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What's Mitch O'Farrell Trying To Do?

GELFAND’S WORLD - On Monday, October 17, L.A. City Council acting president Mitch O'Farrell held a press conference where he announced that he had taken committee assignments away from Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo.

He requested that the two not attend any more City Council meetings. O'Farrell then made a comment that is remarkable for its illogic and irony: 

"What I have to do is make sure that this council is not held hostage because two additional members refuse to resign." 

O'Farrell seems to be suggesting that the Council cannot convene or function if either de Leon or Cedillo should attempt to fulfill his Charter-mandated authority to attend a City Council session and to vote on agenda items. In other words, O'Farrell is claiming near-dictatorial authority which denies large sections of the city their City Council representation. It is O'Farrell who is holding the city hostage here. 

Or maybe it is just bad judgment. Or, there may be a more sinister political motive, which we shall consider below. 

The political background 

A new issue can suddenly put someone in the public eye. Who ever heard of Barbara Ferrer before the Covid-19 pandemic? Then she was on our television screens almost every night. The new face is City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell, previously the President pro tempore (basically like a vice chair) of the City Council and now its acting president. 

So now Mitch presides over Council sessions on live television, and for this reason, he joins the list of those who potentially benefit by the release of the Martinez-de Leon-Cedillo tape. 

But Mitch has a problem. In the recent primary election, he came in second in attempting to gain reelection to his Council seat. He needs desperately to find some votes. Being in the public eye and distinguishing himself as a respected leader might do the job. But first he has to show that leadership. 

So far he has not. 

Here's why: The stasis on the L.A. City Council continues. We have now gone a week without the Council getting useful work done. There is some city business that requires action by the Council, even if it is only to ritually vote Aye on twenty or thirty agenda items on any given morning. Since the scandal broke on October 9, the Council has engaged in discussion and lots of grandstanding, but not much else. 

Just for the sake of argument, let's consider an alternate scenario to what happened (and didn't happen) at the City Council last week. Suppose that the Council had convened, passed a censure motion against the Martinez Three, and gone on with its work. True, it would have had to gain control over its own premises, and to do so it might have had to clear the Council chamber. But it certainly has this capacity within its lawful powers. 

The peoples' business could have gotten done, although it might have included the presence of Kevin de Leon and Gil Cedillo. (Or, they might have shown a little savvy and quietly left the chamber.) In either case, the City Council could have done what it gets paid to do -- to vote the votes that are required to keep the city running. 

And even if they had behaved this way, there would have been time for the hurt speeches and angry tirades. It just would have involved the understanding that de Leon and Cedillo are not going to shut down city government by their failure to resign. 

If the Council had to stay in session for 8 hours, it could have done so, and every other Council member could preface each and every speech or vote with a denunciation of de Leon and Cedillo. 

But for this to have happened, Mitch O'Farrell would have had to understand that democracy is not one-man rule, that he has limited power to force Kevin de Leon to do anything, and that there was probably a better way to make his point than to close the City Council for a whole week. 

On television, O'Farrell didn't come across as either determined or dominating. He's not blessed with a naturally deep voice, nor does he have a football player's build. These characteristics have nothing to do with his native intellect or political instincts, but several generations of actor-politicians have shown the electoral advantages of being and looking like a television star. 

A few follow up thoughts to what we discussed previously -- 

The Caruso campaign stood to gain by release of the recording for one simple reason. Caruso has been behind Karen Bass in spite of his campaign spending. He doesn't seem to be making up ground very fast, and he doesn't have much time left. Candidates will sometimes do something outrageous in the hope that shaking things up will be enough to turn the tide. We even have a term for this: an October Surprise. So it's possible to speculate that the Caruso campaign pulled this one out of their collective back pocket because it was the best dirt they had that would actually get people's attention. They had spent zillions of advertising dollars to spotlight the scholarship Karen Bass once received, and it didn't seem to be nudging the odometer. 

