You Get What You Vote For

Sara Catania last wrote for the magazine about the Compton Courthouse.

Warren Beatty doesn’t want the job. Nor does Phil Jackson or Rob Reiner or Eli Broad.

On the eve of the 45th mayoral race since the founding of modern Los Angeles, this piece could start off with a lament: Nobody’s interested. T.C. Boyle is working on a novel and is too busy to talk about things like elections. It could go on about how in some cities politics vie with sports as the stuff of idle chit-chat and deep sentiment, a staple, a fix, a thrill, a comfort, a conversation, a passing exchange or an impassioned debate to be had with the mail carrier or the neighbor or the co-worker or the supermarket checkout clerk, not to mention civic leaders and thinkers and writers and artists and activists. Matt Groening isn’t doing political interviews. How here, it’s tough to get people to talk about the office of mayor, let alone consider running for it. Peter Ueberroth is in a meeting, always in a meeting and, sorry, unavailable to discuss it. Otis Chandler is out of the loop, doesn’t really have anything to say. Jared Diamond is caught up with his book tour. How in other cities the office of mayor is a point of pride, an affirmation of place and proprietorship and sensibility. Richard Riordan’s been there, done that, declines to comment. How in other cities the man himself--the current mayor--and the contenders are everywhere, on TV news, on front pages of newspapers, knocking on your door. Sherry Lansing is so preoccupied with packing up her office at Paramount that even her assistant can’t return calls. How in those cities everybody has a stake. How things are at stake. Jobs and ideas and the ruling class. Because hizzoner alone has the power to unite or divide, to make a city feel its greatness and its strength. To make a city matter.

But here everybody knows those paradigms don’t apply. Voter turnout for mayoral elections hovers around 34%. That means that in the primary on March 8, only a third of the city’s 1.5 million registered voters might cast a ballot. That doesn’t count the additional million residents of Los Angeles who are eligible to vote but haven’t bothered to register. Or all the adults who live here but aren’t eligible to vote. Compare that with the 50% voter turnout in San Francisco, or the 74% in San Diego. Amid the vibrancy of this polyglot, Pacific Rim, pan-Latin, poverty-riven, paradisiacal mega-metropolis, one can’t help but wonder why L.A.'s mayoral races--and its mayors--are so disappointing.

Why Are These Guys Running?


Disclaimer: no mayoral candidates were interviewed for this piece, nor was anyone who has a direct stake in the outcome of the race. The point of this piece is to step away from politics as usual and puzzle over how we might move from the usual and the ordinary (which leaves many of us feeling disengaged) to the inspired and the extraordinary. Despite the difficulties in securing some interviews--as laid out above--two dozen or so thoughtful people were willing to talk. Each was asked to address two questions: If you could choose anyone at all to be mayor of Los Angeles, whom would you choose? And why? More detail on their responses later, as well as their thoughts on why we keep voting the usual suspects into office. For now, just know that several qualified their responses by noting that they’d be content with any of the current top candidates. None who chose to comment on the current race, however, singled out a particular candidate as his or her top choice.

This is not too surprising, considering what’s on offer. The incumbent, Jimmy Hahn, rode into office on the nostalgia vote delivered by fans of his late dad, longtime County Supervisor Kenny Hahn, and has been missing in action ever since. The two city councilmen in the race, Bernie Parks and Antonio Villaraigosa, appear to have scores to settle with the mayor. Hahn helped fire Parks from his job as police chief, and bested Villaraigosa in the last mayoral runoff after unleashing a scurrilous mail and television blitz suggesting that his opponent was linked with a seamy world of drugs and thuggery. Villaraigosa, Bob Hertzberg and Richard Alarcon are Sacramento ping-pongers, members of a growing group of career pols whom term limits have bounced from L.A. to the Capitol and back again. One can’t help but suspect that for these guys, coming back to L.A. is like moving back home after college and sleeping in your old bunk until you figure out what you really want to do with your life.

It’s a state of affairs that dismays Alice Callaghan, who has served indigent families as director of Pueblo de Las Familias on skid row for 24 years. “City politics today have evolved into a non sequitur to life,” she says. “I look at those who are running and it doesn’t make any difference who wins. There will be no debate that will have anything to do with anything that is important to the people for whom I work. Every one of them, because of term limits, is just passing through. The mayor is just one more step to something else. So the poor will never be of consequence, because they don’t finance campaigns.”

