When the newly configured Los Angeles City Council convenes July 3 in the newly restored City Hall chambers, the moment will be as historic as the ornate room itself. Transformed by term limits, the 15-member council will have six new faces. Two more new council members will be added after special elections fill seats vacated by the death of longtime Council President John Ferraro and the resignation of 30-year council member Joel Wachs. Such longevity is history now that council members are held to two four-year terms. Angelenos can worry about having a city run by novices or exalt at this influx of fresh ideas.
One cause for optimism is that the new council is bound to have a better relationship with Mayor-elect James K. Hahn than the old council had with outgoing Mayor Richard Riordan. As Interim Council President Ruth Galanter put it, how could it be worse?
The Republican Riordan and the largely Democratic council never found a way to work consistently with, rather than against, each other.
They were separated by more than party and ideology. A millionaire businessman, Riordan ran for mayor as the anti-politician. He saw himself as the CEO of a company, and he behaved like one toward the council members. That is not Hahn's style.
A veteran politician from a political dynasty, Hahn already has years of experience working with the council as city attorney. A Democrat, he shares council concerns on issues such as affordable housing. And he comes with alliances already in place, starting with sister Janice Hahn, newly elected to represent the 15th Council District, and including five sitting council members who endorsed him during the campaign.
Unlike Riordan and the old council, Hahn and the new council will start fresh under the new City Charter, which gives the mayor more power. Nudged along by soon-to-be eight new council members who never learned the old way of doing things, the new council will have to learn to build better coalitions itself. Rather than just phoning a department head to get something done, council members also will have to work with the mayor. And they will have to work with each other.
Disillusionment with the old way of doing business has ballooned into movements to break the city apart. Hahn, like Riordan before him, won big in the San Fernando Valley, ground zero of the secessionist movement. Riordan was not able to use this advantage to bolster ties between disgruntled Valleyites and their city government, in part because the anti-politician simply could not stop attacking government himself. The new mayor and the new council must remember that they are the government. How well they work together will help Angelenos decide whether this is a government--a city--worth keeping.