And that speculation would imply some role for Gil Cedillo. Here's a guy who just lost an election for a continuing seat on the (extremely) well paying Los Angeles City Council. He joined others in endorsing Caruso. We may infer that these endorsements are in pursuit of getting a cushy replacement job once Caruso is the new mayor. So we can add Cedillo's name to the list of possible leakers. Obviously things have not worked out real well for Cedillo -- even if Caruso were to win, a Cedillo appointment would now be political poison. 

A few random thoughts about O'Farrell and how he stands to benefit by the current scandal: 

Superficially, O'Farrell checks off the standard liberal boxes. He's got ethnicity, as the first Native American on the City Council. He has a record of community service and, according to one online source, even helped create the neighborhood council in his area. He's one of two declared gay men on the City Council, joining Bonin. Admittedly he lost some support when a homeless camp was forcibly removed from a city park in his district, with him being viewed as the instigator. 

But in the primary election for his own City Council seat, one of his opponents finished ahead of him by a few thousand votes. In a five person race, O'Farrell was barely able to chalk up 32 percent of the total votes. It's likely that a substantial fraction of the votes for the down-ballot candidates were anti-incumbent votes, which suggests an unpleasant November election day for Mitch. 

So O'Farrell parallels Caruso -- they both are running second, with Mitch doing even a little worse than Caruso. O'Farrell is looking at the end of a once promising political career if he can't pull off a minor miracle. 

And that explains why O'Farrell thinks he has to grandstand with all these demands that lawfully elected City Council representatives leave his divine presence and never darken the doorway of the City Council chambers again. 

Most of us were disgusted by the comments we heard on the recording, but the fact that people said bad things did not cause the City Charter to disappear. O'Farrell can rant and demand, but he does not actually have the power to remove de Leon and Cedillo from the Council. But he does have a duty to convene the Council and to do the people's business. In sticking to his current course, he is making himself into a worse example of a City Council representative than Gil Cedillo. 

NCIS Los Angeles going off the rails 

I used to watch and enjoy NCIS Los Angeles, but I'm having a hard time of it at the moment. There has been a substantial turnover in the cast over the past few years, and it hasn't been for the better. My guess is that the problem is in the writing and the directing, considering that the actors themselves are competent. 

Over the long history of the NCIS franchise, we've seen spinoffs including NCIS L.A. and NCIS New Orleans. NCIS L.A. was probably the best of the bunch. It had reasonably good writing, a solid collection of actors, and direction that kept things moving. One time rap star LL Cool J playing Sam Hanna turned out to be a terrific actor whose physical size alone added to his ability to be the menace with a heart of gold. He and his partner (referred to only by the word "Callan") carried the show. But they had a solid supporting cast with Linda Hunt as the agency head and a couple of tech whizzes to bring up the rear. It worked. 

Since the Covid pandemic, not so much. The October 16 show seems to have been the low point in this franchise's history. 

It's a little hard to point to some specific error or weakness. Rather, there is an almost complete lack of any strengths to talk about. There used to be fairly decent writing that played up the Sam Hanna character and his developing relationship with Callan. Hanna has been in recent shows only sporadically. The parallel crime-fighting partnership of Kensi Blye and Marty Deeks used to work, but lately has been bogged down in their domestic planning and inadequately humorous back and forth. 

The story arc looks, right now, like a contrived exercise in writing characters out of the show or perhaps just working towards the end of the franchise. There is a lot less action since the Covid era began. The dialog drags on (and on and on) to no effect. It's become more of a soap opera and less of a police procedural. 

One issue that even the writers should have figured out in advance: With the absence of Linda Hunt as Hetty, the show ran through various agency heads and has recently settled on the experienced actor Gerald McRaney as the character Admiral Kilbride. His part is written to be a complete curmudgeon who despises everything about west coast culture, and can't wait to lecture the other players (and us, the audience) about his disdain for everything that is Los Angeles. And this in a show called NCIS Los Angeles. You know, a show designed to appeal to the large population of southern California, much as an earlier generation were presented with shows about the northeast. The writers might think about the problem that comes when the audience (you and me) are made to feel uncomfortable every time that character comes onscreen. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])