Remember Angela Oh? An attorney and activist, she came to prominence in the wake of the Rodney King riots as a voice for the Korean community. She went on to serve on President Clinton’s Initiative on Race. “Somebody just asked me this morning, ‘Are you ever going to run for office?’ And the answer is no,” she says. “The realm of public office is quite a futile one these days. People like myself really should be engaged.” Yet Oh says she is not, for two reasons: “Money and the lack of integrity that seems to go hand in hand with public office. You cannot really pick people who are serious about leading. You have to pick people who are willing to be accommodating. And unfortunately the accommodation goes too far, and people get in trouble.”


But again, this isn’t so much a lament or a piece about the imminent election as it is an exploration of how we might cast our votes in March while casting an eye to a better future. That future is only four--or eight--short years away.

The qualifications for the job of mayor are minimal--candidates merely have to live in L.A. and be registered to vote here. The pay isn’t bad--close to $200,000 a year, plus an office, a staff, private security, a house and a car. The winner does have to win. But consider two of the most storied California elections in recent memory: In San Diego, a surf shop owner who ran as an eleventh-hour write-in mayoral candidate got more votes than the incumbent, and in Sacramento a movie star who never held elective office is now governor. An unknown with no money, a celebrity with limitless resources. Both tapped into the zeitgeist, both fired imaginations and galvanized voters. Why can’t we have a story like that in L.A.?

How Did We Get Here?

The Los Angeles mayor most often nominated for sainthood is Tom Bradley. Born in Texas to a family of sharecroppers, he came to L.A. as a kid and became a cop and then a councilman. His first run for mayor--in 1969 against incumbent Sam Yorty, a bigot with a big personality--went down in flames when Yorty successfully played what would come to be called the race card.


Next time around L.A. was ready, and in 1973 Bradley won easily. His was a transformative mission--supplanting the old white guard with an unprecedented coalition of Jewish Westsiders and an emerging African American middle class. For a time Bradley was everyone’s darling. New York, the land of the big mayors, was in a lull between Fiorello LaGuardia and Ed Koch, and Chicago was slogging through the waning days of the Richard J. Daley political machine. In L.A. we had our first African American mayor, and it was all about the future--a real-life Starship Enterprise. He stuck around for about two terms too long, his image tarnished by two failed bids for the governorship, the Rodney King riots and the growing problems of poverty, crime and reckless development. But those early years are the ones people tend to focus on. As civil rights attorney Connie Rice puts it: “He’s the last mayor anybody remembers.”

But L.A. politics as we know them today did not start with Bradley. Rather, we need to rewind a few decades to the mayoralty of Frank Shaw, an old-school pol in an era of bootlegging and brothels who was ousted in 1938 for allegedly skimming public relief funds and selling city jobs. After Shaw came the squeaky-clean Fletcher Bowron, a conservative former judge who tossed out Shaw’s cronies and quietly reigned for 15 years. Here was a man who embodied the office as created by L.A. voters in the early part of the century, and herein lie the origins of our troubles. In choosing to professionalize the job of mayor, we also sucked the life out of it, creating a so-called “progressive” antidote to the corruption that gripped other cities, an intentionally gray and bureaucratic caretaker with very little power, designed to fade into the background. That tradition was continued in 1953 by the mild-mannered Norris Poulson, drafted by the Los Angeles Times and a cabal of downtown mucky-mucks to unseat Bowron. “You didn’t need much political intervention,” says Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount. “L.A. was growing by leaps and bounds . . . . You didn’t need much innovation. You just needed to help direct this incredible economic engine.”

In 1961, along came Yorty, a power-thirsty pol who threw a wrench into the works. A Nixon-backing former congressman and self-described maverick who had supported the House Un-American Activities Committee, he campaigned for mayor on an anti-trash-sorting platform (a precursor to recycling) and, while in office, blamed the 1965 Watts riots on Martin Luther King Jr. “A lot of people misinterpret that election because they think of a white conservative being elected as the status quo,” Guerra says. “But all the powers that be were against him. I think Yorty begins the modern era of politics in L.A. He infuses politics into a political position.”

