Chess match at L.A. City Hall could raise the stress levels

Only a few months have passed since six of the Los Angeles City Council’s 15 members won a third and final term at City Hall. But that hasn’t stopped some of them from starting to search for the political exits.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn, sworn in July 1, has spent more than three months raising money for her race for lieutenant governor next June. Councilman Richard Alarcon, who took office the same day, has opened a committee to run for the Assembly in the San Fernando Valley, even though that election is more than two years away.

Councilwoman Jan Perry has revealed her intention to run for mayor in 2013, the year Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s second and final term ends. And Councilman Dennis Zine is keen on replacing City Controller Wendy Greuel the same year -- but only if Greuel launches her own mayoral bid first.

“If she decides to run for mayor, I would definitely run for controller,” said Zine, who represents a portion of the west San Fernando Valley. “I think I’m geared toward that with my police background and what I’ve done on the council, in terms of challenging and questioning.”


The City Hall chess moves -- some announced, others only in the discussion stage -- could make it harder for the council to make unpopular decisions, the kind needed to solve long-term problems. One lobbyist expressed fears that the search for other offices could create an “atmosphere of instability,” with the employees of elected officials searching for more secure jobs.

“This is the result of term limits, where elected officials play musical chairs,” said lobbyist Steve Afriat. “It’s not helpful for City Hall, and it’s not helpful for Sacramento. We lose institutional memory in exchange for political posturing.”

At least a few council members face reelection campaigns in March 2011. One of them, Councilman Tom LaBonge, said he is not ruling out a run for mayor two years later. Council President Eric Garcetti, whose last term ends in 2013, has also left open the door to a mayoral campaign.

The talk of higher office appears to have begun complicating the way council members deal with each other. Garcetti, who briefly contemplated his own run for lieutenant governor, had a tense exchange with Hahn on that topic last month. Meanwhile, Greuel has had trouble persuading her former colleagues to help her gain the power to audit the initiatives of elected city officials.


That resistance might have something to do with the fact that if she succeeds, she could start probing the programs of mayoral candidates, as well as other politicians with whom she disagrees.

Even the newest arrivals to City Hall have become the subject of speculation. When Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley began weighing a run for state attorney general -- the 62-year-old announced Monday that he would form a committee to raise money for such a campaign -- some political players began asking whether newly elected City Atty. Carmen Trutanich might seek the countywide prosecutor’s seat.

That, in turn, fueled gossip that Councilman Paul Krekorian -- who has been in office for less than a week after winning a special election for Greuel’s vacant seat -- might seek to run for city attorney if Trutanich were to move.

Krekorian, who took office Tuesday, would not rule out the idea but said it was unlikely. He said he is seeking reelection in March 2011.

“That seems daunting,” said Krekorian, who is now one of five former state lawmakers on the council.

While Krekorian came to City Hall from Sacramento, Hahn and Alarcon are looking to go the other direction. Alarcon secured the first contribution for his 2012 Assembly race June 29, two days before he was sworn in for his third term on the council. Three months later, Hahn allowed her chief of staff to take time off from the job of running her council office to work on the fledgling statewide campaign. That staffer recently returned to her City Hall duties after a three-month absence, Hahn said.

Hahn, who represents neighborhoods stretching from San Pedro to Watts, said she has tried to limit her travel outside the city to days when the council is not meeting. That’s doable since much of a statewide campaign involves fundraising and securing endorsements, Hahn said. “You’re not exactly walking precincts,” she added.

Perry, who represents parts of downtown and South Los Angeles, said she broached the issue of her mayoral bid with Garcetti, a friend and political ally who has not yet decided on his own next move. After discussing it, Perry said she concluded that there will be no tension in the coming year.


“We had a wonderful discussion. I respect Eric, and I respect his intellect,” she said.