Mitchell Englander is the elephant in the room, which is to say that in a Los Angeles City Council chamber inhabited by 14 Democrats, he is the only Republican. For the most part that distinction goes unnoticed; city government is officially nonpartisan, and Englander doesn't engage in political rants. He's very much in line with the district that he represents — the 12th, in the northwestern corner of the San Fernando Valley.
So much in line, in fact, that no one filed to run against him in the March 3 election. Voters will see his name on the ballot, but they will have little choice. Vote for him or not, Englander will be elected to a second City Council term. That continues a line of succession that goes back decades: Englander was chief of staff to his predecessor, Greig Smith, who was chief of staff to his predecessor, Hal Bernson. With no decision to make, voters ought to take the opportunity to evaluate, as The Times does, Englander's performance to date.
They will find a councilman dedicated to the district's suburban lifestyle. For example, he was keen to crack down on group homes and boarding houses, a position criticized because it would jeopardize houses serving veterans, the disabled and recovering addicts. He has tempered his earlier hard-line stance, but Englander must come to terms with the fact that urban ills are present in, and must be addressed and treated in, every part of the city.
He does a good job in constituent service. In fact, he has developed a system to circumvent City Hall's bureaucracy and use his office's resources to get basic nuts-and-bolts tasks done. We get it — City Hall is a mess, and Englander has residents to serve.
But as a member of the body that runs City Hall, he bears a large chunk of the responsibility for making it work as it should. L.A. taxpayers already employ city workers to clean the streets, fill the potholes and do all those other things that Englander finds it necessary to do out of his council office and budget. Being popular and unopposed, he is uniquely positioned to rattle some cages — the mayor's, city unions' or those of anyone else who stands in the way of an efficient, service-oriented City Hall.
To his credit, he leaned on the Department of Water and Power when it flubbed the rollout of a new billing system, and he regularly pushes for leaner government focused on core services.
But with the council already having lost or about to lose its orneriest and most fiscally conservative members, Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks, and with the balance of the council too beholden to public employee unions and too unwilling to defy the status quo, Englander needs to step up his game. He needs to let his inner elephant trumpet fiscal responsibility and efficiency.