If I could have had it my way, Rick Caruso would be running for mayor of Los Angeles. I don't know if he would have won, and I don't know if I would have voted for him. But I love a good fight, and Caruso is rich enough to have raised the small hairs on the back of Antonio Villaraigosa's neck.
Caruso took a pass, though, realizing it's lots easier being mayor of The Grove and Americana on Brand, where the trolleys run on time and there are no potholes. And that's why, on Tuesday morning, I found myself in the Carthay Circle living room of Walter Moore.
Moore is a little-known lawyer with no experience in politics. But that hasn't stopped him from taking on the mayor. This is Moore's second time on the ballot with Villaraigosa, a politician he finds so irredeemable he can't stop himself from nipping at his ankles.
It is fair to say Villaraigosa is not losing any sleep over the threat. Moore has very little money, very little name recognition and very little support. So the Villaraigosa camp acts as if Moore is invisible, ignoring his plea for a debate. Ace Smith, Villaraigosa's campaign manager, told The Times that Moore is simply not a serious candidate.
"We're not going to debate Lyndon LaRouche, either," said Smith, referring to the former presidential candidate who was viewed by many as somewhat of a kook, you might say.
Excuse me, but isn't that a little arrogant and uncalled for? Does Villaraigosa honestly believe he's performed so brilliantly as mayor that he shouldn't have to answer to his challengers?
Sure, Moore can't match Villaraigosa's purse. But he has collected roughly $200,000 in donations, making him the only one of several obscure candidates to come anywhere near qualifying for matching funds.
Without a debate, however, his only hope of getting any attention is to paint "Moore for Mayor" on top of a car, pay someone to hijack it and call the TV news stations.
So how does Moore feel about the shabby treatment by his rival? "I don't feel outclassed," Moore said, noting that he's a Princeton man with a law degree from Georgetown. And he passed the bar on his first try, unlike a certain mayor who came up short not once, not twice, not three times, but four times, before giving up the dream.
"It's not that hard," Moore whispered of the bar exam, as if telling a secret.
Not that Moore comes without warts. In fact, he is best known for a thorny and divisive issue.
Remember Jamiel's Law? He wrote it.
The petition, which fell far short of the signatures required to qualify for the ballot, was named for Los Angeles High football player Jamiel Shaw II, who was gunned down last March.
The alleged assailant was a Latino gang member and illegal immigrant who happened to have been released a day earlier from county jail, where he had been held on a weapons charge out of Culver City.
Moore teamed with the victim's family in an attempt to overturn Special Order 40, an LAPD policy that bars officers from routinely questioning people about their immigration status. Moore told me he understands the desire for work-starved immigrants to come here illegally, but he thinks Order 40 makes Los Angeles a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants bent on crime.
He has a point, but there are more than a few problems with his argument. What we need is national immigration reform followed by strict enforcement, and that's a federal matter. And, as LAPD Chief Bill Bratton argued, abolishing Order 40 would scare off illegal immigrants whom police rely on for information about criminal activity.
Moore, if you ask me, also goes off the rails with the assertion on his campaign website that Los Angeles is "turning into a Third World dump." But in person, his arguments are less strident and somewhat more nuanced, and for every thoroughly wrong-headed thought, he's got two or three decent if incomplete ones.
There should be parks where there are now parking lots, he said, with the parking moved underground. Parking lanes should be eliminated on major thoroughfares and replaced by rapid bus routes. "Subway to the Sea"? Don't hold your breath, Moore said, because it'll only be seen by those of us "who have the life spans of redwoods."
He called the mayor's solar energy initiative "a vague plan to come up with a plan." He would derail questionable community redevelopment projects and use the money to hire more cops. He'd stop subsidies and other giveaways to millionaire developers downtown and elsewhere. He'd abolish gang prevention programs run by ex-gangsters. And he wouldn't allow advertisers to wrap buildings in vinyl ads that block exits.
"How stupid is that?" he asked, going on to say the mayor wasted months of valuable time on a disastrous school takeover bid and then spent far too many weeks on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton.
If the mayor has so much time for silly photo ops, Moore argued, "why can't he give me 60 minutes for a debate? Do people want more density or less? Do they want more police or less? Do they want Jamiel's Law? If people disagree with me, then so be it. But let's debate it."
Moore said he's down to his last dollar after investing in hats, lawn signs, bumper stickers and radio ads. He's ignored by the media because he has no money, and he has no money because he's ignored by the media. A debate, he said, is his only chance.
Look, I'm not saying I'd vote for Moore. But has Villaraigosa done so well that he should waltz his way to a second term unchecked?
I say we deserve a debate. I'm happy to moderate, by the way, and Moore said he's ready to joust with Villaraigosa any time and anywhere.
So what do you say, readers? Shall we put it to a vote?
Do your civic duty and go to www.latimes.com/lopezdebate to make your voice heard. The future of a great city is at stake.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times