As a politician, Wesson’s no stranger to danger

Times Staff Writer

You have to respect a man who has been at the wrong end of a spear gun.

In this case, that man is Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson. As a workers’ comp investigator in the 1980s, Wesson was delivering a subpoena to an injured worker when the person pulled out the first weapon he could find, which happened to be a spear gun.

Wesson got himself out of that pickle by talking softly and slowly backing away.


In the late 1970s and early 1980s Wesson also dabbled in stand-up comedy and even sold kitchenware for a while. All perfect training, in this column’s view, for life in City Hall.

Wesson, 55, was reelected last week to the council against two write-in candidates. In his 1 1/2 years in City Hall, he has emerged as the vocal chairman of the council’s housing panel and someone who is thick-skinned, funny and a bit old-school.

How does a politician manage to keep dodging spear guns or angry crowds?

Wesson jotted down a few tips after this column asked what he’s done to survive two decades in politics -- as chief of staff to former Councilman Nate Holden and then to County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and, of course, as state Assembly speaker from 2002 to 2004.”One of the things about the job I have now,” Wesson said, “is that you have to be able to read a crowd. If you can disarm someone with a little humor, they are more likely to objectively listen to you.”

His rules for survival -- my favorite is “think five moves ahead” -- are presented on this page.

Wesson had little opposition this year, so will he stay put since term limits were recently extended?

Wesson is at a fork in the road. He says he will decide in a few weeks whether he’s going to stick around City Hall or run for Burke’s seat next year if she retires as she has suggested.

Wesson says there are 27 potential developments he’s working on along the commercial corridors in his Mid-City district -- in addition to the boomtown that is Koreatown. Three stops for the Expo Line light rail will also be in his 10th District -- and that means three big opportunities to build around the new stations.

And, it seems, the former Assembly speaker has caught the community beautification bug -- something this column wishes was more contagious.

“I love being in the district, and I love being a salesman for the district,” Wesson said, before launching into a mini-treatise on his plans for some nice-looking medians on Pico Boulevard.

Something else to chew on: Wesson’s radio ads from his recent campaign hinted that one day he would like to stand on the “shoulders of Tom Bradley,” i.e. run for mayor.

“That is something I could seriously look at doing,” Wesson said last week.

The bet here: Wesson stays in City Hall.

Any works of art in those last-minute campaign mailers?

We thought the Richard Alarcon-head-on-a-frog mailer would be tough to beat, but then Councilman Jose Huizar proved that politics on the city’s Eastside is kind of like a watermelon truck crashing into a fudge factory: messy.

Huizar’s last flier -- which hit mailboxes the day before Tuesday’s election -- had a huge drawing of Homer Simpson altered slightly to resemble his opponent, Alvin Parra.

The idea came from a 2003 column in The Times by Steve Lopez about a scheme Parra had hatched to get his wife elected to the school board without telling said wife.

The headline of that column dubbed Parra the Homer Simpson of L.A. politics.

Parra had thrown the kitchen sink at Huizar during the campaign, and Huizar wasn’t too happy about the allegations he was hit with. So, Huizar decided to drop an A-bomb, and now we know a little something about Huizar: He’s got a little Bruce Banner in him.

“Don’t make me angry; you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” Banner used to say before turning into a big, green guy in shorts and a bad haircut, otherwise known as the Incredible Hulk.

Will grass be allowed to keep growing in Palms?

George Garrigues, a member of the Palms Neighborhood Council, thinks so.

The background: Palms is sandwiched roughly between Culver City to the south and Cheviot Hills to the north.

Most of Palms’ residents live in apartment buildings, many of which are distinguishable only for their undistinguished architecture.

What makes Palms pleasant is that most of its apartment buildings are set back 25 feet from the street, allowing for a nice little strip of grass or landscaping between the sidewalk and the structures.

In the last year, five buildings have been proposed that would be so big they would eliminate the setbacks. On four of those occasions, residents -- led by Garrigues -- went up against developers and persuaded city planners to preserve the setback.

“I think we’ve stopped them,” Garrigues said.

We’ll see.

One side note is that the neighborhood council for Palms formed in 2005. The council isn’t allowed to appeal development issues, but in the absence of a homeowner association -- remember Palm is mostly apartments -- it has proven to be a good vehicle to keep an eye on City Hall.

Why was Councilman Tom LaBonge having a case of the willies recently?

The new Los Angeles Marathon course.

The night before the race, LaBonge admitted that he was nervous. It was his idea to change the course last year so runners could see more of the city and, in particular, have a chance to take in the downtown skyline from the 6th Street Bridge.

The post-race analysis has so far been good, although LaBonge said he had received a few e-mails from people suggesting that “I should stay out of the running business.”

Nah. In fact, this column wants to see the Tour of California bike race come to Los Angeles next year -- it got no closer than Santa Clarita and Long Beach this year -- and we are pretty confident that with very little prodding, LaBonge can find a scenic patch of asphalt or two.


Next week: Inside the world of parking theory.



Councilman Herb Wesson’s rules of political survival

Constituents are your biggest priority.

Your word is your bond.

Communication is key. Never assume anything.

Be a straight shooter.

Develop a thick skin.

Relationships and trust are everything.

Think five moves ahead.

Hire a good staff and listen to them objectively. Remember that you are elected, they are selected.

Do more for your colleagues than you ask them to do for you. (Be a member’s member.)

Don’t embarrass or belittle anyone in public. Be nice and respectful to everyone.

Try not to ask a question to which you don’t already know the answer.

Give the department and general manager a shot at fixing your problems before you start blasting them.

Don’t break your pick over

things that don’t adversely affect you.

Less is best.

Levity is a powerful weapon.

Never walk away from the table empty handed. It’s better to walk away with something than with nothing at all.

Remember, little things are important.

Be a strong chair of your committee. Never lose control.

Have fun. Enjoy what you are doing, or don’t do it at all.


Source: Councilman Herb Wesson