Though you’d scarcely know it from reading the Los Angeles Times, we actually have a Mayoral election tomorrow.
There are five non-joke candidates, of whom two will make it through to the runoff: incumbent Jim Hahn, two former Speakers of the California Assembly, Antonio Villaraigosa (now a city councilman) and Bob Hertzberg, former Police Chief (also now a city councilman) Bernard Parks, and State Senator Richard Alarcon.
Alarcon is running primarily to spoil Villaraigosa’s chances; no one expects him to make it into the runoff. Parks, having been a truly disastrous Police Chief, has been a relentlessly obstructionist city councilman. That leaves three.
Hahn has done, as far as I can tell, one really smarty and gutsy thing in his entire career: he picked Bill Bratton as Police Chief. That’s a major thing to have done, and perhaps a retrospective assessment would have to call Hahn’s term a success based on that move alone.
But prospectively, he doesn’t seem to have much to offer. He’s low on imagination, subservient to the city’s unions (the Police Protective League’s hatred of Parks is part of the reason we now have Bratton as Police Chief), and seems to have been running an ethically challenged administration. He has signally failed to get the LAPD the extra bodies it so desperately needs, and there’s no real prospect of his doing better given another four years. If you think that LA city government works fine the way it is and just needs a dull caretaker to keep it running, Hahn is your man. I don’t, so he’s not.
I’ve met Hertzberg twice and Villaraigosa never, and it’s virtually impossible for an outsider to know what sort of job an Assembly Speaker is doing. So my direct information about the two candidates is limited.
I like the fact that Hertzberg is proposing to break up what Jill Stewart likes to call the Los Angeles Mummified School District, even though I’m skeptical he could pull it off; the first step toward fixing something is acknowledging that it’s broken. His general theme that Los Angeles needs to be a place that middle-class people want to live in and businesses find it easy to do business in is certainly right. On the other hand, I don’t like Herzberg’s closeness to Der Gropenfuehrer; though that might be worth something to the city if Herzberg were elected, I’d rather have a Mayor who would work hard for the Democratic nominee next year.
Villaraigosa has enormous charm, but doesn’t seem to have decided what he wants to be charming about. If he has ideas about how to govern the city he’s been keeping them a secret, and he has a record of not following through on whatever good ideas he has.
The best argument I know for Herzberg is that Jonathan Zasloff of the UCLA Law School used to work for him, and would have some clout, especially on crime-control issues, if Hertzberg were elected. Jonathan’s argument for Hertzberg is that he’s the only candidate in the race with the energy, follow-through, and attention to detail that makes a good executive. As Zasloff describes him, Hertzberg is not only a policy wonk but that much rarer animal in politics, an operations wonk.
Here’s how Zasloff sums it up:
When the Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Public Works department says, “Mr. Mayor, that’s a great idea, but we can’t do it for this and that reason,” Hertzberg is the one who will say, “Yes you can do it, and here’s how you’re going to do it, and here’s what’s going to happen to you if you don’t do it,” and be right, and be capable of carrying out the threat.”
Being Mayor is more about administration than it is about policy. (As the elder Richard Daley once said, “Da job a’ da Mare is ta collect da garbage.”) So if Zasloff is right — and I have no reason to doubt that he is right — that’s a pretty conclusive reason to vote for Hertzberg.