By 1973 voters were tired of Yorty’s antics, and it was Bradley’s turn. “Tom Bradley was a mayor for the time,” says D.J. Waldie, a memoirist and public information officer for the city of Lakewood. “He was a man who could represent a changing Los Angeles in a non-threatening way, and that was an enormous benefit for the city.” Not everyone was impressed. From the perspective of Art Goldberg, an L.A. native and attorney who founded the Working People’s Law Center, Bradley’s unifying message fell far short of the mark. “Bradley was one of L.A.'s worst mayors,” Goldberg says. “He was great unless you lived in a poor area. He was a black leader who had nothing radical to do or say and just sort of floated along. What was Bradley’s vision? Jews and blacks should meet together and be friends. But South L.A. remained as bad or worse.”


Bradley’s successor, businessman Richard Riordan, served for eight years--the limit set by voters in 1993. Though the mayor of L.A. has no formal control over the schools, Riordan simply recruited and bankrolled his own slate of school board candidates. He also launched a major overhaul of the city’s charter, last modified in 1925, that eventually beefed up the powers of his office when it went into effect in 2000--too late to do him any good. His big disaster (every mayor seems to get at least one) was the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which, to his credit, he handled with compassion and authority.

Bill Boyarsky, who now serves on the city’s Ethics Commission, covered Riordan when he was an editor and columnist for The Times. “Insiders didn’t like him because he wasn’t glib and he had a short attention span,” Boyarsky says. “He can’t talk articulately and thinks the press are idiots. I liked him. I thought he did a good job.” Philanthropist Eli Broad, a longtime Riordan pal, waxes nostalgic for the years his friend was in office. “Dick had that Irish charm. He loved people. I think he did have vision, and he was a leader who brought people together.” But the enduring image of Riordan is that of a multimillionaire who existed in his own orbit, taking things only as seriously as he felt like taking them, especially when it came to the poor. This is the mayor who jetted off for a bike tour of the French countryside during a major L.A. bus strike, and chatted with hunger-striking gardeners while eating a hamburger.

Now we have Hahn, the former city attorney who ran for mayor because he could. Since taking office he’s done one thing of note: replacing Bernard Parks as police chief with Bill Bratton, an outsider who has reduced the crime rate and helped restore morale within the department. No wonder Bratton is the poster boy for Hahn’s re-election campaign. Maybe Bratton should be the one running. Former Police Chief Ed Davis (who once famously said of hijackers: “Give them a trial, then hang ‘em at the airport”) has lived through seven mayors in his adult life, dating back to Shaw in 1933. He finds Hahn singularly unimpressive. “I see nothing great out of him,” he says. “He is destined for the scrap heap of mayoral history.”

Sooner or later just about everybody blames the mayoral mess at least in part on a system intentionally designed around a “weak mayor.” It’s a term that brings to mind Superman being force-fed a steady diet of kryptonite. While other cities have scores of council members whose power is minute compared with that of the mayor, in L.A. we have only 15, each of whom comports him- or herself as a mini-mayor (or little ball of kryptonite, leaching our hero’s strength at every opportunity). Riordan’s ballyhooed charter reform gave the mayor the ability to fire and hire department heads, such as the police chief, but he’s still got no direct say over education or transportation or the environment or much of anything at all. And because of term limits, whatever he does hope to accomplish has to get done in eight years.


Kevin Starr, state librarian emeritus and a professor of history at USC, says these are poor excuses for poor performance. “I don’t think a weak mayor system means that the mayor has to be weak,” he says. “The weak mayor system doesn’t prevent articulation of values. You’re going to have to tell me how the weak mayor system prevents the mayor from speaking to the people cor ad cor loquitur--heart speaketh to heart. Who’s speaking to the heart of Los Angeles today?”

So Maybe It’s Us?

Some of the blame for lackluster mayors can be laid on the officeholders themselves, but much should rightly be placed elsewhere. Consider, as Duke law professor Erwin Chemerinsky observes, that “there is less of a tradition of very visible politics in L.A.,” which is a polite way of saying that the City of Los Angeles was founded by a bunch of guys who were interested in running things from beyond the purview of elective office, with the mayor as their civic front. Chemerinsky, long a commentator on L.A. politics, served on the city’s Charter Reform Commission and headed the commission that investigated the way city contracts are awarded. Until recently, he says, the most powerful person in city government was probably Ron Deaton, the council’s chief legislative analyst and a 40-year City Hall veteran whose word held major sway over everything from private bathrooms to landfill contracts. Deaton left in October to become general manager of the Department of Water and Power. “I bet most people in L.A. don’t know who Ron Deaton is,” Chemerinsky says. “It’s to me an indication of how much L.A. politics goes on behind the scenes.”

