Former Deputy Mayor Tom K. Houston declared his candidacy for mayor of Los Angeles on Thursday, saying he is best qualified to reform city government because he is a political outsider who was inside long enough to understand the "stagnation and gridlock" at City Hall.
Houston's announcement at his downtown law office appeared designed to get the jump on an expected host of mayoral candidates seeking to capitalize on what they perceive as an anti-incumbent fervor.
Richard Riordan, a former city Recreation and Parks commissioner, and Nick Patsaouras, a member of the Southern California Rapid Transit District board, are among those expected to announce mayoral candidacies.
Houston becomes the latest formally announced candidate to try to replace his former boss, Mayor Tom Bradley, who recently announced that he will retire at the end of his fifth term next year. Councilmen Joel Wachs and Michael Woo have said they will run.
The most recent entry surprised many at City Hall who had assumed Houston had given up government work when he resigned in 1987 as Bradley's top aide to pursue a career as a lawyer and lobbyist.
Houston immediately sought to set himself apart from professional politicians by pledging to serve only one term in office.
He even promised to forfeit a "substantial" trust fund to charity if he were to run for a second term.
"Los Angeles will need a tough, experienced and aggressive leader, who is not a politician, to lead the city, " Houston said. "The new mayor simply can't be worrying about public opinion polls, his own career or whether he will be successfully reelected."
Houston said the centerpiece of his effort will be increasing the mayor's powers, which are weak compared to those of other big city administrators.
He said he would place on the ballot--either with the City Council's support or through a petition drive--a City Charter amendment to shift the power to hire and fire department heads from the City Council to the mayor.
Houston cited two examples in the last year of the purported weakness of the system--the protracted standoff between the council and Bradley over efforts to remove Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and a finding in an audit that the city Planning Department had fallen too much under the sway of City Council members.
"The value of the change is that you can actually get something done," Houston said. "In the Planning Department now, you have at least 16 bosses--the mayor and the 15 council members. And each is seeking preferential treatment for their projects and trying to put undesirable projects in someone else's district."
Houston said he cannot be categorized as a liberal or a conservative, despite his work as head of the state Fair Political Practices Commission under Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. and his tenure under Bradley from 1984 to 1987.
But he appeared to be pitching for conservative votes Thursday when he called for a federal crackdown on illegal immigration. If the flow of illegal immigrants cannot be stemmed, he said, local government should be relieved of its responsibility to provide services for the newcomers.
On other subjects:
Houston said he would seek to provide jobs in areas damaged by the riots through public works projects, such as a truck and train corridor connecting downtown and the harbor; promote a half-cent sales tax on restaurant and hotel bills over $50 and $60 respectively to raise money for the homeless, and encourage large employers to place workers on four-day workweeks to reduce traffic and crowding.
Such issues may stimulate debate but are unlikely to boost the little-known, behind-the-scenes player from an April primary into an expected June runoff, one campaign consultant said.
"He is a very cerebral guy and he would certainly add a great deal of thoughtful debate," said Richard Lichtenstein, president of Marathon Communications. "But for all practical purposes, he has no political constituency. He would be just another white male in a very large field."
Houston said he has not asked Bradley for an endorsement but hopes some of the mayor's backers will contribute to his campaign.
In his three years as Bradley's chief of staff, Houston was credited with charting a more aggressive, high-profile image for the mayor. He focused on issues such as campaign contribution limits and, during Bradley's second run for governor, a statewide anti-toxics initiative. Houston and another mayoral aide arranged a 1985 river rafting trip designed to demonstrate Bradley's vigor and concern with the environment.
But by the time he left the mayor's office, Houston was seen as autocratic and publicity hungry by some co-workers. He ordered members of the mayor's staff not to talk to the press without permission and limited access to Bradley.
Some may also contest Houston's claim that he is a political outsider. Besides his long service in government, he returned repeatedly to lobby Bradley after leaving City Hall in 1987. The lobbying efforts of Houston and other mayoral aides led to calls at City Hall for a "revolving door" law. Though the law was not passed then, a similar ordinance was later passed.