With Nobody at the Front Door, Zev Slips Out the Back

MAILANDER TALKS POLITICS-The long-time LA political mandarin was determined to make up his mind by Labor Day--and he did.

Early in the morning of Thursday, August 23, 2012, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky declared to the city and the world that he will not be running for Mayor of Los Angeles in 2013, and will be retiring from elected office when his present Supervisor term ends in 2014.

That will culminate 39 years as an elected official.  And Zev says he will be bowing out to what he calls "a new generation" of political leaders in city and county.

"Simply put, it’s time for a new generation of leaders to emerge and guide this region into the future," the 63-year-old fixture told us in his statement.

But locating that new generation is proving thorny.  Who comprises the new generation that Zev hopes to pass the torch to?

Eric Garcetti, son of a District Attorney, has now been an elected official himself for over a decade.  So has Jan Perry.  And Wendy Greuel crossed the decade-of-service mark this past July 1.

Can Zev possibly be referring to the alt-mayor candidate Kevin James? Or even--Carmen Trutanich? Or does he know something about Rick Caruso that we don't?

"Nobody specific" is in Zev's mind, Yaroslavsky's media deputy Joel Bellman told me shortly after the announcement.

It takes an awful lot to become Mayor of Los Angeles these days.  The city is over ten times the size of long-standing American urbs like Pittsburgh and St. Louis.  It is over six times the size of the vibrant hubs of Seattle and Boston.  

The city has the largest urban Mexican population outside of Mexico; it has the largest Korean population outside of Korea; it has a Little Tokyo, a Little Ethiopia, a Little Bangladesh, a Little Armenia, a Little Moscow, a Historic Filipinotown, a Thai Town, a Tehrangeles, a Tinseltown, and a Chinatown.  

A political consultant once told me that it's now harder to elect a Mayor here than it is to elect a President.

Along the way, it also may have become a perfectly unmanageable city.  There's no CRA left to rehab neighborhoods, and the City is quietly issuing hopeful bonds to back redevelopment rentals and affordable housing projects, including for a massive twenty-story tower of rentals on Grand.  

Public safety pensions are breaking the budget but there are policemen galore on City Council, and more talking of running for office.  

The city's streets are a dangerous joke--as Zev himself says, cross out of the city and into LA County and suddenly the roads are smooth.  

The city's newly installed DWP rate payer "advocate" just advocated for a hefty 11% rate hike that is certain to aggravate the rate payers he allegedly represents.  

New not-for-profit lobbies, backed, set up, and even funded by office-holders, are gaming grassroots community and local civic organizations into irrelevance: one noted city scribe is even now blogging for an organization the Mayor set up, a hired gun continuing to pose as an unaffiliated scribe.

This state of brokenness may even be unmanageable for its former Budget and Finance Committee chairman, Zev Yaroslavsky.

The disturbing depth of LA’s brokenness is likely chief among the real reasons why Zev--who loves a smooth-running machine best of all, and famously bristles when things don't work--joins an equally adroit budget guy, Austin Beutner, in throwing in the towel, while billionaire number-cruncher Caruso gives no indication of wishing to enter either.  And it's getting late even for a billionaire.

Politically, Zev's announcement helps Greuel and especially Jan Perry, who is the logical top heir to the remnants of the old Bradley coalition of South LA African Americans and Westside Jews.  

But neither of those coalitions has the clout it did in the Bradley era, as identity politics are far less of a factor now than then, and Perry needs a big boost rather than a little one to compete in a derby where the gate positions are now set.

The truth about LA's new mayoralty is, nobody knows what a new winning coalition in 2013 will look like anyway.

That's especially true in an open seat election, UCLA Professor of Political Science Kathleen Bawn, who teaches a class on Game Theory and politics, said to me last summer.  "The game is always changing," Bawn told me over coffee, "and you really see how much it changes in races where there's no incumbent."  The things that were true even in the last instance of an open seat mayoral election (2001) will not be true in the present one.

The City's cowed media have not rummaged around too aggressively into any of the contenders' closets--they have given the present Mayor a pass on the fact that he's lived with three different women in his Mayoralty, for instance, and they politely reported the break-up of his marriage six months after the fact, well after everyone had their stories buttoned down.  

And the local’s willingness to report on any chicanery inherent to the Mayor's relationship to Richard Meruelo has all but evaporated since the bankruptcy.

This local lethargy demonstrates that, especially given the fact that Zev is esteemed in local media circles far more than the Mayor is, it's doubtful that the Supervisor feared personal embarrassments or untidy connections of any stripe in bowing out of the race.

But his specific reference to a "new generation" remains a peculiar one, because the city does not appear to posses such a generation on the horizon at the Mayoral level.  I view the statement as more of a wish--perhaps a hope, even a hope against hope--than anything else.

(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of New World Triptych and The Plasma of Terror. Mailander blogs at www.josephmailander.com.)


Vol 10 Issue 68
Pub: Aug 24, 2012