Dan Walters: Why would anybody want to be L.A. mayor?
05/14/2013 12:00 AM
05/14/2013 2:37 PM
As an 18th-century frontier village, it was named El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula, or in English, Town of Our Lady the Queen of Angels of the Little Portion.
The name came from a small river that Spanish explorers had discovered 12 years earlier, its name a tribute to a religious holiday on the discovery day, Aug. 2, 1769.
We know it today as Los Angeles, L.A. or sometimes La-La Land, and it's home to few angels, particularly when it comes to politics and more particularly to two politicians who yearn, for whatever reason, to become its next mayor.
The duel between City Councilman Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel has to be California's most vapid, off-putting political contest. You couldn't slip a toothpick between the two in ideology – two more or less liberal, more or less business-friendly, more or less union-allied politicos.
Nevertheless, they've spent millions of dollars, most of which have paid for mindless personal attacks accusing each other of being a mayoral disaster waiting to happen because of some defect of character.
One poll in late April had Garcetti ahead, while another last week gave the nod to Greuel. But whether any poll is valid hinges on how many of the huge city's voters actually will cast ballots by next Tuesday. It's assumed that turnout will be very low – it's L.A., the world capital of civic alienation, after all – but how low is uncertain.
All anyone really knows is that one of the duelists is a man, the other is a woman, and when the votes are counted, one of them will have the dubious honor of governing a city that may be ungovernable.
Outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is leaving behind a budget mess of monumental proportions, a history of personal aggrandizement and scandal, a string of broken promises and a political career that once looked promising but crumbled into dust.
It's not the first time that someone saw becoming mayor of Los Angeles as a major advance on the political ladder, only to stumble.
While Villaraigosa was widely seen as the first Latino politician in modern California history to likely become a viable candidate for major office, three decades ago, one of his predecessors, Tom Bradley, was widely viewed as the first black politician to reach that level.
However, Bradley's two runs for governor failed, even though his mayoralty was widely regarded as a success, at least in Los Angeles terms. He learned, the hard way, that voters in the rest of the state have a jaundiced view of Los Angeles and its politicians.
In fact, no mayor of Los Angeles has done much politically since – even when the city was not the ill-managed, debt-ridden mess it is today.
So why would Garcetti or Greuel want to enter a political cul-de-sac?
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