While that’s made for a less lively public discourse--and less lively mayors--it’s also resulted in a city government that has been, over a long period of time, much cleaner than most (the multiple funding and billing scandals now unfolding at City Hall the exceptions that prove the rule). “If you said, ‘I’m looking for an honest man to be mayor of Chicago,’ people would snicker,” says Carolyn See, whose novels plumb the nuances of the Los Angeles sensibility. “But I think maybe there’s just enough leftover idealism out here. Maybe I’m living in a dream world, but it seems to me we get our feelings hurt when people are corrupt.”


We may also get our feelings hurt when the city fails to deliver, time and again, on basic services such as public safety, transportation and education. But the reality is that we ask our city government for far more than we give it the financial resources to accomplish. It’s particularly true in California--and by extension in its largest metropolis--because of the prolonged tax-revenue deprivation of Proposition 13. New York City, for example, has one police officer for about every 200 residents. Los Angeles has one for about every 400. “Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, it’s clear that we need more police officers,” says talk radio host Larry Elder. “But when you look at the city budget, there just isn’t room for it.” That was the argument that doomed a Hahn proposal in 2003 to add 320 cops. (His effort earlier this month to get the City Council to back a force-increasing sales-tax ballot initiative was doomed as well when council members balked at asking the public to foot the bill.)

In Manhattan, where stockbrokers ride the subway, public transportation becomes the great equalizer. In L.A., some 425,000 people take the MTA every day, but 94% are bus riders, many of whom can’t afford cars and are forced to rely on a system that is woefully inadequate. “We’re at a level where we’re incompetent to cope with the scale of the problem,” says Connie Rice. “We have all these good people in government. They patch, they tinker, they send the scalp-cancer patient to the beauty shop. We operate on an assumption that we’re never going to solve the problems. So we need someone who can flip that on its head.”

Some people like to say that L.A. gets the mayors it deserves. “One of the problems we have as people who live in Southern California is that we have a very weak understanding of the lives and history that bring us to where we are today,” says Waldie. “Lacking a good historical grounding, not knowing the stories of our place, we make appallingly bad decisions about public policy issues.” How to engage any but the most altruistic of the middle and upper classes in this privatized, suburban city-state? “If people actually start thinking of L.A. as a city, we might actually get somebody in office who would act like a mayor,” says Art Goldberg. Sure, there are blips of civic interest, such as the neighborhood councils and the secession movement in the San Fernando Valley. But citywide there is very little glue. “It’s sad, because I do not see the civic leadership or business leadership in this city that I see in places like Chicago or New York,” says Broad. “We’re really a segregated city in many ways. The entertainment industry keeps pretty much to themselves. Unless you go back to the days of Lew Wasserman, I don’t see very many of them that have been involved in the entire city. Everyone’s off doing their own thing, so to speak.”

To be fair, there are some valid distractions, even for those who care about politics. “Any time you try to deal with the complexity of L.A. you either get bogged down in the minutiae so it never makes any sense, or you oversimplify it to where it is actually harmful to the city,” says downtown developer Tom Gilmore. Yxta Maya Murray, a novelist who teaches law at Loyola, pays very little attention to local politics. “It’s not the place where I put my heat,” she says. “My energy right now is about what’s happening in federal office. What’s happening at the federal court level. There’s craziness....If the end of the world looks like it’s coming, then a bus strike seems less pressing.”


How to compete? In other towns, politicians are the celebrities; in L.A., celebrities are the celebrities. So why not a celebrity mayor? Warren Beatty, perhaps? He explains why he’d never want the job: “The willingness to go through that fund-raising, to go through that fairly uninformed but still vaguely hostile media, is something that we may say are appropriate components of democracy. But my own opinion is that it needs adjusting.” Plus, he says, you have to be more than a little crazy.

