Four major contenders are vying to unseat 54-year-old incumbent Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn in next week’s primary election. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, then the top two finishers will meet in a May runoff.
The challenger leading most polls is 52-year-old Antonio Villaraigosa, who lost to Hahn, then the city attorney, in the 2001 mayoral runoff. Villaraigosa, a former state Assembly speaker, currently represents an Eastside district on the Los Angeles City Council.
Bob Hertzberg, 50, a Los Angeles businessman and attorney, also served recently as state Assembly speaker.
Bernard Parks, 61, spent most of his career in the Police Department, rising to police chief under Mayor Richard Riordan — before Hahn denied Parks a second term. Parks also sits on the City Council for a South Los Angeles district.
State Sen. Richard Alarcon, 51, represents a San Fernando Valley district, just as he did in an earlier stint on the City Council.
The Jewish Journal’s editorial board interviewed all five candidates. Highlights are published in the pages that follow. Some questions and answers were edited for brevity and clarity.
Please scroll down to read each Mayoral candidate’s Q & A session with Senior Editor, Howard Blume:
JAMES KENNETH HAHN
Jewish Journal: What is your essential critique of Mayor James K. Hahn?
Richard Alarcon: It’s not as much about why we want to replace Mayor Hahn, but how we want to change city hall. We have an opportunity in this election to change the rules, to change policy, how the city operates.
We’ve seen hundreds of thousands of dollars funneled in from law firms, public relations firms, large construction firms. The pay-to-play scandal is specifically about the contractors and the developers. This election is about to pay to play.
[Mayor Richard] Riordan and [Mayor Tom] Bradley were never under investigation by the federal authorities, that I can remember. And I was pretty close to both administrations.
This is fundamentally different. It’s just really a matter of needing to change the rules or needing to change the leadership. It’s about the trust from the public that has been deteriorated. My campaign is about restoring the trust of the public in city government. By rooting out the contractor and developer contributions, we go a long way to restoring that trust.
JJ: During a recent television debate before the neighborhood councils, you were clearly No. 1 on the applause meter with some of these themes.
RA: They applauded the loudest when I mentioned my [anti-corruption] ballot measure. They [also] applauded the loudest when I mentioned I was suing the city for raising the water rates.
JJ: So if you do not make it to the runoff, are you going to pursue this lawsuit? And are you also going to pursue this ballot initiative?
RA: Absolutely. Absolutely. All of these things will continue. But it’ll be a lot easier to get them done when I’m mayor.
JJ: As a state senator, you’ve put forward a plan under which Los Angeles would have less power over the regional authority. How does this help things?
RA: Yes. We’re talking to elected officials in areas that are likely to have the capability to build an airport. It’s interesting, they’re all Republicans, but that’s the only place where you can build an airport if you’re going to build one. Palmdale is the most obvious choice.
JJ: Is L.A. holding up the development of Palmdale Airport?
RA: Absolutely, they’re controlling it.
JJ: Isn’t it in L.A.’s interest to develop a Palmdale airport?
RA: I think it is. As mayor, I would make it in our interest. But it’s not in the interest of the airlines, because the more congestion, the more you sell. The airlines want every plane to be maximized…. And they couldn’t give a damn about the 405 Freeway, as long as they’re continuing to fill up their planes.
JJ: How do you feel about Hahn’s airport plan?
RA: I would rather scrap it, start over very quickly, move forward. [The airport] does need renovation, nobody doubts that. I don’t think we need to grow LAX. We need to build a new airport.
As I said, when the bucket is full of water, you can’t just paint the bucket to get more water. You have to get a new bucket. So I want to build a new airport.
JJ: Based on the polls, you’re trying to leapfrog over other candidates. Why should voters support you over them?
RA: I’m the only candidate that would give neighborhood councils planning authority. Three of the other candidates voted for the water rate increase. I’m suing the city of Los Angeles because I believe the water rate increase is illegal.
JJ: Campaign finance is one of your issues. But I haven’t noticed anything coming out of the Legislature on the subject. You’re a state senator. Why haven’t you pursued this more vigorously at the state level?
RA: I absolutely anticipate there will be changes at the state level as a result of other investigations. But you deal with what you got first.
I’ve always supported the strongest ethics rules. I’ve always voted for tougher ethics rules. Whether it was on the [city] council or in the state Senate.
JJ: Your reform plan would ban donations from whom?
