MAILANDER’S LA -"Schizo!!!" one woman exclaimed, careful to pound out all three exclamation points. "I, you know, a City employee, am quite angry. And I've been pushing back at my union," another woman said. "If I was a public employee working in Los Angeles right now, there wouldn't be a desk hard enough to withstand my constant head-banging," a third woman wrote on the same social media thread. And that was all in the first hour of the announcement.
What happened to make all these women so mad at Wendy Greuel?
The perpetually meddling former Republican Mayor of Los Angeles, Dick Riordan had just endorsed her.
And not only that, but Greuel went so far as to say that pension-busting Riordan would become her first hire as Mayor.
"Just think: every door LA labor knocks for Wendy Greuel is an effort to put Dick Riordan back in the mayor's office," is the way DailyKos contributor Dante Atkins put it on Twitter.
Indeed, even for a politician, Greuel's unusual enthusiasm for Republican Riordan was a shocking turnaround. After all, the City's brassiest big boy's unions, the male-dominated and DWP-driven IBEW, the mainly manly Los Angeles Police Protection League, the dock-driving Teamsters, and the local Firefighter's Union had all made Wendy their woman, and rank and file in these unions and others expected much of her in return.
But on top of it all, the enlistment of Riordan for all things Greuel came not even 24 hours after she had compared candidate Councilman Eric Garcetti--a lifelong, remorseless Democrat and union backer himself--to notorious GOP union-buster Scott Walker. In this context, the move to make Riordan her first hire simply made no sense whatsoever.
Garcetti has had his own special set of incongruities: for instance, after securing the endorsement of United Teachers Los Angeles, a union that's far more female-enrolled than the top ones commanding Greuel's campaign, he announced tepid support of the nascent, union-contrary Parent Trigger Law, a law pushed especially hard by Riordan's old Deputy Mayor, Ben Austin, who helped craft Riordan's educational policies.
But that modest announcement, affecting a small handful of schools, was nothing like the total about-face of Greuel's, cozying up to the most notorious union basher in the whole State of California.
While some others noted uneasily that Greuel was being bought and paid for by all the City's most ruthless men--union bosses and studio executives--at least all those big boy's unions backing her could give her a pro-union seal of approval while she continued to sell herself as a woman making history.
But expressing so much faith in Riordan dashed a lot of hopes for that particular kind of history to be made.
I marvel that anyone in politics takes the 82-year-old Richard Riordan seriously anymore. This is his third attempt to back a Mayoral candidate--hardly a ringing endorsement for Greuel, as he backed two unsuccessful bids before at last turning to her, and she to him.
It was bad enough that in 2010 he hurt the city profoundly by publishing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that predicted a bankruptcy for the City that has never arrived. You couldn't contrive a more damaging financial slander than that one: an ex-Mayor voting no confidence in the country's top financial journal. But I've felt uneasy about him way before that: I've felt bad for him ever since he teased six-year-old Iris a "stupid dirty girl" in a horrified classroom in 2002. It's been obvious to me since then that the man should be nowhere near current political discourse.
Of course, his driving the O'Malleys out of baseball by blocking their ability to tailor Dodger Stadium to football, one of his final bizarre acts as Mayor--well, we're still as a city trying to recover from that. In both sports.
But it's Greuel who is running for Mayor, and who has always been running, and who may well always be running. These kinds of unusual turnarounds of late have made her a complete cipher, someone who stands for anything at all and nothing at all, a political unknown even after a dozen years in elected office.
To longtime City Hall watchers, the turnarounds are not shocking. Back in the middle of the zeroes, media used to marvel at the way she would talk about her Council District the moment she drove outside of it.
One such reversal came just last week, when her Controller's Office issued a much neglected audit of the Los Angeles Housing Department.
To give you just a glimmer of Controller Wendy Greuel's double-vision for healing homelessness in the City of Los Angeles, first read one ironic line from the Controller's report on affordable housing from last week. In the cover to the report, Greuel insists that "the City’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which uses federal grants to buy foreclosed homes and turn them into affordable housing across the city, likely overpaid for many of the properties."
That's something Wendy Greuel as Controller said. But as candidate, Wendy Greuel spent last Xmas with LA Family Housing, one of the city's tippity-top dollar boutique homeless facilities, one of the orgs most likely to overpay and be overpaid, even availing photo opportunities with the org.
Indeed, the Xmas Day photo-op was more consistent with Greuel's real vision for housing the homeless: building costly homeless housing from the ground up, as far away from downtown as possible, rather than cleaning up Skid Row and repurposing more scattered existing buildings as Section 8 housing. The vision boils down to servicing the few rather than the many, and keeping servicing the homeless a thriving LA business, guaranteeing that there will be an abundant supply of them to serve throughout the next decade.
This is a kind of housing policy to which I've been stridently opposed throughout LA's past decade of decline, in which we've managed such little progress on housing the homeless that, despite earmarking hundreds of millions in resources throughout that time, we even now have our own tuberculosis strain among the homeless downtown.
The humble nuns at Catholic Charities (from whom I learned much about the dispossessed, when I worked for them in 1987) and the tireless admins at Jewish Family Services do this kind of work highly efficiently, and for mere dozens of dollars a week, without building new units from the ground up. But the people who run the boutique homeless programs command grand salaries. Career politicians like Greuel, Paul Krekorian, and Richard Alarcon especially love to connect with them, because they put them in touch with networks that can serve later as potential donor pools and even as campaign operatives.
Far from drawing the kind of salary of a humble nun or family service worker, the director of LA Family Housing commands a salary at $194,000 as public record last evidenced. That salary even rivals Greuel's at $196,000. The director bills herself as the "CEO" of the organization.
LA Family Housing has broken ground on one facility in Greuel's old district, in the community of Sunland-Tujunga recently--a costly one, and with the special help of Greuel's old planning director, Dale Thrush, now on LA Family Housing's board.
The Sunland-Tujunga project pencils out to around $326,000 a unit, a cost that eclipses the appraised value of the homes of some of those on the community's Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council--which still has many friends of Wendy on its boards, and which supported the project without asking a single financial question about it.
LA Family Housing also said last week, even as Greuel's affordable housing audit was released, that it wants to acquire and develop yet another property in that community. That kind of development--costly and ground up--fits Greuel's vision for housing some of the homeless, even as she criticizes this very kind of housing in her own Controller's report.
The community of Sunland-Tujunga, with its continuing promotion of homeless services in media, is becoming LA's "dumping ground," a resident there recently told me. It continues to build out affordable housing units, rather than the far less costly and less intrusive practice of repurposing scattered existing housing as Section 8.
It will soon have its fourth Council rep in six years, thanks in part to the ambitions of Greuel, who fled the district at the first opportunity, when her present, citywide Controller's spot opened a scant four years ago.
So who is Greuel betraying in 2013? Riordan, or the unions? Those who want real housing reform, or those who reap the benefits of the status quo?
On May 21, even her most dedicated if polarized backers will be obliged to take a wild guess.
(Joseph Mailander is a writer, an LA observer and a contributor to CityWatch. He is also the author of Days Change at Night: LA's Decade of Decline, 2003-2013. Mailander blogs at www.josephmailander.com.)
Vol 11 Issue 24
Pub: Mar 22, 2013