Six candidates are running for Los Angeles’ 3rd Council District seat; five showed up to a forum last Tuesday hosted by the Woodland Hills Property Owners Assn. They shook hands, embraced, in a couple cases offered each other pecks on the cheek. Who was missing?
Don’t worry about it, candidate Cary Iaccino told the group. “I think we’ve got the best ones here tonight.”
Candidate Joyce Pearson seemed to agree. “All of the candidates that are running with the exception of that one have jobs,” she said. What one? Who could she mean?
“We have to stop the people that keep moving office to office,” candidate Scott Silverstein said. “Why do they come here? Because there’s nothing left to screw up in Sacramento.”
Candidate Steven Presberg agreed. “These are accomplished people,” he said, referring to his four collegial rivals in the room. “They are clearly pillars of our community and I salute them.”
“The candidate I don’t salute is Bob Blumenfield.”
Oh, him. The assemblyman. The politician. The entrenched guy. The player. The guy who’s not here.
“We may just as well have said to AFSCME and SEIU… ‘Well, he’s yours,’ ” Presberg continued. “And he is theirs. He resides in their pocket, politically.”
Presberg went on to assert that Blumenfield, in the Assembly, introduced bills that were harmful to Los Angeles. He carried a bill “to compel the city to divide certain governing boards between management and union reps,” Presberg said. “I guess he believes unions don’t have enough.”
Gordon Murley, the association leader, stepped in just to make it clear: “Mr. Blumenfield was invited as was everyone else. He’s the only one who didn’t respond and say he wouldn’t be here.”
After the forum, candidates talked with association members one-on-one about Blumenfield’s other evil deeds. He killed community redevelopment, leaving the Reseda business district with empty storefronts and homeless businesses. He destroyed the state budget. He’s trying to buy the election.
Some piece of work, this Bob Blumenfield. Who is he, anyway?
He’s an assemblyman; chairman of the budget committee. He’s from (eww) Brooklyn, and then (ick) Queens. He studied in Africa, then worked with a children’s organization, interned at (ah, ha!) National Public Radio, worked for (it figures) a filmmaker. And then he moved to Washington, D.C., and there you have it. He was officially one of them.
He worked for U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, then Rep. Howard Berman. Became legislative director and then went with Berman when he moved to the budget committee. Then, after the Northridge quake, he became Berman’s point person for assistance and got $14 billion in aid, working, he says now, with homeowner groups, business leaders, hospitals and the Federal Emergency Management Assn. to make sure the San Fernando Valley, and the rest of Southern California with it, didn’t become a ghost town. He wrote a TV show (as those transplants from New York always seem to do). He became a San Fernando Valley coordinator for the Clinton campaign. He negotiated on the other side of the table from Joe Edminston, who later offered him a job with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, living in an 1865 stone house in Solstice Canyon and working on park and water bonds out of Barbra Streisand’s former house-turned-conservancy office.
Then he went back to school, and then he became Berman’s district chief of staff, got married, moved to Woodland Hills, became chairman of the Valley Anti-Defamation League board, did stand-up comedy -- and ran for the Assembly.
What does he know about being on a city council?
The five candidates vying against Blumenfield really ought to come to terms with this: He knows a lot. He has demonstrated that he can break through the silos that otherwise keep government money -- the people’s money -- locked up. He’s worked his way down from Congress to one of those odd California special government agencies (the conservancy) and into the Legislature. He knows who to call. He knows how to get make stuff happen. Is it necessarily the stuff voters want to happen? Well, that's a different question.
The knock about him having screwed up California’s budget? Please. He arrived as Assembly budget chairman at just the time the bottom had dropped out of the economy, and he was immediately tasked with holding the place together -- balancing the books without harming too many people or doing too much permanent damage to infrastructure, parks, public safety. The budget was already a mess, made so at least as often by voters as by lawmakers, with ballot-box-imposed gimmicks and give-backs, like swiping the sales tax on gasoline (no, not the “gas tax” that was never supposed to be used for anything other than transportation, and never was) from the general fund, thereby increasing the deficit. The Legislature surely did its part in screwing up the budget, but it was a work in progress over decades, and it didn’t do it alone. Blumenfield helped put things back together.
As for killing redevelopment, laying that at the feet of one member of the Assembly is just silly. And if an opposing candidate is going to do that anyway, he or she ought to describe how else the state budget situation was to be resolved, while still keeping redevelopment intact.
