LOS ANGELES: Democracy At Home


So you want to be the mayor, but will you fight for democracy?

One of the many questions that went unasked at the recent LA mayoral candidate forum at the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro recently was, “If you were mayor of Kyiv, Ukraine would you stand and fight to defend democracy with your life or pack up and move to Poland?” Yes, I know it’s an odd question. But what the question is getting at is what ideal is a candidate willing to lay their life on the line as we’ve seen recently in the embattled city of Kyiv, Ukraine. There we have seen some amazingly courageous acts of patriotism. Not just words or meek pledges of allegiance to the flag, but hand-me-the-Molotov cocktails to defend my city! Now that’s commitment! It’s like grandpa going out with a Kalashnikov to take on the Russian army.

Luckily that’s not what we’re confronted with here.

Yes, I know the politics of Ukraine versus Russia gets murky at times with various versions of history floating around, but it’s readily apparent that Vladimir Putin is invading Ukraine and not the other way around.

So, just ask yourselves, which one of these candidates would stand up to defend our democracy? For we all know that the last U.S. President could only stand up to take ours down while eating a cheeseburger and fomenting division and distrust. He’s still doing it. Now, I’m not indicating that any one of the four who graced the stage of the Warner Grand recently is an acolyte or devotee of the twice impeached idiot moron, but the hardest thing to ascertain in any election cycle are a politician’s core values.

You can’t judge a politician’s core values by what they say, by what they do to get elected or even sometimes by what they do when they are elected. I have found that a politician’s integrity is best measured in times of crisis. Do they stand and fight for their principles, or do they move to Poland? I’m not sure Los Angeles has had a mayor in the recent past who truly measures up to that test, but we could surely use one now!

There are 27 candidates running to become the next mayor of Los Angeles. Of these, only five were invited to San Pedro via an inept process directed by the San Pedro Democratic Club’s president, Shannon Ross. Four of the five might have this courage. Rick Caruso, the billionaire developer, was a no-show, while Joe Buscaino is often late, a dollar short and on the wrong side of history for all of the popular reasons. His response to both the pandemic and the homeless crisis are prime examples of his leadership. That leaves us with three candidates.

In handicapping this race, it seems like this is the “year of the Black woman” in which we are about to see if this nation, if not the U.S. Senate will do what’s never been done before with the Supreme Court. So, Rep. Karen Bass looks like the odds on favorite even though LA City Attorney Mike Feuer is the only candidate who has ever won a citywide election. And he has taken on the city’s most formidable legal foes in that role. He also has a sensible multi-point plan to reform a city hall — a city hall that seems resistant to the very idea of reform. We’ll see if he survives the DWP scandal. I like both of them.

The former LA City Controller, Laura Chick (who just endorsed Feuer), seems to agree with when she said, “The truest test of leadership isn’t how one leads when times are easy — it’s how one leads when times get tough.”

Kevin de León, representative for Council District 14, is also a good choice, yet he hasn’t been in the trenches of LA politics long enough to ascertain his fight or flight instincts. The same can be said of Bass. But I think both are fighters too. Both have the progressive lean on the homeless crisis, union issues and public safety that make them top choices. They are certainly more preferable than Joe Buscaino, who in my estimation is a cheerleader for ineffective policing. It seems his strategy for getting elected to higher office is by criminalizing the homeless again and again. I wonder if he’s the kind who would just wave the flag from the sidelines?

Not everyone is built to confront a crisis. Ultimately it comes down to the question of, Who do you trust and What’s needed at this time?

If you listen to TV news or the GOP, you’d think the city is under siege by crime and homelessness or that the anti-maskers were going to storm city hall. The fact is crime is slightly up after a 30 year decline, the homeless crisis is endemic like COVID-19, and the looney tunes crying about masks being an impediment to their “liberty” should try living in Ukraine. However, back on point, the only candidate running to become the next mayor of Los Angeles and who has a grasp of the complexity of running Los Angeles is probably Mike Feuer. And Karen Bass should probably make him a deputy mayor as soon as she gets elected. He knows where all the dead bodies are buried in a city littered with them and has a real plan to govern.

What gets missed most of the time is how homelessness, crime, poverty, job creation and economics overlap each other here in the City of Angels. There’s a five-fold complexity to all of the simple complaints we citizens have about living in this metropolis. The city’s byzantine top down structure is anti-democratic, unresponsive and oppressive to resident needs and complaints. The city is downright reactionary rather than proactive. A prime example is police force’s top down command of 22 divisions, four bureaus, eight specialized units and its Office of Special Operations — plus some others you’ve never heard of like the Office of Constitutional Policing. A citizen police commission appointed by the mayor governs all of this. Yet, when you call 911 you get put on hold.

The LAPD is the largest part of the city budget with 9,974 police officers and 3,000 civilian staff. It is the third-largest municipal police department in the United States, after the police departments in New York and Chicago. At this very moment, the mayoral campaign is caught up in a kind of bidding war over adding more officers to the city’s police force. “Two-hundred… 300… 500… do I hear 1,500 from Buscaino?” Yet in a city of some 4 million residents, there’s no number of police we could hire if people don’t feel respected by the government. Police don’t keep the law, they maintain the order. Keeping the law comes from abiding citizens who believe that the laws are self-evidently just.

In the final analysis, voting for a mayor, a council rep or anyone else in a democracy is about who do you trust to pass just laws, and who has the courage to lead in a crisis.