Tue, May

LA Election in Slow Motion


GELFAND’S WORLD - The voters of Los Angeles are demonstrably fed up. The proof is the slow motion bloodbath in recent elections when it comes to incumbents.

What we are now seeing is a turnover in the L.A. City Council that could result in the old guard becoming an actual minority and an actual majority made up of newly elected Council members. We may have to wait for elected replacements for Nury Martinez and Kevin de Leon, but the result is predictable. 

To borrow from those television analysts, let's look at the numbers. 

The City Council has 15 seats, each being labeled by a number from 1 to 15. This year, the odd numbered seats were up for reelection. A very few incumbents ran for reelection and were elected by majority vote back in the primary. The remaining seats were contested in one way or another. Here is the result after the current election: 

District 1:   Hernandez (new)

District 3:   incumbent

District 5:   Yaroslavsky (new)

District 7:   incumbent

District 9:   incumbent

District 11: Park (new)

District 13: Soto-Martinez (new)

District 15: McOsker (new) 

That's 5 out of 15 new members, and that's only in the odd numbered seats. 

The even numbered seats were not up for reelection, but even in those, there was some action: 

Even numbered Council districts not up for reelection: 

District 4:   Raman (defeated the incumbent Ryu 2 years ago)

District 6:   vacant (due to Nury Martinez scandal resignation; special election in April)

District 10:  Hutt (appointed due to incumbent's indictment)

District 14: Kevin de Leon (could resign or be recalled) 

If you count Raman, Hutt, and upcoming replacements for Martinez and possibly de Leon, the final result is a City Council majority made up of new and fairly new members. 

Other problems for incumbents in other races 

Paul Koretz was the victim of his name and incumbency, losing to a pure newcomer for City Controller. Old timer Bob Hertzberg lost in the election for County Supervisor. The biggest loss was by Sheriff Villanueva. The election for Sheriff had other elements besides pure incumbency, but it's likely that the overall anti-incumbency mood among the voters made it easier to cast one additional negative vote. And there were about a third of a million of those additional negatives. 

Political repercussions 

We have to start by recognizing that there is going to be a bright spotlight pointed at all the zoning changes and favors to big developers in the coming session. Considering the number of former Council members who are either convicted felons or under indictment, it couldn't be any other way. There will also of course be scrutiny of every legislative act that could rebound to someone's advantage, even for something as small as the installation of a street light next to the USC campus. 

But it goes beyond simple scrutiny of felonious acts. The city government is still distant from its citizens, we have agencies and departments to deal with, and the old City Council hasn't been of much use in breaking down the barriers. This column has had plenty to say about an agency as small and useless as the Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. The former Council failed us entirely even for that little issue. But what would a truly reform minded City Council do in terms of the salaries at the LA Department of Water and Power, for example? 

And I'm still waiting for the southern-most council districts and cities such as Torrance to fight to abolish the toll lanes on the 110. How about it, you newly elected City Council members? Mayor-elect Karen Bass? 

In the past, it was usual to have anywhere from zero to two new members of the City Council in any one term. The lowest ranking member typically got saddled with chairing the committee that oversees neighborhood councils. More powerful members with seniority and influence fought for more powerful and interesting committees such as Budget and Finance. But with a near majority -- which may become a majority come the new year -- all bets are off. Who will get what committee chairmanship? Will the current committee structure be rearranged to divide up the goodies? Will Paul Krekorian hold onto his Council Presidency, and if so, what deals will he have to make? 

All interesting questions. 

The serious question is whether the newbies will use their combined influence to generate real reform or merely to vie for individual advantage. It may not be all that easy to tell, at least at the beginning, but it's worth watching closely. 

A prediction and a promise 

I personally doubt whether even reform minded City Council representatives would go far enough to dilute their authority by a substantial increase in the size of the City Council, or by a substantial decrease in their own salaries. It's a lot easier to hold onto the comfortable status quo. But there is, I think, a way for the people of Los Angeles to win substantial reforms. It will take a lot more than simply voting out incumbents, but it can be accomplished. I intend to talk about such a plan in a future column.


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


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