So Blumenfield’s a shoo-in and has locked up The Times' endorsement? No way. There are some serious questions about the baggage that Blumenfield carries with him. Ron Kaye, columnist, watchdog and former editor of the Daily News, raises a legitimate point about Blumenfield running almost simultaneously for another term in the Assembly and for City Council (see his hilarious video cornering Blumenfield on the issue). And Presberg has some interesting questions about all the money he raised in the Assembly race, and whether it was really meant for his council run even before he was legally allowed to start.
And there's a bill he carried to prevent Los Angeles from getting property owners to fund sidewalk repairs. Not that Los Angeles residents should want city government to transfer those costs to property owners, but we should be pretty leery of bills cooked up in Sacramento that interfere with municipal politics and procedures. It seems transparently the type of bill that a state legislator would come up with if he were planning to run for City Council and wanted support from local property owners.
And in fact, Blumenfield inherited that bill from his former Assembly colleague Felipe Fuentes, who is now running for the City Council in the 7th District, at the other end of the San Fernando Valley.
So yes, there are questions for Blumenfield. But they aren’t the ones being asked by his rivals. Presberg’s assertion at the forum that Blumenfield had a bill to guarantee union slots on certain commissions? Never mind; that one wasn’t a Blumenfield bill. And the argument that he’s from the Legislature so he must be corrupt?
Come on, candidates. You have to do better than that. OK, so you can point out that in addition to Blumenfield and Fuentes, three other candidates -- former Assemblyman and state Sen. Gil Cedillo, current state Sen. Curren Price and former Assemblyman Mike Davis -- are or were in the Legislature. And that current City Council members Paul Koretz (running for reelection), Paul Krekorian, Herb Wesson and the recently departed (for Congress) Tony Cardenas also came here from Sacramento, and that Richard Alarcon has shuttled back and forth over the years. But so what? Any reader of any newspaper or blog that covers city politics knows that. Pointing it out means little more than that you are qualified to be a reader of a newspaper or blog that covers city politics. But you’re running for office.
So what is the critique and what is the challenging candidate’s platform? That being from Sacramento is corrupting, and you’re not from Sacramento? That’s not a critique. It’s not a platform. It’s not even a blog post. It’s at best a breezy reader comment on a blog post. A candidate for office must offer more. What does the “Sacramentization” of Los Angeles government mean? Why is it bad? Not just in image; why is it bad for city residents? Why is it not just provincialism unsuited for a city the size and sophistication of Los Angeles? Aren't experience and knowledge of how things work in the capital good? Hasn’t the L.A. City Council been filled too long with sheltered locals who don’t have the first clue how to get state funding or sponsor a bill?
If Blumenfield -- or Fuentes or Cedillo or anyone else -- have both experience and baggage, how do those things balance? What experience in government and in getting good projects done, Mr. or Ms. Challenger, do you have to compare with the Sacramento transplants’? If you have not been in government, what have you done in the private sector that is comparable? What can you offer the voters to assure them that you won’t spend your entire first term wondering how the job works and getting fleeced by lobbyists, labor unions and others?
And don’t answer that you have been involved in your neighborhood council. That’s great, as far as it goes, but it’s evidence only that you know your neighborhood, not that you are prepared to serve your constituents as a council member.
Joyce Pearson, attorney and CPA, was elected to represent this area as a City Council member of a new Valley city during the secession election of 2002. She didn’t take her seat, because there was no seat to take: Valley cityhood was defeated at the polls. But she’s not just another former neighborhood council president. She has a vision for the district, and seems to know that there can’t be economic development without real estate development. She can talk about growth, where it is needed, where it is not. She understands taxes, finances and changing demographics. Voters may or may not like her vision, but they can't seriously doubt that she knows what she is doing. She is a credible contender.
Presberg comes at it from a different background but also has something to offer. Also a lawyer, he worked in government both in New York and here in Los Angeles, and has some pointed things to say -- and facts to back them up -- about the city budget, employee pensions and financial sustainability. He was one of the primary drafters of the current city charter, so he knows a thing or two about how Los Angeles works (and how it doesn’t). He needs to lay out a better vision for the district, but he is also a candidate to take seriously.
Elizabeth Badger, Scott Silverstein and Cary Iaccino are smart people but, so far, not smart candidates. They must step up their game and lay out not just what is wrong in City Hall but how to change it, and why they are the best people to make that change -- and also, by the way, why they'd be better for CD3 than someone with Blumenfield's experience.
Their next chance will come Wednesday evening at 6 p.m. at a candidates’ forum presented by the Woodland Hills-Tarzana Chamber of Commerce at a spot that has become a sort of civic center in the West Valley: the Westfield Promenade shopping center in the space formerly occupied by Dick’s Sporting Goods, 6100 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills.