Racist Comments: Perry Says Wesson is Right--Say What?

MAILANDER’S POLITICS - There's a saying in chess that the winner of any chess game is the person who makes the next-to-last mistake.

Still, I wonder how many more mistakes Jan Perry can make in her run for Mayor before she has to punch the ticking-away clock for the final time.

The latest campaign blunder came in her email blast to media and campaign supporters Thursday, regarding Council President Herb Wesson's candid admissions about race and redistricting.  

If you haven't read Wesson's comments--which shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone at all except those recently revived from civic comas--Wesson admitted to a Los Angeles Baptist ministers organization that "the council is divided into four factions: white, black, Latinos and those who represent the San Fernando Valley," according to the Times.

And how did Jan Perry respond to this?

"Herb Wesson is right!" the subject line of the Perry email blast proclaimed.

I can imagine at least three-quarters of the recipients taking a gander in their mailbox and thinking, "Oh, good--Perry is patching things up with Wesson at last" just before hitting the delete button.  And those would be the more alert readers.  Emailers: please make your subject lines count as much as your message.

Sarcasm and irony are famously difficult to detect in this online medium.  But Perry's email blast further noted that both Perry and Wesson think that "there are different factions facing each other at City Hall."  Naturally, Perry thought that Wesson was in the bad faction while Perry was in the good one.

The problem according to Perry is, "Wesson and his friends on the Council have done an amazing job protecting the powerful and fighting for their own interests, while systematically betraying the residents of Los Angeles along the way."

Maybe they have, Maria Elena Durazo being one of the powerful.  But if it sounds like Perry is trying suddenly to distinguish herself by sounding like the kind of vast conspiracy theorist you might find on your Neighborhood Council land use committee--or even by sounding like Kevin James--there's good reason for that.  

Jan Perry is losing both money--to Zev Yaroslavsky's dalliance, which keeps both downtown and Westside money out of the race that might otherwise come to her--and she's losing time, as media increasingly identify mayoral contenders Eric Garcetti, Wendy Greuel and Perry collectively as City Hall insiders--i.e., one of those very people who do such an amazing job protecting the powerful.

"Oh, no, they're organizing districts by--race!" Koreatown leaders similarly screamed at the Redistricting Commission, coveting being organized by race themselves.

Similarly, white people in Sunland-Tujunga, desirous of remaining in a Council district with white people, screamed the same thing as the redistricting wars waged on.  A photo of six of the pastiest belligerents, flipping off a camera, labelled "A Message from the Women of Sunland-Tujunga to the Redistricting Commission" caused some smirks between Main and Spring even after it was taken off the website that celebrated it.  

Ironically, many of those same people are now finding their new and highly experienced Latino Councilmember, Richard Alarcon, a master of retail politics, far more effective and more interested in their community than blue-eyed Paul Krekorian was, who only ultimately succeeded in dumping a hundred low-income housing units and a couple of strip malls on the beleaguered community during his brief reign there.

But the fact is that Redistricting Commissions--as Wesson candidly implied--never had a chance of being anything but a Balkan-level cauldron of ethnic strife, precisely because it is appointed by all of LA's elected civic leaders--including its Mayor, City Attorney, Controller, and Council members.

The Redistricting Commission, as Wesson suggested, never had a chance of being anything but a race game with the Mayor appointing a man to head the Commission, Arturo Vargas, who has made a career of drawing "safe" Voting Rights Acts districts for Latino districts around the country.  

It never had a chance of being anything less than an exercise in ethnic strife with Wendy Greuel appointing the notoriously insistent Helen Kim, who was on the Commission to represent Korean-American interests, and represented them so insistently that she was soon tuned out by other commissioners.  

It never had a chance of being anything other than a hotbed of identity politics with Richard Alarcon appointing political consultant and ruthless Latino demographer Michael Trujillo, whom some began to think of as the Mayor's personal order-taker on the Commission.  Etc.

The wars between Perry and Wesson go way back.  What Wesson had done was broker a deal to enable a Latino Council seat, the 14th, to take over the core of what once was Perry's downtown.  

He knows there's little danger of streets west of Broadway becoming dominated by the sounds of norteño and cheap shoe stores in the immediate future, as Councilmember Jose Huizar, who has had almost zero success as a large-scale renovator, continues his Ahab-like crusade for a trolley downtown, any trolley, connecting any two points, to be mostly paid for by anyone who wants to live near such a thing.  And after Huizar leaves office, it will soon be time to draw the lines again.

But while Wesson's candid admissions should have surprised nobody, Perry took them to make the sanctimonious claim that unlike Wesson, she "fights for the average citizen whose voice is routinely shut out of our political process."  

I suppose a case could be made that the average citizen wanted Phil Anschutz to carve up downtown LA over the past decade in a way the Redistricting Commission could only be envious of.  

But when you've seen Jan Perry work a downtown backroom, ice one developer in favor of another, arrive late and depart early to a scheduled event with thousands of people (as she did to FIDM's graduation at Staples two years ago), and swap horses with Eric Garcetti at just about every opportunity to do so, you have to at least wonder what her concept of an "average citizen" is.

Note: Video of Wesson comments here.

(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.)

Vol 10 Issue 64
Pub: Aug 10, 2012