MAILANDER’S LA - That day, all eyes looked to the 5 p.m. start of CelebrateLA, an annual downtown event that this year celebrated the outgoing Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa, as his dreamily messy term of office neared its merciful end.
Early in the morning, within hours of the start of this celebration, the incoming Mayor of the City of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, told a local TV station that he wasn't even sure yet whether he was going to attend CelebrateLA or not.
It's not for nothing, then, that Garcetti's critics might call him The Prince. This coy, princely pose from our incoming junior Mayor struck everyone who heard the comment--even if not many hear such comments on local TV news these days--as purely disingenuous, especially as Garcetti's own name was on the issuing invitation to the event.
It was also within hours of the arrival to Los Angeles of not one but two Presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, in town to pat the two Mayors on the back and looking for what they usually look for when they come to Los Angeles: money for their machines, money for the future.
And that day, while both Presidents were here to sing for cash and let LA's generous donors jockey for imagined status and agency--does anyone in politics from out of town visit us for any other reason?--the city's two Mayors, who maintain near-filial senses of obsequiousness to these two politely warring Presidents, went running to shake and fist-bump their two top mentors.
Mimicry gets you somewhere in politics and the degree to which Villaraigosa has absorbed the style of Clinton while Garcetti prefers to replicate the success of the Obama machine is transparent and astonishing. For instance, Clinton has always had a vindictive streak miles long--The Washington Post, for instance, recently ran a piece on how, when choosing between two Democrats in a given race, Clinton's first litmus is to check if one of them supported Hillary in 2008 or not. Villaraigosa has not shown a similar Clintonian vindictive streak until recently when, snubbed by the Obama White House for a meaningful appointment after carrying much water on behalf of Obama 2012, he suddenly began making noises about a good relationship he is maintaining with Obama's 2012 opponent Mitt Romney.
Meanwhile, Garcetti's own machine, sometimes to the concern of top shot-caller Bill Carrick, adopted the community-organizer retail politics style of the Obama machine wholesale, and why shouldn't they? After all, Shepard Fairey's fabled Obama 2008 poster was conceived in a studio along Glendale, halfway between the core of Garcetti's own district and City Hall.
Thus, with four of the top names in Democratic machine politics on the ground, all looking for something out of LA on a particular day, the stage was set for something supercharged to happen.
Far from the way anyone intended, a madman in Santa Monica obliged a little after 11:30 a.m.
At 11:52 a.m., California Highway Patrol received a report of shots fired in Santa Monica. Right around noon, police responding to the call found a house on fire at 2036 Yorkshire Avenue, Santa Monica, a home tucked into a cul-de-sac ending at the Santa Monica Freeway and within half a mile of the City of Los Angeles city limit.
Meanwhile, other reports streamed in to law enforcement everywhere. One woman was shot on the street. A car was jacked to Santa Monica City College. Shots were fired at a city bus. A gunman armed to the teeth then entered the Santa Monica campus Library.
The gunman is killed after killing four (one additional soul would die later) and wounding many.
KCRW, the much vaunted Santa Monica campus station that extends throughout the whole LA basin, goes off the air 12:31 p.m. Back on at 3:30.
And at 5:00 Celebrate LA kicks off promptly. No changes to the program. Not even a moment of silence from the stage honoring the fallen in Santa Monica.
At last, at around 6:20 p.m. last Friday, Mayor Villaraigosa greeted Mayor-Elect Garcetti downtown, in the midst of the unchanged, uncancelled, and unaltered CelebrateLA event.
President Clinton also came downtown and greeted Mayor Villaraigosa and wished him godspeed. President Obama, having briefly met Garcetti early in the day, was long in Palm Springs; a rep from his Secret Service called the killings "a local police matter."
Among these four men of tremendous political agency, all on the ground in LA at the same time, all throughout a harrowing mass murder that left the Westside of Los Angeles gripped in fear and even knocked a radio station off the air for three hours--none of them took a great amount of pause to honor the dead in Santa Monica, let alone worked to change any plans for Celebrate LA that afternoon.
The amiable riff between Garcetti and Villaraigosa measures up well against the amiable riff between Clinton and Obama, and fairly directly: the two younger men like to feign grassroots gestures, while the older hands love drama and the bright lights. Garcetti and Obama occasionally speak their true minds with carefully-sculpted, koan-like snide remarks, while Villaraigosa like Clinton, the perpetual slobbering lap-dog, wants to be loved by everyone; Garcetti like Obama has a wife who is a little aloof but a partner and an asset nonetheless, Villaraigosa like Clinton has had plenty of girl trouble but persistently shrugs about it and shakes it off and insists you like him anyway.
There are 18 LA precincts that surround the City of Santa Monica; all 18 voted for Eric Garcetti in greater numbers than they voted for Clinton's other notable friend in town, Wendy Greuel. Many are left feeling dishonored.
Around the country, people are even more puzzled. A mass murder, followed quickly by a civic celebration, four top leaders on the ground, and no cathartic moment commemorating the harrowing day?
Local media failed the puzzled too. Beginning the next day, there was no real news analysis examining the two events--the Santa Monica rampage and Celebrate LA--in concert, nor editorials expressing concern for the decisions of the four power players to ignore the event nearly entirely, nor even any commentary exploring this odd, unfortunate convergence of tragic rampage and political jockeyings.
Four top Democratic leaders in LA, four dead in Santa Monica, and no dialog between leaders and bereaved--leaving the City of Santa Monica feeling even now that there has been no real discharging of grief, no requisite acknowledgment of loss, no adequate mourning of its dead.
(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 here.) Photo credit: Neon Tommy
Vol 11 Issue 48
Pub: June 14, 2013