Garcetti or Greuel? No, it's not the grim menu choice at some tony Malibu spa; it's the question before Los Angeles voters on Tuesday as they determine who will lead the city as mayor for the next four, and possibly eight, years.
Many will no doubt be tempted to sit this one out. Voters show up at the polls when they are convinced that the election will make a difference in their lives, and in this campaign, the candidates have done little to differentiate themselves or to demonstrate why the city would be better off with them than without them in charge. Both are liberal Democrats whose records show too much go-along-to-get-along and too little leadership.
Neither would likely be a disaster, and based on a year's worth of politicking, neither particularly inspires. Both have sullied themselves with low-blow statements and tactics.
But failing to vote would be a mistake for at least two reasons. First, a small and sleepy electorate would signal to the victors that they are right to take their marching orders solely from the people with the bucks (business leaders, labor leaders, political king-makers and queen-makers) rather than those with the votes.
And second, there is a difference. Eric Garcetti has shown talent and imagination — and results — in reviving the neighborhoods of his City Council district (Echo Park, Hollywood, Silver Lake, Atwater Village, Glassell Park), and he showed patience, wisdom and, ultimately, leadership as the council's president as the city faced financial meltdown. Importantly, he has acknowledged mistakes and has demonstrated an ability to learn from them.
Wendy Greuel is intelligent and ambitious, but her tenure on the council and as city controller suggests a person focused at least as much on keeping her head low during tough times as on keeping her nose to the grindstone. She has committed repeated gaffes, and then blamed the media and others for hearing what she said rather than what she claims to have meant. At one point she argued that critics in "the political establishment" had a hard time dealing with her support from major public employee unions and business groups, although it's difficult to figure out just who makes up that supposedly shaken establishment if it's not those very same interests that are raising and spending so much money on her behalf.
The Times' editorial page doesn't shy away from criticizing any candidate when it is warranted, but neither do we avoid recommending the candidate, warts and all, in each race whom we deem to be the better choice. We do what we ask voters to do: choose.
Tuesday's election marks a runoff not just for mayor but for the two other citywide offices and for several City Council seats. There are also four ballot measures and a council primary.
The Times recommends:
City attorney: Mike Feuer. The four-year tenure of incumbent Carmen Trutanich can best be described as a well-intentioned experiment that failed. Look past his bluster and self-promotion and you're left with a politician who almost immediately tried (unsuccessfully) to move up the electoral ladder while misunderstanding his office and squandering the opportunity to advocate for the people of Los Angeles or solve city problems. Feuer, by contrast, was a creative and hardworking state legislator and City Council member; it could be that no candidate in decades has been better suited than he to be Los Angeles city attorney.
Controller: Ron Galperin. With his eye for both budget detail and big-picture policy matters, Galperin is the controller candidate from central casting, and voters would be wise to put his smarts and talent to work in City Hall East. He's a better choice for the job than Dennis Zine, who appears to be seeking a place to land upon being termed out of his City Council seat.
Council District 1: Jose Gardea. A homegrown public servant, Gardea has shown himself to be a hardworking chief of staff to Councilman Ed Reyes, with a keen understanding of Northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods from Pico-Union to MacArthur Park to Lincoln Heights. Meanwhile, the 60-some billboards for Gil Cedillo on district streets, some donated by a sign company and some bought by a labor PAC, bespeak Cedillo's close ties — too close — with special rather than neighborhood interests.
Council District 6: Cindy Montañez. Montañez is that rare candidate whose run for office is built more on preparation, knowledge, experience and ability than on a sense of entitlement or links to political string-pullers. In this special primary to fill the vacancy left by Tony Cardenas, she is the best of six candidates to lift the often struggling neighborhoods of Van Nuys, Panorama City, Arleta, Pacoima, Sun Valley, Lake Balboa and North Hollywood.
Council District 9: Curren Price. South Los Angeles voters can choose to see Price and rival Ana Cubas as experienced pols who bring the benefit of time spent and work done in other neighborhoods, or as opportunistic outsiders taking advantage of a rare opening on the City Council. While both have struggled to articulate a credible plan for serving the people of this largely poor, underemployed district, Price — a former councilman in the nearby city of Inglewood — is the one with the political skills to put together a staff that can get things done.
Council District 13: Mitch O'Farrell. The race to succeed Garcetti in this district of hipsters and Hollywood, power and poverty, presents perhaps the city's most glaring contrast. Other staffers run to replace their bosses, but O'Farrell stands out for the hands-on constituent service he provided over the years. He knows his district well, although he will have to step up — as will other council members, incumbents and newbies alike — to the challenge of dealing with citywide budgeting, land-use and service issues. Other candidates come with backing and marching orders from big labor and big business power brokers, but O'Farrell's rival, John Choi, more than most, demonstrates more fealty than independence.
Proposition C: No. This measure, placed on the ballot by the City Council, asks voters to instruct their members of Congress to get the ball rolling on a constitutional amendment to remake campaign finance law and overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's controversial 2010 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. What would such a vote tell the city's congressional delegation that it doesn't already know? Nothing. What would it call for an amendment to say? This measure doesn't specify. How binding would this vote be? Not at all. Campaign finance reform, balanced as it must be against 1st Amendment freedoms, is a complex matter most effectively handled by well-crafted laws. This measure won't result in either a constitutional amendment or good laws; it serves only to take the wind out of the sails of those working for real-world solutions to keep political money in its place.
Proposition D: Yes. The City Council presented voters with this medical marijuana measure to counter two initiatives placed on the ballot by signature drives. All three respond to the mess that the council made of the already messy legal landscape of medical marijuana in California. Read the measures, read the analyses, but the short version is this: Proposition D would roll back dispensaries in the city to about 135, the number that registered under city law in 2007, leaving enough shops to serve ill residents who don't grow their own or participate in small collectives. Of the three, it's the measure most likely to lend at least some temporary resolution to the marijuana issue in Los Angeles while protecting neighborhoods against unregulated proliferation of dispensaries.
Initiative ordinance E: No. So perverse is the world of medical marijuana in Los Angeles that labor organizers put their own version on the ballot — this one — to further their goal of unionizing dispensary workers. The City Council then put a very similar measure on the ballot — Measure D — and turned over to the union the duties to campaign for it. That accomplished, labor dropped its support for E, which now has no organized support at all.
Initiative ordinance F: No. This voter initiative would permit an unlimited number of dispensaries to operate in the city, subject to rules prohibiting them from operating too close to schools, parks and each other. If passed, it would overtax the city's enforcement abilities and is more likely to draw crackdowns from federal authorities than to pave the way for the freer and wider marijuana use that many of its backers support.
Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education District 6: Monica Ratliff. Ratliff is a knowledgeable and independent teacher and a former public interest lawyer, and, although politically naive, she is the better choice over the connected but less substantial Antonio Sanchez.