The race to replace longtime City Councilman Tom LaBonge started out promisingly — there were 14 candidates from inside politics and out, some more serious than others, but enough who were smart, enterprising and scrappy. Now, after an appallingly low turnout primary in a district known for its neighborhood activism, voters are left with the two top performers, Carolyn Ramsay and David Ryu.
FOR THE RECORD:
Tom LaBonge: An April 26 editorial said City Councilman Tom LaBonge sponsored a commemoration of Elvis Presley's 80th birthday. LaBonge's name appeared on promotional materials, but he did not spend any office funds on the event, according to city records. —
At the moment, neither offers a particularly clear or persuasive vision for fixing the city's ills — its fiscal crisis, homelessness, failing infrastructure — or appears ready to hold his or her own with domineering City Council President Herb Wesson. Both are smart and have a good sense of the neighborhood issues that most concern residents of Council District 4, including overdevelopment, traffic, broken streets and sidewalks.
But of the two, the candidate who stands the better chance of growing into a tough-minded council member who could tackle citywide problems and minister to constituents without being pushed around by them is Ramsay. The Times endorses her.
Ryu is affable and energetic. He was a senior deputy to L.A. County Supervisor Yvonne Burke and, more recently, director of development and public affairs at Kedren Acute Psychiatric Hospital and Community Mental Health Center. But he doesn't have much of a record of leadership and has only general ideas for how to handle the district's problems or the city's. His mantra on the campaign trail has been: “It's not about what I want, it's what you want.” But that only goes so far.
Ramsay has shown that she can lead projects from start to finish. As a deputy in LaBonge's office, she was his point person in the final years of the city's campaign to acquire Cahuenga Peak and the surrounding 138 acres in Griffith Park. When she served as chief of staff to LaBonge, she secured funding to build much-needed soccer fields at Van Nuys Sherman Oaks Park. Ramsay has proposed turning a 20-block industrial area of Hollywood into an Innovation Zone and promoting it as a location for tech start-ups.
LaBonge has been the consummate retail politician, happiest when he is out shaking hands. His attentiveness to constituent needs is admirable, but he has neglected citywide issues. The next council member in District 4 should think differently. That means not spending discretionary funds on stringing holiday lights around the L.A. Zoo or sponsoring a show to commemorate Elvis Presley's 80th birthday — as LaBonge did — but working to control costs and restore city services. It means reining in developers seeking unreasonable variances and making them work within existing or updated community plans.
Ramsay, to her credit, has declared, repeatedly and sometimes in exasperation, “I am not Tom LaBonge.”
If she is elected, and we hope she will be, she should stake out her own ground.