Thu, Jul

City Hall's "Counterfeit Activism" Is Cheating LA


MAILANDER’S LA -Twelve days into his mayoralty, the media were called, the cameras were ready, and Mayor Eric Garcetti was fulfilling a solemn pledge to the people. 

No he wasn't.  He was faking fulfilling a pledge.

You do recall the day our Mayor asked grown City department heads to re-apply for their jobs, yes?

It's now two months later. Do you recall him actually firing anyone? 

I don't either, but quite conversely, I have seen in recent weeks that every single opponent of Garcetti's in the past mayor's race who later endorsed him has received some kind of top brass appointment at City Hall. 

If you're keeping score at home: Jan Perry, who endorsed Garcetti in the runoff, is an Interim General Manager.  Kevin James, who endorsed Garcetti in the runoff, is the handsomely rewarded president of the Public Works Commission.  And now Emmanuel Pleitez, who endorsed Garcetti in the runoff, has been appointed to the Police and Fire Pension Board.

So what happened to the housecleaning that Garcetti promised? What stables have been cleaned? 

He promised he'd clean house at City Hall, but the new Mayor of Los Angeles has only dragged more political schmutz onto its polished marble corridors. 

With a cowed media in tow, many of whom have barely seen a single eight year mayoralty cycle through the pueblo, Garcetti has largely received a hall pass from the locals as he approaches his hundredth day in office. 

What has most baffled the locals, citizens and media alike, is something I call the dark art of counterfeit activism.  Garcetti is not the only the City's top practitioner, but his mastery of it and success with it has provided an unfortunate example to the rest of City Hall.

What is counterfeit activism?

In real activism, an activist organization tries to influence a politician to achieve a political result. Like, say, the local bicycle groups, or the local PETA people, or the anti-billboard activists.  They want more lanes, they want more sharrows, they want fewer billboards, they want more respect.  That is the purpose of activism: sometimes the activist succeeds, sometimes not.

But in "counterfeit activism" a politician co-opts an organization--sometimes even an unsuspecting one--with an idea or a promise, to take his or her own agenda to a community--an agenda that isn't always in the community's best interest. 

Like situating a homeless center in your community--a homeless center that will only serve as a magnet for the homeless.  Or cancelling a nationally-renown festival in your neighborhood.  Or floating an exploratory motion at a neighborhood council to put a check on AirBNB, which so many homeowners are using to make ends meet after buying a stratospherically priced home. 

The instances in Los Angeles in recent years are too legion to number, and Mayor Eric Garcetti is the grandmaster of the game.

In LA, counterfeit activists work hard to counter the efforts of real activists.  And in the low participation democracy that is Los Angeles, an ever-obliging, Balkanized media, themselves angling for access more than for scoops, too interested to preserve their own jobs rather than rock any boats, are only too eager to give the Mayor and his cronies their perpetual hall passes, often merely repackaging press releases rather than digging deeper into the mechanics behind such stunts as the Mayor making City Department heads re-apply for their jobs. 

The counterfeit activists often subsume the real ones.  They're backed by City Hall, after all.  They have City-backed resources, City-donated spaces, City funded cameras.

Of course, in the case of the Garcetti media stunt of calling General Managers on the carpet after a mere twelve days in office, the duped group that was given a bouquet of counterfeit activism was local media itself.  Garcetti's hollow photo op would have even made Antonio proud.  It yielded dozens of stories about how Garcetti was going to clean house at City Hall.

There have been no follow-up stories from that cowed media about how he has to-date not only dismissed nobody, but also filled Spring Street's various chambers mostly with those to whom he owes political favors.

That's a shame, because there's plenty of opportunity for making LA's government more customer friendly at the department level.

If Garcetti really wants to fire people who don't seem interested in serving ordinary citizens and ordinary activists, you need go no further than read these too-telling two sentences of Los Angeles Animal Services Chief Brenda Barnette.

Responding to a column I wrote about LAAS last year, Barnette said here at CityWatchLA:

"Then again, despite a comparable abundance of passionate animal activists in every community I've worked in, LA takes the cake for generating activists with under-developed resumés who, along with their camp followers, nonetheless think they know how to run a $19 million-a-year City department better than I or any of my predecessors.  But I can see how someone could be taken in by their passion." 

I can't imagine more condescension coming from any department head.  If Garcetti were a true reformer, and interested in all the things he says he is, such rhetoric would have earned Barnette the newbie Mayor's first golden parachute. 

With so few people participating in our purportedly participatory democracy, counterfeit activism has become the lead sinister political force behind so much--as well as so little--that goes on in the City of Los Angeles.

The overworked remnants of LA's middle class, renters and homeowners alike, all paying more for less, are unable to do more about it than to collapse into their cars at the end of their ten hour days and hear someone making a noise--just who is it, exactly? (You never seem to catch the name)--on one of the FM band NPR affiliates.  Whoever it is assures their host that things are not all that bad, that this professor is an expert or that journalist tracks City Hall dutifully, that Garcetti has his hands full, that this or that new development is "interesting."

And we'll leave it there! Thanks so much, Ralph, Jim, Fernando, Alice &c.! 

What Ralph Jim Fernando Alice &c. never say to Warren Alex Larry &c. is that Garcetti in truth barely has a mandate to do anything but put together abstract and meaningless bills on fracking, and let the newbie media types chase them.  Because most of voting, working, hard working LA just doesn't have time or interest to keep up with what these people do. 

There have been many statistical confirmations of this.  For instance, Garcetti's "mandate" in 2013 would not have gotten him elected in any election in the 1950s, when there were less than half as many people here. 

And the fact that Garcetti's first endorsed candidate, Cindy Montanez, got blown out by a husband and wife team shortly after Garcetti's election indicated that all the touchy-feely good will towards Garcetti has completely dissipated in three weeks' time. 

But an even more astonishing indication of what a shrinking violet our Mayor and top City Council figures have become was served up just last week. 

There were two fascinating results in the landed cabbage patch of the West San Fernando Valley known as Assembly District 45.

One was that, though the district resides mostly in the City of Los Angeles, the Mayor did not endorse a candidate in the race.  He was afraid to, because most of his own counterfeit activists were backing a candidate that was not likely to win.

That particular candidate was so heavily backed by other local Garcetti Democrats that he listed 172 endorsements in total, many of them from high profile local politicians such as Mike Feuer and Paul Krekorian.

So, this candidate that Garcetti didn't dare endorse got badly, badly beaten.  That was one fascinating result.  But the other was: this candidate fetched a mere 1,424 votes in not getting elected in this special primary for the seat vacated by Councilman Bob Blumenfield.

In fact, he was beaten out of a runoff by four others, including a Republican woman running her own campaign, Susan Shelley, who has all of 25 followers on Twitter.  And also by some others of even less notoriety.

I count Damian Carroll as locking down 8.28 votes per endorsement in that race.  Paul Krekorian: worth less than nine votes.  Mike Feuer: worth less than nine votes.  The Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley: worth less than nine votes.

“Old habits die hard, especially when there’s no incentive to do things differently," a subprime lender turned whistleblower told a reporter from the Center for Public Integrity last week.  

And Mayor Eric Garcetti's first hundred days in office have shown to the other elected officials who purportedly serve the citizens of the City of Los Angeles that this Mayor, too, is not going to rock any boats when it comes to dealing with the average citizen.  

In fact, he is more likely to count on her working far too hard to pay much attention.  There is no incentive--not yet--for Garcetti and the other counterfeiters at City Hall to do anything differently.


(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 76

Pub: Sept 20, 2013




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