The Next Mayor Of L.A.: Why Your Vote Counts
On stage was City Controller Wendy Greuel, Councilmembers Eric Garcetti and Jan Perry, attorney Kevin James and technology executive Emanuel Pleitez. The instigator in me was hoping that the nature of a live stream would bring out the drama that the previous debates were lacking. Unfortunately, the only embarrassing moment was when Jan Perry choked a little while explaining the benefits of revamping LAX, and moderator Conan Nolan consoled her, saying, “It’s an emotional issue.” Nolan, chief political reporter at NBC4, kept us laughing and moved the debate along, reminding the candidates to be “succinct” in their answers. I was pleased to note that all five candidates seemed confident, prepared and respectful of each other’s time. It was no presidential debate.
It was, however, a very important debate for the city of L.A., in a race that has implications far beyond the city of L.A. KPCC’s Frank Stolze was present at Royce Hall Monday evening and commented, “The biggest thing to remember in the race to succeed Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa: most voters have paid little attention to it, and remain undecided.” According to the FairVote Report, only 18 percent of registered voters went to the polls for L.A.’s last mayoral election. This is astonishing, given that the Mayor of Los Angeles has his hand in almost every operation of the second largest city in the U.S., and represents the preferences and values of 3.8 million people in Sacramento and Washington D.C. Not to mention that he is the highest paid mayor in the country, receiving a salary of $232,425, and a rent-free mansion in Hancock Park.
I expect that the lack of an incumbent, coupled with the City of L.A.’s looming unemployment rate (which is currently higher than that of L.A. County and California), has sparked more interest in 2013; however, even with a 50 percent increase in voter turnout, each vote will still hold a lot of weight. On top of that, there is no steady frontrunner. If we judge a frontrunner by his or her campaign financial reports, Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti are neck and neck, each having raised about $3.6 million.
However, this is not just a race between two candidates. One of the great things about local campaigns with low voter turnout is that they open the door to grassroots candidates, such as Emanuel Pleitez, who held his own against the more established public servants: “What I see here are three politicians who have had their chance to vote as city councilmembers. I’m tired of calling baby steps real progress. I’ve lived the problems of L.A.”Each of the candidates sought to differentiate themselves from the others.
Kevin James, who has received a majority of his campaign contributions from individuals and private companies, noted, “I’m one of two people on this stage who has experience in the private sector.” James, known as the only GOP candidate in the race, is technically registered decline-to-state. According to the L.A. Times, James is a longtime activist with AIDS Project Los Angles, and switched his party registration because he thought the GOP was too slow to respond to the AIDS health crisis. If elected, James will make history as the first gay mayor of L.A. Not only does he demonstrate awareness of both the social and economic issues plaguing businesses in Los Angeles, his arguments on Monday stood out to me as especially detail-driven.
When asked about L.A.’s investment in green technology, Greuel made a positive yet general statement: “I will work with the private sector to create green power.” Pleitez reminded us: “[Greuel, Garcetti, and Perry] could have done this as councilmembers,” but James offered specific solutions. He made several propositions to save energy through residential fuel cells, to have the Department of Water and Power incentivize geothermal cooling and heating, and to reduce pollution with the Advanced Maritime Emissions Control System and the Advanced Emissions Control System (learn more here). James advocated a realistic schedule for environmental improvements and a system of accountability in order to achieve results.
Other issues included tax reform, new businesses, traffic congestion, and public transportation. There was more agreement than disagreement. All candidates were in support of eliminating the business license tax, streamlining the permit process for entrepreneurs and continuing to fund public transportation development through a tax extension, known as Measure J. None of them were sure about moving the LAX runway to accommodate A380 and big jets, out of consideration for the local community. Maeve Reston of the L.A. Times tweeted: “Once again this debate shows in L.A. mayor’s race, contrast mainly over biography and style – not differences in policy.” The question remains: if the candidates are so aligned in their policies, what will make the difference in such an important race?
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Deputy Chief of Staff Larry Frank suggests, “Narrative is important. What is your life story that brings you to this moment.” Narrative undoubtedly determined Villaraigosa’s election, but I think the economic stakes in the race for mayor in 2013 will cause voters to instead ask: “Which candidate is most likely to be effective, and bring financial efficiency back to City Hall?” L.A. residents are desperate to usher in a new era of transparency and accountability. The candidates have two months to sell their initiatives to us – the likely 30 percent of registered voters that will represent all of Los Angeles at the polls on March 5 – and we expect details.