Do we love L.A.? We don’t always vote like it

The percentage of registered voters who cast a ballot in L.A.'s mayoral elections peaked in the late 1960s and has declined to historic lows, according to a Times analysis of 100 years of city election results. INTERACTIVE CHART
The percentage of registered voters who cast a ballot in L.A.’s mayoral elections peaked in the late 1960s and has declined to historic lows, according to a Times analysis of 100 years of city election results. INTERACTIVE CHART
(Ben Welsh / Los Angeles Times)

No, wait, don’t turn the page.

Yes, I’ll admit it. This is yet another column on Tuesday’s election in Los Angeles, the race half the city doesn’t care about and the other half hasn’t heard about, but DO NOT turn the page.

OK, I’ll give you $5 to read this. All right, make it $10.

Would you stay with me for $20 if I promise Randy Newman’s going to make a cameo?

Sure, you’ve got your reasons for tuning out. Some of you think Wendy Garcetti and Eric Greuel are the same person, so it doesn’t matter which of them is the next mayor.


Wait, did I get the names wrong?

If so, how many readers would even know? Did you see our story last week that said Los Angeles has 2 million registered voters and 1.6 million of them probably won’t vote?

Shameful, but it’s not their fault we didn’t have the sense to put the polling places at car washes, coffee shops and 24-hour fitness centers.

All right, I get it. L.A.’s too cool to vote. And to be fair, I checked the rest of the country, and we’re not alone when it comes to political apathy. The turnout for local elections has been declining across the United States for several decades.

Why? Lots of reasons, from changing demographics to affluent indifference to a cynical conviction that they’re all crooks anyway so why bother?

To be honest, I’m turned off myself, and insulted too.

For all the hundreds of solid stories sizing up the candidates, their records and their promises, a good chunk of people know nothing beyond what they get from mailers, TV and radio ads. And this kind of stuff is based on the notion that we’re all idiots who’d believe anything we’re told.

Add up all the millions of dollars spent on advertising — much of it from Super PACs — in the campaigns for mayor, city attorney, City Council and city controller, and you’ll understand why a stink hangs over the city from Pacoima to Pedro.

Last week, a Greuel backer spent a couple hundred thousand dollars on a TV ad trying to convince us that Eric Garcetti is lying about being Latino. Meanwhile, Garcetti backers would have you believe that Greuel all but co-wrote Proposition 187 with former Gov. Pete Wilson, when in fact she voted against Wilson and 187.

Exaggeration, distortion, manipulation. Those have been the daily specials week after week and month after month, so, yes, I understand why the turnout was under 21% in the primary and might not be any better in the runoff.

But here’s the deal: The city’s many problems exist in part because City Hall is controlled by a few powerful special interests, and when fewer and fewer of us vote or pay attention to the way business is conducted at 1st and Main, those interests become even more powerful.

Last week, City Hall reporter David Zahniser had a story that beautifully explained how things work here in Chinatown, Jake.

The story explained that an advertising company that sued the city two months ago for the right to install new digital billboards in Sherman Oaks, Silver Lake, Glassell Park and the Fairfax district, among other places, has “financed scores of billboards for candidates in the May 21 election — 100 for mayoral hopeful Wendy Greuel, 100 for city controller candidate Dennis Zine and 20 apiece for City Council candidates Curren Price, Nury Martinez and Gil Cedillo.”

And I’m not singling out those candidates, because it’s not like everyone else is pure. But if at some point you’re jolted awake in the middle of the night because a Dos Equis ad blasts a billion-watt beam through your window and into your bedroom, now you’ll have a clue as to what happened.

And that, friends, is how just about everything works in this town. The big players at City Hall are major corporations, developers and public employee unions. And it’s a never-ending picnic for lobbyists, whose jobs are made all the easier because the last time you voted it was for homecoming queen.

But I’m holding out hope.

The weather’s going to be nice on Tuesday, because what else would it be? So roll out of bed, start humming Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” to yourself, and I think there’s a chance we could hit 25% turnout.

Look at that uplifted sidewalk

Look at those shabby trees

Look at that digital billboard, man

Enough of them, please

Flat tires (We love it!)

Ruptured water mains (We love it!)

Grand Canyon pot holes (We love it!)

Trash fees were tripled

405 construction won’t stop

Crank up the Beach Boys, baby

Wish we could hire more cops

From the South Bay

To the Valley

From the Westside

To the Eastside

Looks like another perfect day

I love L.A.

Look at that guy’s pension

Can I have one please?

Look at that poor bum

He’s STILL down on his knees

Look at these candidates

Ain’t no one like ‘em nowhere

Century Boulevard (We love it!)

Victory Boulevard (We love it!)

Santa Monica Boulevard (We love it!)

Sixth Street (We love it! We love it!)

We were gonna vote

But we just didn’t know where to go

We must admit sadly

We haven’t voted since Bradley

I love L.A. (We love it!)