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A smear campaign against their own system

Times Staff Writer

If you were seeking public office, what kind of campaign would you run?

Would you immediately confess all sins? Or, with no prompting, volunteer information about that little shoplifting misunderstanding or that woman who isn’t your wife?

Probably not.

The question is relevant because the Los Angeles City Council is running what is arguably the strangest race of this campaign season.

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Here’s the background: The council this summer approved a ballot measure that, if passed by voters, would allow members to run for a third four-year term. At present, they are limited to two terms.

It also would impose several lobbyist restrictions. The idea, its supporters say, is to give council members more time in office, lift some of the pressure they feel from special interests and let them better do their jobs.

And that brings us to the first question....

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What is the focus of the campaign?

Instead of talking about the merits of the term-limits issue -- naive as that may sound -- Proposition R campaign managers are concentrating on the lobbying reforms.

The thinking is that although voters generally love putting “limits” on those in power, they may love even more a chance to put “reforms” on big, bad lobbyists. But the tactic also may foster a message they didn’t intend.

Example: One of the mailers shows a Porsche wrapped up in a big bow and tie. “Prop R will OUTLAW gifts from lobbyists to elected officials,” the flier states.

In an adjacent photo, there is a photo of a hand holding a wad of cash in front of City Hall. “Prop R will OUTLAW campaign contributions from lobbyists.”

At the bottom of the page: “SAY YES ON PROP R. Let’s make sure city government works for US, not the lobbyists.”

Now, put down the Pop-Tarts and think about this.

The council is raising money for campaign mailers that accuse the council of being part of a corrupt system in an attempt to persuade you to give them more time in office.

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Brilliant.

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Has a council member ever received a free Porsche?

Not that we can tell. In fact, according to the council’s own conflict-of-interest statements filed with the city Ethics Commission, the only member to report any gift from a lobbyist in the last year was Greig Smith.

And the gift?

A $50 basket of Mrs. Beasley’s cookies. Yummy without the horsepower!

On the other hand, several council members reported gifts from firms with business before the city. Jose Huizar, for example, reported taking tickets to Disney on Ice.

Disney on Ice?

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And here’s the thing. If the ballot measure passes, those firms can keep on giving.

There are proposals out there in Campaignland that go that extra step: As part of his gubernatorial campaign, New York Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer is proposing to eliminate gift-giving to public officials by those who do business with the state.

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Wait. What was that sound?

The presses halting. This just in: There is a photo of Councilwoman Janice Hahn in a swimsuit on her city website at www.lacity.org/cd15 in the photo gallery! The photo was taken after Hahn participated in a polar bear swim in 2005. Brrrr.

Bad news, men: She’s also wearing a robe.

Although this column has a general prohibition against using any photographs of pols in bathing wear or flesh-revealing attire, Hahn’s moxie is appreciated.

No term limits for Janice Hahn!

In the meantime, we offer a more family-oriented photo of Hahn with a couple of her pals taken recently at a council meeting. Feel free to e-mail me with a caption.

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Has Goldfish Cam returned?

Yes, but in a different city.

The folks at the Lewiston (Maine) Sun Journal read about this column’s experiment earlier in the year in which two goldfish were plunked into a tank filled with Los Angeles River water.

In tribute, they have created their own experiment, putting five goldfish -- one for each of Maine’s gubernatorial candidates -- into a tank filled with the foul waters of the Androscoggin River. The idea is to inspire the candidates to clean up the polluted river, should they win.

Sun Journal scribe Kathryn Skelton said last week that the fish named after the incumbent, Democrat John Baldacci, “has grown the chunkiest.”

Meanwhile, the fish named after the longshot independent candidate, Phillip Morris NaPier, has died twice. “Phillip I kicked after 36 hours.... We replaced him, and Little Phillip II lived a mere 19 days. No plans for Phillip III -- got to draw the line somewhere.”

Skelton also reports that four of the five candidates have visited the tank with the exception of the Republican, Chandler Woodcock.

Another candidate showed up in front of the Sun Journal offices one morning giving away packets of goldfish crackers to prospective voters. See the fish at www.sunjournal.com.

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And the latest on the Los Angeles River?

There’s news on a couple of fronts.

First, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visited Seoul as part of his recent Asian trade mission and came away very impressed with the Cheonggyecheon Stream. Check out the photo taken by my colleague Duke Helfand, who covers the mayor.

That said, Villaraigosa also told his colleagues in a river meeting last week that he thought there was too much concrete on the Seoul project and would like to see less along the Los Angeles River. Councilman Ed Reyes, who leads the city’s river committee, agreed and affirmed that less concrete -- not more -- remains the goal.

The other bit of news is that the river master plan is on track to be released in late November, followed a few days later by the environmental impact report.

If both of those documents withstand public scrutiny and are approved by the council, then Reyes says construction on the re-greening of the river COULD -- repeat COULD, not WOULD -- begin on a new river park within months of receiving funding.

Translation: If all the balls line up and the state or the feds kick in some money, it’s conceivable that part of the river revitalization could begin sometime this decade.

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What does the river have to do with term limits?

A City Council that wants more time in office could have told voters something like this:

“Hey, we’re working on a lot of big problems in the city, such as the river, skid row, mass transit, affordable housing, landfills and crime, and we think we’re making progress. But we’d like to have the option of running for a third term to see through the work we’ve started.”

Something else to chew on: What if the system isn’t as corrupt as the council wants voters to think it is?

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steve.hymon@latimes.com


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