Thu, Aug

Another LA Mayor’s Race: Another Neighborhood Council Missed Opportunity

OUR CITY - The contestants are lining up for the next Los Angeles mayor’s race, but it appears that once again neighborhood councils won’t have much of an impact.  That’s sad.

If history repeats itself, some candidates will show up to a sprinkling of forums hosted by one of more neighborhood councils.
If the leadership is there, all the councils might again get together and organize a forum that certainly would be attended by all candidates.

Either way, candidates (the serious ones anyway) will give their well-rehearsed opening presentations.  

A few people will each be given an opportunity to ask a single question.  Regardless of the question, some candidates will try and work-in the talking points they couldn’t squeeze into their openings.  

“I’m glad you asked that question about my plans for creating jobs.  You can’t create more jobs without a safer city, and that’s why I promise to hire 30,000 new police officers.”

There will be no opportunity for follow-up questions when the BS meter overloads.  

Then everyone will go home, and the neighborhood councils will have achieved only a small, temporary gain in name identification.  

It’s a regrettable waste of an enormous potential to affect how decisions are made in the city.

The impact was obvious when union workers packed the City Council Chamber for the first discussion of the proposed downtown football stadium.  But there are enough neighborhood council activists to fill a dozen council chambers.

There are about 1,300 council board members.  A brief survey that I conducted found that the e-mail lists of each council range from 300 to 2,000 names in size.  Do the math!

To increase their impact, councils need to adopt a few positions about which they can all agree.  It might only include three actions.

The positions should be specific enough that it will clear after the new mayor is sworn-in whether or not the promises were kept.  

Each candidate would be asked to sign a pledge in support of each position.  If they refuse, the candidates would be told that the challenge will be presented to them every time they appear at a public event.  

Those who support the positions could be asked how they would like to have themselves held accountable to fulfilling them.  Let the candidates try and outdo each other.

That’s just the “bark” part of getting and using political power.  

Within each neighborhood council, or region of councils, there needs to be one person who will organize individuals to make donations, write letters to the editor, volunteer at the campaign offices, and appear at all the necessary public meetings where the candidates are present.

Legally, the councils can’t endorse a candidate, but the board members and those with titles can use them when supporting a candidate.  The average voter can’t tell the difference.

Once candidates understand that council members and their friends are able to mobilize themselves into a force that can make a difference, they will be listened to and respected.

None of the city council members knew how many of those union workers were registered to vote, lived in the city, or had any idea what was going on.  All they saw were bodies and organization leaders.  

It just takes one leader, perhaps someone who has already attended labor movement political action seminars, to grab a bat, step up to the plate, and start swinging.

(Greg Nelson participated in the birth and development of the LA Neighborhood Council system and served as the General Manager of the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. He also served as Chief of Staff for former City Councilman Joel Wachs. Nelson now provides news and issues analysis to CityWatch. He can be reached at: [email protected] .) -cw

Tags: neighborhood councils, Los Angeles, mayor’s race

Vol 9 Issue 62
Pub: Aug 5, 2011