conlon.  But the Mayor of the city I've spent my whole fifty-five years of life in remains elusive to me.

Villaraigosa has not been so elusive of late to national media, as this piece by Adam Nagourney in the New York Times recently demonstrated.  Nagourney was dutifully pointed to the same set of Mayor's de facto publicists--Peter Dreier chief among them--and really missed major points about the Villaraigosa mayoralty.  The Nagourney piece was more advertorial than news analysis, taking the tone of a piece of a man beset by pesky problems (like the failure of his marriage, and the failure of LA schools) but who also is now busy "reinventing" himself.

I don't worry so much about Villaraigosa riding a new publicity machine anymore--anyone who hooks up with him will find out how he works soon enough, as LA did even by late 2005.  But what I worry about now is that the dismissive Villaraigosa arrogance, even contempt, for ordinary local citizens is spreading to the people who may succeed him.  

I keep seeing evidence that especially the three people in City government--Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel, and Jan Perry--are working hard to emulate the Mayor in shrouding themselves from informed local voices as much as possible.

The other day, in fact, I tried to attend what I thought was a harmless Eric Garcetti meet-and-greet in my neighborhood.  I was asked to RSVP, and I did--but as soon as I did, I was told they didn't have space for me.  We argued about this at length--still, no space or offer was made.

The consultant for Wendy Greuel, John Shallman, also is known for exhibiting contempt for all but a dependable handful of local media.  And Perry's consultant, Eric Hacopian, used to be far more generous regarding access than he is presently.

It should be said that the two Mayoral candidates who have worked to-date mostly outside of City government--Austin Beutner and Kevin James--are very generous with access, despite the fact that they have political consultants who play hardball just as hard as the ones who rep Garcetti, Greuel and Perry do.  Beutner has a tough political consultant or two as well, one who doesn't talk to media at all--but Beutner himself is too headstrong to be told to limit himself.  And John Thomas, James's consultant, often shows up with James for interviews, even as they tell me they talk to each other "about twenty times a day."

Of course, the three people deeply entrenched in City government, Garcetti, Greuel, and Perry, have honed the political acumen of a consultant--to some degree, they are their own consultants, with their own ideas of how things should work.  But their ideas of how things should work are vastly different from the way things worked in bygone days.

In fact, in bygone days, Mayor Thomas Bradley used to keep his door open on most Friday afternoons.  Anyone working for the City and many times ordinary citizens could wait their turn and see the Mayor for ten or fifteen minutes about something.  Reporters were welcome too.  So were other kinds of writers and activists.

But with the set of political consultants we have ruling LA's roost since Riordan, our Mayors have not been nearly as accessible to ordinary people.  That has obviously worked to LA's detriment over the past decade and a half.  It's a trend that I'm hoping Beutner and James help buck.

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of The Plasma of Terror. Mailander blogs at street-hassle.blogspot.com where this article first appeared.)