MAILANDER’S LA - "I know this will be a special experience," newly-minted Public Works Commissioner Kevin James told me after it was all said and done and he could rest easy, having passed the City Council confirmation acid test. "I expect to learn a lot." As the City of LA's Public Works Commission is not only the top-drawer and top-dollar board of overseers in the City, but also the board most tainted by oddities throughout the past Mayoralty, one hopes James and the other commissioners are quick studies.
Kevin James's confirmation session this past Tuesday--when all confirmation hearings for the commission were held--was fascinating in a morbid way. Nothing but softballs pitched to James, who had spent the previous six months playing hardball, nor indeed to anyone else.
Council President Herb Wesson called it a "hot seat" but the heat never came. Councilmember Joe Buscaino was confirmation committee chair but he wasn't in Chamber and he didn't vote.
New Councilmember and Vice Chair Curren Price "dazzled everyone here" according to Wesson--I suppose why they didn't ask any questions at all of Commissioner Mike Davis.
And never mind the stale City roll flashing all those stale names, now not updated for a full month. The City's audio-visual people also must be caught in the frenzy, too busy making symbolic gestures, or responding to some other touchy-feely Garcetti homework assignment.
First Councilman Paul Krekorian, after blowing even more kisses to the Mayor via his strongly stated conviction that the Mayor should appoint whomever he wants [you can't see me, but I'm rolling my eyes], asked James about climate change. He had also asked nominee Matt Szabo about this--Szabo in response talked about "opportunities with the LA River." He called it a potential "economic generator"--which sounds like big-time spending to me.
But James, conversely, went on about his childhood asthma and setting a thermostat in an asthmatic home and occasionally being parked in an Oxygen tent. Then he talked about the port, then he talked about public works and recycling. He was talking about upgrading asphalt plants. He didn't talk about belief in climate change at all. Krekorian let him skate.
James largely sounded like a filibuster. He also spoke of smog in 1987 here, when he got here, and how he could recognize the progress because of environmental laws. (If you think it was bad in 1987, imagine what it was like in 1957, when my own set of lungs first appeared here--I remember those Oxygen tents as a child too, and they have inspired a lifetime of feelings of loneliness and isolation, which must be why I spend some time every week watching parts of City Council meetings).
Then Councilmember Gil Cedillo, the recent arrival, took over and agreed that the Mayor should have his way, but said that he had received emails that were upset about James' appointment. [I wonder if they were from his own District? In Council District 1, he had almost no followers on The Twitter, and half of those were from Sacramento].
He asked James about immigration reform. Here James talked more correctly, this time talking about his management of AIDS Project LA, and moving services into minority areas and how they don't ask anyone for documentation regarding citizenship. That's fair. He also said that he went on a tour of immigrant communities. He supports immigration reform, he says. He calls the system broken.
Oddly, James was most convincing of all on being an immigration reform hopeful--oddly, because he had made the most stridently Republican statements about being nothing of the kind, except perhaps to raise high the fences, on his radio show.
Then Councilmember Mike Bonin the true newbie. He had earlier sung Villaraigosa operative and new Commissioner Matt Szabo to the skies and especially touted his leadership in the LGBT community--as though sexual orientation may have something to do with making a good Public Works Commissioner one way or another. Of James, even more famously gay, Bonin asked about a living wage. Compliance with living wage?
James's route was circuitous--it involved law. He is committed to compliance with City Ordinances, therefore, if a living wage is a City Ordinance, James is for it. Then, laying the Kevin James corn-pone on thick, James said he wants to go on a Nitty Gritty Tour of the City, in which he spends full shifts in various public works departments, like Fire and Sanitation and Street Services.
Councilmember Jose Huizar spoke. He said he agreed with a lot that James had to say. He said he was quite offended with things James said on his radio shows about immigrants. He was the fellow who seemed most genuinely annoyed at being obliged to vote for him.
And then, Councilmember Tom LaBonge. He talked about what James's old radio station KRLA was like about a hundred years ago, and of course said nothing, but in an excitable way.
Krekorian then congratulated the Mayor for appointing someone who thinks so differently. Open the roll, close the roll, 11 ayes--same as for Szabo (new Commissioner Monica Rodriguez, one notes, eked out twelve ayes--Mike Davis also, without any discussion).
Councilmember Felipe Fuentes took an abstention, claiming he didn't know enough about James.
Councilmember Mike O'Farrell, the other Oklahoma cheerleader, wasn't around to vote. Nor were Buscaino and Huizar by voting time. Martinez is not seated yet.
Also, it is 30 days into O'Farrell's term, and he still appears as "Garcetti" on the roll, as the names Alarcon, Reyes, Rosendahl, Zine, and Perry all still appear--indicating something about how our City is working with all this new energy.
Nearly everyone except LaBonge said that potholes are not Democratic or Republican. James acknowledged as much too and said he never got a vote from one. I wonder if they even know that it was Fiorello La Guardia who first said that there was no Democrat or a Republican way to pick up the trash. And that they were about 70 years behind on wit, as usual, and yucking it up anyway, and pretending that what they were doing was real, was politics.
(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.)
Vol 11 Issue 62
Pub: Aug 2, 2013