ALPERN AT LARGE - Count me in as one of those who rejoiced when Antonio Villaraigosa was elected to Mayor of Los Angeles eight years ago. Count me in as well as one of those who also couldn't wait for the last few days to end before he was finally gone. Count me in as one of those who now cautiously rejoice...yet again...with the inauguration of Eric Garcetti as our new Mayor of Los Angeles.
It's entirely fair and appropriate to analyze the successes and failures of Villaraigosa’s mayoralty, to review of a once-glorious but now bitter mayoral era that has left Angelenos a bit sad and sobered (isn't that what "growing up" really is all about?) despite his undeniable accomplishments.
Antonio Villaraigosa gave road, rail, bicycle and other transportation efforts a big, if not historic, boost. Whether he succeeded or not in changing the LAUSD Board does not change the fact that he gave the LAUSD and UTLA union a much-needed (and publicly-supported) kick in the rear. Crime dropped, and safety/security measures improved, in the City.
Yet Villaraigosa also oversaw a huge rise in budgetary shenanigans that seriously hurt City services and the lives of all Angelenos by allowing salary, pension and retirement benefits to spike out of control. Pink slips were handed out, but too many benefited from either early retirement and/or moving to the LADWP--the latter of which is as terrible and typical of an example of bloated, overpaid and detached Big Government as it gets.
In the review, or perhaps autopsy, of the Villaraigosa era, the Times had a timely article by Seema Mehta that addressed the split differences of opinion that Angelenos have of now ex-Mayor Villaraigosa. In general, the article addresses how those who favor him were younger, Democrat and Latino, and those who found him unfavorable were white, Republican and older.
Unfortunately, this narrative extends the falsehood that whites and Republicans are biased, uncaring and cruel--which is part and parcel of the ongoing narrative of the Times that continues to engender class, party and ethnic divisions among Angelenos as it has for many years. Whites continue to reach out, as do Latinos and other ethnic groups--but as one gets older (regardless of ethnicity), one expects more in a City that has the Internet and Neighborhood Councils and wants democracy.
Just the other day, my wife and I were teaching my son about the significance of the Code of Hammurabi, which was among the first known set of laws that demanded that all individuals, rich or poor, powerful or peasant, abide by the same rules and laws (the Ten Commandments and the Torah were also in that genre, although many deride their being displayed and promoted because they have a Jewish and/or Christian background).
In short, Villaraigosa and his lobbyist, developer, union and special interest pals moved us away from that concept of all men (and women) being created equal, and did so in favor of "some being created more equal than others."
With time, as younger Latinos grow older, and more integrated into American tradition and history, it will become as apparent to them as to white Angelenos that Villaraigosa started his mayoral era supporting democracy and the grassroots paradigms of Los Angelenos. Which is why both Westside whites and Eastside Latinos both voted for Villaraigosa eight years ago.
However, he ended it with a series of backroom deals and a detached approach to mayoral policies and City operations that revealed his approach was more self-centered and less public-spirited than most Angelenos--of any ethnicity--could ever tolerate once they knew the details.
And I can assure you that there are no shortage of true-blue Democrats that are relieved to have Antonio Villaraigosa go, and are left with a bitter taste in their mouths that only Betrayal can bring.
Names need not be mentioned, but I've heard too many Democrats--as partisan and politically-engaged as any--who have had enough of Antonio Villaraigosa, and look forward to a new era that has the less said of him, the better.
Which ultimately must highlight the Two Big Failures of Antonio Villaraigosa's Mayoral Era, that exist glaringly despite the undeniable achievements of his eight years in office:
1) His failure to make the tough moves necessary to fix the budget and ensure the fiscal future of the City and its Citizenry--probably because he was so focused on hobnobbing with the rich and powerful, and because he'd lost touch with the common Angeleno and American over the course of his mayoral terms in office.
2) His failure to bring the different geographic, socioeconomic and ethnic groups of Los Angeles together. Rather than appeal to the higher nature of all Angelenos, he pandered and played to all the wrong things that beset our City, and didn't demand Angelenos of all regions and ethnicities, and the government paid by taxpayers to serve them, expect more to help the little guy (a.k.a., the Common Citizen).
On a similar note, the outgoing City Council (of which Eric Garcetti was a part) left on a horribly sour note that exemplified the incompetance, greed and detachment (if not downright corruption) that was its sad, sorry hallmark.
The rich and powerful--such as the shopping mall giant Westfield and the mega-connected, pay-to-play Casden developers, got sweetheart deals from the City Council, and the little guy got nothing with respect to taxes to the City and transportation benefits that were supposed to be provided by a Mayor-enabled Alan Casden who bamboozled the City and Metro into building a housing project that never had anything to do with bettering the Expo Line.
And we still have City Council President Herb Wesson--who appears to have forgotten how his half-cent sales tax measure got voted down by the voters despite a large war chest, and despite facing an opposition (such as Jack Humphreville and myself) who were armed only with the willingness to speak Truth to Power--dismissively ignoring Humphreville and others that we WON'T pay more taxes if the City Council continues to hurt the Citizenry.
But enough of negativism--I am by nature a "glass half full" kind of guy, and am one of those who has found hope again in the election of Eric Garcetti as mayor, albeit with more caution than I had with Antonio Villaraigosa eight years ago.
Garcetti appears to have learned from the errors of the past Mayor and City Council (really, folks, why do we still debate the merits of term limits?), and appears to want to fix the problems without the glamour and self-promotion of our past Mayor, and with the cooperation of the Citizenry for which he must rely upon to fix the roads, economy, schools and quality of life for all Angelenos.
His inauguration, on an early Sunday evening to facilitate attendance of all Angelenos, is in sharp contrast to the "let's-party-despite-a-City-in-huge fiscal-crisis" approach of the outgoing ex-Mayor. Garcetti will need to make deals with both the unions and the taxpayers, the City Council and the Neighborhood Councils, and the well-lobbied and the grassroots.
His main challenge will be to do so in a manor that doesn't pit one side against the other, so that compromise is coupled with those time-honored principles of democracy, transparency, moral fortitude and majority rule.
Evening meetings, treating Neighborhood Councils and the grassroots as equals (and demanding that the City Council respect them), having an equal number of Neighborhood Council-elected/appointed taxpayer ombudsmen as public sector union representatives at all discussions addressing public money spent on pensions, salaries and benefits of civil servants, will make Garcetti's popularity and ability to lead that much better and easier.
Eric Garcetti has earned our support with his election--and it is my hope, as optimistic and realistic as ever, that he will learn from the mistakes of the past Mayor and City Council that he is, in the end, just a man.
And he will be a Great Man (the hero we wanted with Antonio Villaraigosa, but didn't get, and now want with Eric Garcetti) if he demonstrates his respect and love for the City of Los Angeles more than he respects and loves himself.
(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.
Vol 11 Issue 53
Pub: July 2, 2013