Crazy might not be so bad. If the mayor has no power anyway, why not get somebody in there with an enormous personality who can put a little gloss on the job and who might actually be able to get a few things done by sheer force of charm and outsiderness? “The biggest personality in the last 50 years was our worst mayor,” cautions Raphael Sonenshein, political science professor at Cal State Fullerton and former executive director of L.A.'s Appointed Charter Reform Commission. He’s referring, of course, to Yorty, whom Waldie describes as a “tangy mayor.”

What we need here is balance. “Charismatic, non-gray mayors,” Waldie says. “But also mayors who are not empire-building or megalomaniacal.” A larger-than-life figure without the baggage of political ambition. Either a known entity, like a celebrity, or a complete unknown with an amazing, transcendent story, someone who appears from out of nowhere and upon whom everyone can pin his or her own aspirations.

Mayor Who?


This piece did not start off with a lament, and it’s not going to end with one. The point is this: If we try--just a little--we can find people who will talk about the office of mayor. And if we all talk about it and think about it and ask a good person to run for the job, that person might just say yes. Then all we have to do is vote.

Back to those questions: If you could pick anyone at all to be mayor of Los Angeles, whom would you choose, and why? The answers ranged from the practical to the fantastical, and were often reflections of our imagined best selves.

On the reality-anchored end of the spectrum, Angela Oh likes State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, whose district includes parts of the Westside and the Valley. “Sheila has what is called the ‘kiai’ in Japanese, or ‘chi’ in Chinese, a very strong, life-affirming force,” Oh says. “People try to distract her with things that might get traction with another person--she’s a feminist, she’s gay, she’s too liberal. But she keeps going back to the content stuff that tells you why she’s standing on the ground she’s standing on. She’s a kind person, and L.A. could use some kindness. It’s a tough place.” Bill Boyarsky suggests Lansing, the retiring Paramount chief who was recently tapped to head the state board on stem cell research. “She’s been through all the corporate battles, so she obviously knows politics in its most basic form,” he says. “She’s attractive, she can raise money, she’s very articulate, she’s a woman, and she’s from the outside.”

From the national realm, Alice Callaghan of Las Familias del Pueblo nominates Ralph Nader. “He would govern from principle. He believes that civic engagement is the pursuit of justice. L.A. should be so lucky.” Tom Gilmore comes up with Bill Clinton, who, he says, “was very good at being able to translate complex thoughts into reasonably interesting sound bites. At the same time he had a good heart--and he could probably get away with more sexually here.”


Some raise specific issues they want addressed. Art Goldberg ticks off rapid transit, housing, public education and youth violence. He suggests himself for the job, not because he really wants to be mayor, he says, but to make the point that the person in office could be anyone, that the real source of power is the collective force of the people who put him or her there. Larry Elder wants “someone who can move us toward a smaller government that promises people less and that does its number one job, which is to protect people.” According to Elder, these goals can best be accomplished by “a combination of Rudy Giuliani and Margaret Thatcher.”

There are those who are drawn to the ecclesiastical. “Why not put a saint in office?” asks Mike Davis, a professor of history at UC Irvine, in an e-mail response. “Father Greg Boyle at Mission Dolores understands better than anyone else in public life the tragedy we call ‘gang violence.’ And he has no other agenda than love, reconciliation and social justice.” Altagracia Perez, senior pastor at Holy Faith Episcopal Church in Inglewood and a leader of the successful effort to keep Wal-Mart out, immediately thinks of the Rev. James Lawson, who heads the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. “He has an incredibly rich experience in terms of seeking justice for people,” Perez says. “The primary responsibility of the mayor is to create a vision that inspires people to give of their best to build a good city, to make them want to participate, that makes them feel it is their obligation to get involved. Rev. Lawson does that.”

Some focus on the character of the individual. “The mayor has to have the ability to do something for each and every constituency,” says Carolyn See. “Even if he’s screwing a particular constituency, to tell them why, or at least make them understand why. And this is total pie in the sky, but he has to be honest, or people have to have the perception that he’s honest.” See nominates former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, the mastermind behind the 1984 Summer Olympics and a failed gubernatorial candidate in the recall race that elected Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Among the academics and historian types surveyed, there is a mini-groundswell of support for Kevin Starr. “If I were looking for the best person to be mayor of Los Angeles, I’d go looking for the best storyteller,” Waldie says. “Kevin Starr is our collective memory about what it means to be a citizen of Los Angeles.” Fernando Guerra declares that the next mayor of Los Angeles (after the current race) will certainly be Latino. He then puts forward Starr, explaining, “You don’t have to be Latino to be a Latino mayor in Los Angeles.”


