Council District 14 Debate: A Doozy!

LA ELECTION WATCH-For those of you who can’t  read a whole article and just want to cut to the chase – Huizar should be very very worried about getting in a runoff with Gloria Molina! 

Besides, everybody loves a food fight, and by golly, this one would be a whizzer! 

On Wednesday evening, the Pat Brown Institute/Cal State LA, the League of Women Voters, and ABC Channel 7 hosted what is probably the most important debate in the Council District 14 race, and it was a doozy. 

While I am not overly enthusiastic about the debate format -- it tends to favor sound bite politics -- the sponsors of this one ran a very good debate indeed.  They were scrupulously neutral, stopped the handout of campaign literature to the audience, and had a broad range of questions for the candidates. It also ran on time! 

Regarding the main contenders, it is clear that the embattled incumbent, Jose Huizar, is in a real race to see if his money can squeeze out a 50% plus 1 primary victory on March 3rd before everything goes south.  Gloria Molina has name recognition, years of experience in the area as a termed-out LA County Supervisor, and is not exactly afraid of controversy.  And she came out swingin'. 

The questions were well balanced and wide ranging, from Grand Juries, Skid Row, and Ethics, to a cluster of contentious subjects such as the high pay for the Council, a lot of DWP questions including the cozy relationship of DWP, the Council, and Union Leader D'Arcy, the rotting infrastructure (including water pipes) and who's going to pay for it, and DWP's projected rate increases. And billboards.  Of immense consequence to this very diverse Council District, there were questions about the 800 pound gorilla in the CD14 room, the issue of gentrification vs. affordable housing and who's getting squeezed out in favor of whom. 

Councilman Huizar was smooth, polished, confident, and assertive over the leadership and progress he has brought to the Council District.  Most of his answers were couched in terms of initiatives, Council Actions, capital projects, and expenditures of money.  This is a politician in the full prime of his craft, with the answers fitting neatly into the time allotted. 

Unfortunately for the Councilman, the responses from the other candidates, particularly Gloria Molina, attacked the incumbent in some detail as a lazy captive of big money special interests, who only spends time and money talking to constituents at election time.  And there were enough specifics to sting.  

As I can personally attest,  in the last few months, you can't drive, bike, or take a bus ride in Council District 14 without seeing streets being paved, potholes being filled, ribbon cutting ceremonies for pocket parks and bike racks, the sounds of feel-good rehabbing, and even some tree & sidewalk fixing.  It's a pretty amazing display of taxpayer money flowing from the pipe, as it were. To believe that this is all coincidental would strain the credulity of a dullard. 

As to the Councilman’s staking out his ground, when you've got upwards of a million dollars (reportable & PAC money combined) in your campaign fund, it’s a bit disingenuous to pretend to be a reformer.  Two specifics made me smile.  First, the Councilman is proud of his record in cleaning up skid row and taking the imitative to take care of the homeless (including homeless veterans).  What I remember from living in both Lincoln Heights & Glassell Park is a bit different.  

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I remember the City Council ordering the LAPD to sweep the homeless from downtown’s skid row and get rid of them to somewhere else (like Lincoln Heights park & other pieces of CD 14), so that the Reyes-Huizar PLUM Committee and Mayor Antonio could clean up the downtown area for the humungous big development projects we currently enjoy, complete with tax breaks, waivers on parking, and other planning variances for the wealthy developers.  

And all of the other candidates were quick to note that many of Huizar’s  reforms center on big-bucks capital projects, as opposed to helping out the everyday folks who really need affordable housing and are being squeezed out by gentrification.  To their credit, all of the candidates displayed sound knowledge of the district, including the fact that some 70% of the district are renters. 

The other Huizar assertion that even surprised cynical old me was the Councilman's claim that as the head of the  Councils PLUM (Planning and Land Use Committee), he's leading the charge to get rid of those nasty old billboards that seem to be especially prevalent in Council District 14.  That one gave the other candidates a moment of disbelief, until they all pointed to the evident ties he has to the Billboard Industry, particularly Lamar  Advertising, as noted by the LA Times. 

My big takeaway is what I realized about Gloria Molina, and would make her formidable in a runoff election.  There is an amazing amount of overlay between the jurisdiction of the County Supervisors and the LA City Council, and the enormous body of knowledge about Northeast Los Angeles that Molina brings to bear with her 20 some years of experience dwarfs that of the incumbent.  

Remember, the five County Supervisors control over $20 Billion (that's right B for Billion) in their annual budget, as opposed to the approximately 5 Billion dollars that some 15 Councilpersons control in the City of Los Angeles.  And much of the County money is in fact pass-thru funds from the State and Federal government, with concomitant overlapping jurisdiction between the City and County. 

Anyhow, it became clear over the course of the debate that Molina's display of knowledge about the details of  life in CD 14 is for real, and if elected she would definitely not need training wheels.  

So, as I drove home past a Lamar Advertising billboard saying ‘Elect Jose Huizar for City Council’, I really do hope that we have a high turnout for this primary, and a runoff.  Democracy would be served. 

Like I said, everybody loves a food fight, and by golly, this one would be a whizzer!

●●●

For me the biggest surprise of the evening were the two candidates running without much money but running for public office because they really want change in the District -- Nadine Momoyo Diaz, and Mario Chavez.  

Mario is a community activist and SEIU organizer, while Nadine is a lifetime resident of Boyle Heights who is a social worker.  Mario was amazingly knowledgeable about the details of the collapsing infrastructure in Los Angeles and what it is going to cost to fix it, articulate about the minimum wage debate (he's for it), and concerned about the pitiful voter turnout statistics for CD 14 (he opined that the feeling of 'your vote doesn't really count is responsible).  

Nadine, who is a social worker & works in the healthcare arena, and was on the late  Adelante/Eastside CRA Redevelopment Project Committee, keyed in on the lack of diversity (read women) on the City Council, the broken promises of elected officials to the District, and the plight of small business.  

They were both passionate, articulate, and displayed the rough edges of small 'd' democracy in action, and I loved it.  May they each garner enough votes to encourage others to continue to participate in electoral politics.  They also could bite.  

Nadine delivered the zinger of the evening in a discussion about the fact that the LA City Council is the highest paid in the nation.  She quipped that Councilman Huizar was not really an $184,000 councilman in 2014; if you added in the almost $200,000 for his 'auto accident', and the almost $200,000 for the sexual harassment settlement, he represented over a half a million dollars on the hoof .  Pretty good for a political newcomer. 

My thanks to the Glassell Park Neighborhood Council for arranging a seat for me at this event, and hats off to the excellent job the sponsors did in hosting the debate.  A final nod to the League of Women Voters -- get their election guide if you haven't already.  It's free and it’s good.

 

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is an occasional contributor to CityWatch.)

-cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 16

Pub: Feb 24, 2015