MAILANDER ON LA - In the aftermath of a high stakes election, there is an onset of a period of election fatigue. This much is quite well-known.
But is there also, at least among elected officials here in the City of Los Angeles, a fatigue for democracy itself?
Consider the following post-election anti-democracy antics of the past week from the leaders of the once-robust bastion of democracy that was LA.
The morning after the big election, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa caused many local political analysts to shake their lattes in disbelief when his cronies asserted that his own beloved Measure J, a punishing tax hike hopeful of handing the MTA an amount of money so vast that it was more typical to Federal programs than local largesse, was not entirely defeated in the popular vote.
Despite the pronounced verdict the voters rendered Tuesday, defeating a Countywide transit tax measure for the first time in over three decades, Matt Szabo, director of the Measure’s campaign and a top Villaraigosa confidante, hinted Wednesday morning to media that the Measure might yet pass on the strength of favor with provisional ballots.
Why those who were obliged to fill out provisional ballots would favor a big transit tax in vastly different numbers than the rest of us who voted was anybody's guess. Indeed, it was only after several outraged objections by the tiny No on J team to media and the County Clerk’s office that the Mayor finally admitted to USC's Neon Tommy that, while he remained “hopeful,” he was also “realistic.”
The whole unfortunate episode called to mind other incidental Villaraigosa transgressions over the past few years that have flaunted an apparent disdain for the voice of the people. A chilling reversal of a voice vote at the Democratic National Convention on a key platform flank, in which the Mayor ruled in favor of the side with the weaker voice, was the most recent instance. But it also reminded local observers that Villaraigosa failed to debate any candidates in his own previous re-election.
“Like me, my staff is daring and unconventional,” the Mayor spun in the prospect of owning defeat while collecting himself for a new battle, and perchance even remaining hopeful to find a way to thwart the will of the people at some new point in the future.
Urges hostile to democracy similarly spilled over to the City Attorney’s office too this week, where LA’s beleaguered City Attorney Carmen Trutanich keeps accepting debate invitations that include former City Councilmember Mike Feuer and exclude the third candidate in the race, noted whistleblower litigation specialist Greg Smith.
And further, early this week, there was the sad case of several of the City’s top future Councilmember-pensioners—the Councilmembers who are alums of the City’s Police Department—not disqualifying themselves from a vote Council President Herb Wesson’s plan to raise City sales tax by a half-cent.
Former Mayor Richard Riordan believes that the sales tax proposal is a ploy to pay employee pensions, the bulk of which are paid to Police and Fire retirees. “These are pension taxes,” Riordan spokesman John Schwada told the Beverly Hills Courier earlier this week.
But Councilmember and former cop Joe Buscaino failed to abstain from voting on the plan—he voted in favor. (Councilmember Englander, a reserve officer, voted against). Buscaino has good personal economic incentive to keep pensions intact; he ran last year while underwater in his own top-of-the-market purchased home. Police pensions staying dependable, along with Buscaino’s $178,000 a year salary, will go a long way to setting things right in the Buscaino household someday.
Finally, perhaps gaining the top prize in the post-election lower-than-democracy sweeps, there was Councilmember Paul Krekorian.
Krekorian, in whom there was once so much of the City’s promise invested. As Cyril Connolly once quoted, with heavy pith and a nod to Euripides: “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first call promising.”
Krekorian’s fall from grace has been near complete already, but this week he outdid himself. The ethical problems within the once-promising Krekorian’s shortcut-favoring office now are becoming too obvious for even local print media to ignore, and Krekorian is well on his way to becoming the City’s new S.S. Trutanich.
In this week’s episode, the Daily News’s Dakota Smith caught Krekorian’s office fabricating a phony letter from a phony constituent, all in the interest of allowing Krekorian to explain his increasingly tortured position on digital billboards in the City.
Longtime Krekorian-watchers know that his rogue communications officer Jeremy Oberstein often operates in a cocoon of smug silliness, dishing out snippy messages from the Councilmember in black shirts and Serpico-styled three-day beards that make him come across more like a Godfather extra than a media relations specialist, always professing perfect innocence in all things Krekorian. Meanwhile, the Councilmember himself blithely smiles his way through meetings with anyone at all who might be able to help him bring another developer windfall to his district.
In the latest fracas, Oberstein even mustered the audacity to pride himself on his own “unprecedented” efforts in media relations—for which the Daily News also called him out, in a scathing follow-up editorial that hammered Oberstein and his Boss K too.
But Krekorian’s contortions are nothing new, even if they only now are garnering broader media traction. My own readers may well remember that many thought his own former Chief of Staff, Adrin Nazarian, stayed on far too long for ethical comfort, inviting plenty of opportunity for influence peddling from key City lobbyists, before leaving his prime slot to focus on his now-successful Assembly run. They also remember that Krekorian’s name came up at the Democratic leaning nationwide site DailyKos more than any other name in the on-going Kinde Durkee scandal—a State-wide scandal hatched from Durkee’s offices in Burbank, that as it happens was quite proximate to Krekorian’s own home base.
In days that were not very long ago, the City of Los Angeles was politically sturdy enough to withstand the hard battles of a healthy democratic process, and had a media interested in pursuing all angles to civic debate. A scant decade ago, in fact, democracy was vibrant enough in LA that the City could even vote on whether or not it should split, amoeba-like, from itself, and spawn a new burg in the San Fernando Valley. But the actions of the recent ensemble of electeds have succeeded only in inviting more cynicism and inspiring ever thinner ranks of citizens.
With another civic election due in March, and all the old and older media people who stood as watchdogs to democracy now either consigned to smallish blogs or repping less than ethical office-holders themselves, the concept of the City of Los Angeles as a beacon of healthy civic democracy is becoming a nostalgic one.
(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.) Photo credit: Dan Krauss