Trutanich vs. The Field Becomes LA vs. The Governor

MAILANDER MUSINGS - A local political sage once said that the second time Jerry Brown was running for Governor, he had become so mercurial that it wouldn't surprise the said sage if Brown showed up at a Tea Party rally.

Now that the mercurial Governor has endorsed Carmen Trutanich for District Attorney, the Governor might as well have indeed sipped the Lipton.  And Trutanich, a former Republican who lost his political trappings when running for LA's City Attorney position, has proven to be every bit as politically mercurial as Brown has ever been.

In fact, Trutanich, hoping to garner a few more votes, wowed a bona fide Tea Party crowd in Hancock Park early this year, masquerading as a Republican masquerading as a Democrat.  Or was he masquerading as anything at all?

Nudge nudge wink wink.  Throughout his short—and most would say “troubled”-- time in elected office as LA's City Attorney, Trutanich has kept nodding and winking to voters on both sides of the fence, assuring all that he's really one of them.  His appearances before the Studio City Neighborhood Council—to which he rarely shows without YouTube cameraman in tow—have been solidly white Republican, law and order pep talks.  His abysmal track-record of trampling civil liberties as City Attorney--once leading Steve Lopez to refer to him as "LA's Mubarek"--has similarly kept LA's largely Democratic City Council wary of the political ambitions of their own purported legal top dog.

But the way he's recently snuggled up to a neo-tax-and-spend Democrat like Brown and a ferocious Labor advocate like Congressman Brad Sherman has Republicans wincing about Trutanich's next hope for office--as the County's District Attorney--as well.

"If there was a vote under that rock, Carmen Trutanich would crawl under that rock to get it," one of his two notable opponents, Deputy District Attorney (and unrepentantly Republican) Alan Jackson told me last year.

I didn't fully know what he meant until only very recently, watching Trutanich and his top political mind John Shallman work LA media in progressively alarming ways, often launching headline-grabbing lawsuits—seemingly in tandem, and with little discernable possibility of public benefit--that were doomed to failure but nonetheless keep Trutanich's name in the fishwraps.  I also didn’t know how far left Trutanich and Shallman would go in seeking endorsements, but soliciting favor from the likes of Brown and Sherman indicates that they will go as far as necessary.

Now that Mitt Romney is assured of winning the Republican nomination, Republican votes figure to be far less of a factor in Los Angeles County than they would have had the GOP race still been live by primary day in early June.  And political insiders are beginning to talk of the possibility--even the expectation--of a Trutanich knockout in round one, thought an impossibility as recently as two months ago, as Jackson, Steve Cooley favorite Jackie Lacey, and Danette Meyers all scramble for a slot on the November ballot.

How Governor Brown and various local beholden-to-Labor pols came around to the Trutanich endorsement remains a mystery to many.  And Brown using the word “smart” to describe the man most in City Hall think as a knuckle-dragger, whom prof and local Neighborhood Council lightening rod Raphael Sonenshein called a “bully” early on, almost defied credibility among LA’s political set.  

The visible litany of not-so-smart boorish behaviors and bullyings of Trutanich, who once even waived a get-into-jail-free card at Councilmember and Mayoral candidate Jan Perry for supporting something Trutanich didn't like, is a comprehensive one.  

The LA Times’ editorial board has been fervently backpedaling on Trutanich since endorsing him over Jack Weiss in 2009.  The astonishing reports of Trutanich’s campaign’s near routine practices of truth-stretching—once being caught claiming endorsements that weren’t theirs, then caught padding a YouTube video of Trutanich with an unreasonable number of hits, &c. have been similarly alarming to the locals who pay attention.

Neither the Times nor the Daily News back Trutanich, and both have used the strongest terms in stating why not, trotting out their endorsement editorials early in this case, early enough for the other candidates to use to their fullest extent.  

Thus, as the campaign enters its final week and a half, the battle is no longer exclusively Trutanich v. The Field, but also LA v. the Governor, as so many in LA media consider the Governor’s endorsement a deliberate if all too typical nose-thumbing at the southern half of the State.  

And the unlikely endorsements have also raised the stakes of the June 5 election for Trutanich.  The other candidates in the race will certainly be in a position to amplify the prospect of profound political peril for Trutanich should the widely-recognized yet widely-criticized candidate fail to garner 50% of vote a week from Tuesday.

"If Carmen Trutanich is unable to capture more than 50% of the vote on election day he'll be viewed as fundamentally flawed and politically damaged goods. Trutanich will likely suffer the same fate as Jack Weiss and be trounced in a runoff," John Thomas, Jackson's campaign manager, tells me.

The tea leaves remain difficult to read.  Perhaps Governor Brown felt fed up with LA politics in general, as the LA Times and Daily News did three years ago, a half-blind sentiment that brought Trutanich into office in the first place.  

Perhaps the John Noguez scandal has denied the State coffers too much money and Brown wants to try to put one of our prosecutors in pocket who will hopefully work to clean up the mess.  

Perhaps the purchased gratitude of Labor comes in the hope of keeping the inevitable fallout of the Kinde Durkee scandal cleaner than it ordinarily would be absent Labor blessing the frontrunner.  

In any scenario, the backing by so many pro-Labor Democrats of a former Republican so often accused of trampling civil liberties, Carmen Trutanich, at the end of this thrill-a-minute primary campaign should give voters in both parties considerable pause, and bring a special media vigilance to the campaign's closing ten days.

(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

Tags: Joseph Mailander, Mailander Musings, Carmen Trutanich, District Attorney Race, DA Election, June Election, June Ballot, Governor Brown

Vol 10 Issue 42
Pub: May 25, 2012