It was just over a decade ago that the San Fernando Valley tried to break away from Los Angeles and become its own city, one roughly the size of Philadelphia. The effort was a fairly resounding flop. The city as a whole rejected secession by a two-thirds vote, and it only barely passed in the Valley.
But the Valley's effort to leave did not diminish its power in the city that refused to let it go. Before secession, the Valley was a major factor in electing and reelecting Richard Riordan in the 1990s; it was largely responsible for electing James Hahn over Antonio Villaraigosa in 2001; and it helped bring about Hahn's downfall in 2005, when secessionists, angry at the mayor for fighting their movement, abandoned him for Villaraigosa.
In the current election, the Valley could supply as much as 40% of the city's overall vote. No surprise, then, that all four leading candidates have designs on it. Controller Wendy Greuel, who is from the Valley and represented it on the City Council, is, by all accounts, the heavy favorite in the area. Kevin James, the race's only Republican, sees the Valley as his best shot for building a pocket of support, especially in its more conservative western neighborhoods. Councilwoman Jan Perry believes her emphasis on business growth will resonate with voters there. Councilman Eric Garcetti, who grew up there, is hoping he can demonstrate effectiveness and points to a record of improving Hollywood to show what he could do for the other side of the hill.
Perry might seem an unlikely champion for Valley voters, with their traditional skepticism of City Hall and downtown, since she's a City Hall veteran who represents downtown. But her camp is convinced that some of the antipathy that once defined the Valley's view of downtown has abated, a view supported by their private polling as well as that of another campaign.
What's more, Perry's style may find takers in the Valley. She's blunt and aggressive, and has clashed with some of City Hall's power brokers, notably Council President Herb Wesson. Indeed, one consultant with no candidate in the mayor's race told me he regarded Perry as Greuel's biggest potential threat among those voters.
Garcetti is the one candidate who probably could afford to run poorly in the Valley — his base is more likely to bridge liberals on the Westside and Eastside — but he and his advisors recognize that he must hold his own there.
Two weeks ago, I tagged along with Garcetti when he visited Van Nuys Airport, where the future of an adult school to train aircraft mechanics was in jeopardy. Garcetti was yawning and seemed tired as we rode over the hill, but a Tommy's burger and fries, a favorite from his Valley youth, seemed to revive him, and he bounded into the school. This is far from Garcetti's district, but he realizes that this means he has to show the area he can deliver what they want.
"We are going to save this program," Garcetti promised a group of students. "This is a solvable problem."
James, meanwhile, hopes to strike emotional and ideological chords. There aren't many Republicans left in Los Angeles, but the West Valley has a higher concentration than most areas. This was the home of secession, and it remains a community of single-family homes.
James has campaigned hard in the Valley — his headquarters is on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks — and he is counting on a strong showing in this part of town to offset what will almost surely be lower totals in South, East and West Los Angeles, where voters are more liberal and less disenchanted with City Hall.
That said, Greuel still holds the strongest hand in the Valley. We visited there together recently, and evidence of her ties was apparent. At a senior center, Greuel waited quietly to be introduced — "never interrupt Bingo," she whispered to me from the edge of the room — but then was lavished with compliments and encouragement as she patiently made her way through the room.
One constituent stopped to ask her about bus service in the area, and beamed as Greuel promised to look into it. "I've known her a long, long time," the woman remarked to me.
Leaving, Greuel pointed out the neighborhood where she grew up and the spot where her parents were married, in a Protestant church. (Although many people assume Greuel is Jewish, she is not, though she is married to a Jewish man and they are raising their son in the Jewish tradition. Greuel calls herself "Jew-ish.")
The Valley has made some candidates and broken others. At the moment, it seems poised to help Greuel, but there's still more than a month to go.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times