A year and a month is hardly enough time on which to base an adequate assessment of a City Council member, but in the case of Joe Buscaino, it will have to do. Buscaino was elected in January 2012 to finish out what was left of the term of Janice Hahn, who left when voters elected her to fill a vacancy in Congress. In his 13 months in office, Buscaino has done well enough, learning his way around not just City Hall but also the rest of the 15th District outside his native San Pedro: Wilmington, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Watts and a piece of South Los Angeles. Voters would be wise to keep him in office and allow him to build on his new experience, especially given the fact that his only opponent is James T. Law. Law filed to run for the seat and then virtually disappeared.
There was little doubt that the new councilman would be embraced by his hometown. Every council member from the 15th District, as long has it has existed, has lived in San Pedro and enjoyed a base of support there. The community needs a strong advocate in City Hall to finally realize its potential, but the problem has always been the degree to which the representative of that part of town does anything at all for neighborhoods in even greater need, especially in Wilmington and Watts.
So the biggest, and most pleasant, surprise about Buscaino is the degree to which he has been all over those communities, listening, learning, meeting constituents and understanding their needs. Soon after being sworn in, he spent a night at the Jordan Downs public housing project in Watts, and the gesture was for the most part appreciated by the residents there, although of course there was some concern that it was a one-time appearance.
He is seen often in a hard hat or a yellow vest, and, more to the point, he is often seen around his district. This is a councilman who appears to understand pothole-by-pothole community service. It may be that he has a little bit of Kenny Hahn in him. Perhaps a little Tom LaBonge.
And pretty much everything he does ends up on video. Other council members use online video as well, but none so much as Buscaino. He may be Los Angeles' first YouTube councilman. He could easily use video as a gimmick to promote himself, and to be sure, there is plenty of that. To his credit, though, he also makes ample use of video to keep constituents informed about projects in their district, what has happened, what is coming up.
It's a good start. And that's important because unless he leaves to run for some higher office, Buscaino is liable to be on the City Council until 2025. That's one of the problems with term limits, a supremely bad idea. Voters often see limits as a way to keep politicians from becoming entrenched, but it has had much the opposite effect because would-be challengers (except the occasional James T. Law) rarely bother running against an incumbent and instead wait for the easier ride, when the office becomes vacant.
For Buscaino, the biggest challenge of term limits is not that he must eventually leave the council but rather that for 12 more years he is unlikely to have even the pressure of a James T. Law to keep him on his toes. So let's hope he has it in him to pressure himself — to keep returning to Jordan Downs, keep monitoring the environmental hazards and quality of life in Wilmington, keep gang crime falling in Harbor Gateway and Harbor City, encourage retail, hiring and safety throughout the district. All while contributing thoughtfully but decisively to policies that both balance the city budget and keep services coming to residents.