Eli Broad says he can’t think of anyone who could do the job other than his pal Dick Riordan, who is term-limited out. But he perks up when the conversation turns to Rob Reiner, the former Meathead, director of “This Is Spinal Tap,” environmental activist and children’s advocate (he chairs First 5 California, which promotes universal preschool, and he helped pass a tobacco tax initiative that funds children’s programs). “If you think about Rob for just a minute,” Broad says, “he’s a leader. He’s got a social conscience. He got the ballot initiative through. Rob is one of the people in the entertainment industry who clearly steps outside of the industry to do things that he believes in. As I think about him, he could be a fascinating mayor. Let’s draft him.”

The assistant to Reiner’s assistant repeatedly, respectfully refuses to respond. The not-so-secret scuttlebutt is that Reiner’s sights are set on Sacramento.

One more: Phil Jackson. Not because he won all those championships or because he’s a big deal in the sports world or because he butted heads with Kobe. But because even if you don’t care a thing about sports, would not feel bad if you never saw another sports event in your life, this guy is appealing. He transcends the game. He is smart and self-effacing and effective and nontraditional and successful and graceful under pressure. He doesn’t tolerate arrogance or self-pity, and he embraces the talent and smarts of others. Also because he does come from sports--one of the few areas of life in which Angelenos think of themselves as part of a connected, unified whole. That ability to unify in and of itself could give him a huge, leaping start.

Jackson is no stranger to politics--he campaigned heavily for Bill Bradley for president in 2000 (Bradley joked that if elected he’d name Jackson his secretary of defense). According to his agent, Todd Musburger, Jackson has been asked to run for various offices in his home state of Montana as well as in North Dakota, where he attended high school. As for L.A., well, the answer is apparently no. “I suppose every savvy politician must say ‘never say never,’ ” Musburger says. “But Phil is still experiencing life after basketball to see if he likes life after basketball.” Even if Jackson winds up coming back to the Lakers, chances are in four years he’d be ready for a change.


So will we.



How About a Comedy Host, a Poet, or Somebody’s Mama, or Perhaps a Tree? A few more nominees for mayor:


Jon Stewart. “He is the sharpest political mind on the scene in the U.S. right now,” says Michael Dear, founding director of the Southern California Studies Center at USC. “He comes the closest to telling the truth. He draws people’s attention to politics in a way that a lot of politicians can’t, especially for young people.”

Heloise. Novelist Yxta Maya Murray can think of no one more suited to the job than Heloise, an abbas in 12th century France. “She was a developer and enacter of laws,” Murray says. “She was a fund-raiser and she was a wildly passionate, literate, educated woman.”

A Big Old Native Oak. “It helps hold the soil together and our city together,” says Andy Lipkis, founder of TreePeople. During a major storm, one large oak can naturally hold, store, treat and release 57,000 gallons of water. “No one sees that,” Lipkis says. “It does it very quietly. It’s very generous, very powerful. It works behind the scenes to take care of our most basic needs.”

Steve Abee. “The mayor, theoretically, should be the greatest man or woman in Los Angeles,” says Lewis MacAdams, a poet and co-founder of Friends of the Los Angeles River. “Somebody who gives his life to his city in a certain basic way.” For MacAdams that person is Steve Abee, a poet and English teacher at Thomas Starr King Middle School, whose book “The Bus” McAdams calls “one of the great books written about Los Angeles.”


Connie Rice’s Mother. “She’d come in there and say, ‘What’s your story? Tell me why you’re messing this up,’ ” says her daughter, a civil rights attorney. Rice herself has been mentioned as a mayoral contender, but she dismisses the idea with a laugh and the assertion, “I’d be shot.” She says she is very much like her mother, but that her mother, a former schoolteacher who will soon turn 70, has the advantage of age. “Very few people mess with wise, elderly women,” she says.

Michael York or Edward James Olmos. “Both have a solid record of participation in public affairs, community affairs, charitable affairs,” says state librarian emeritus and professor of history at USC Kevin Starr. “Notice I went to two actors. Simply because our politicians tend to be invisible.”