RA: Developers and contractors. They couldn’t donate more than a hundred bucks. There are some thresholds — if somebody wanted to remodel their home, we didn’t want to burden them. So it [excludes], for example, single-family residences.
JJ: Why wouldn’t your proposed restrictions apply to all campaign contributors, including public employee unions?
RA: Are they being investigated? I haven’t heard about them being investigated.
JJ: Neither have honest contractors been investigated, but they’ll be restricted.
RA: But that’s how ethics rules work. Every section of this measure is modeled after something already in existence. And they will stand up to constitutional scrutiny.
JJ: There’s been a lot of debate about the schools, and what to do about them. Where do you stand?
RA: I disagree with Arnold Schwarzenegger that we should break up the school district.
JJ: Then you disagree with [mayoral challenger] Bob Hertzberg, too.
RA: Yes. First of all, there has been no specific plan. And I learned in the secession [debate] that you got to read the details. I decided not to go with secession.
Well, the same thing applies here. I want to see the details. I want to see what the proposal is. And I’m not sure that creating five or six more bureaucracies is going to get more knowledge into the classroom. I’m a [former] teacher. My focus is to get more dollars into the classroom.
That’s why I introduced a $200 million measure [in the Legislature] to train teachers to get their full credential. See, I think I had more impact with that than any proposal to break up the school district .
You want to improve our educational system, put the money in the classroom. In one week, [Schwarzenegger] can turn around and cut $2 billion out of K-12 education in the state of California, and [then] two or three weeks later, say that we need to break up the school district. I’ll tell you, those new five or six bureaucracies, where are they going to get the money?
What I want to do is get the power down to the schools. Thomas Jefferson said that no child should go to school more than five miles from their home. This is even before we had a public educational system. When we’re sending people to school on the other side of town, we’re not building that sense of community, that is the problem that I see with L.A. Unified.
JJ: As mayor, what would be your relationship to the school district? What would you do?
RA: The primary educational institution that the city manages is the library system. So I would expand the hours of operation, provide homework clinics. I would establish a dropout prevention program within the mayor’s office to nurture the L.A.’s Best Program, which I helped design when I worked for Mayor Bradley.
I would turn our parks into educational entities. [Parks] should have computer learning centers for kids. Truancy enforcement is an educational program.
Another thing the city could do is expedite the development of schools, like I did at the General Motors plant. We assign somebody to it, and they stay with the project.
JJ: So where are the jobs of L.A.’s future going to come from?
RA: We shouldn’t just do business tax credits. We should target them to good jobs with good wages. When I did the General Motors plan, I negotiated with who was going to come in and who wasn’t going to come in, and made sure that they had good wages and good benefits. It wasn’t that difficult.
I would focus on other industries that can’t leave but pay good wages. People that make less than $10 an hour cost the state $10.5 billion. That’s money that we could use for education and health care…. Other industries that can leave, we got to fight for … the movie industry, obviously.
JJ: How has Mayor Hahn done on housing?
RA: Hahn boasts of the development of 3,400 units of affordable housing over three-and-a-half years. When I was on the [city] council, in five-and-a-half years I developed, just in one council district, 1,200 units of housing. I would match my housing record up to anybody in the state, quite frankly….
My goal would be to expand the number of units of housing by 2,500 units a year, at a minimum. If you do anything less than that, you’re having very little impact. And the mayor has done less than that.
JJ: There’s one ghost from your past that was a particular issue to some in the Jewish community. In your 1998 contest for state Assembly against Richard Katz, a Jewish politician, your campaign sent out a mailer implying that Katz had tried to intimidate Latinos in Orange County from voting. In fact, Katz had sought to safeguard their voting rights. You won that campaign by 29 votes. Some critics perceived an almost anti-Semitic tone to that mailer.
RA: What saddens me more than anything else about what happened in the Katz race is that people misunderstood who I am in terms of my relationship with the Jewish community.
I am a product of the teaching. And maybe that’s why I became a teacher. When I went to … [Polytechnic] High School, it was at least 20 percent Jewish. Most of the teachers were Jewish.
The campaign was ugly on both sides. What hurt me was that people in some way might think I was anti-Semitic. It had nothing to do with anti-Semitism.
That was a spin that was created by a third party, that had nothing to do with Richard. I visited Israel in March of that year. I wanted to rebuild the relationship with the Jewish community, and I have. And I’ve worked very closely with the Anti-Defamation League.
For more information about Richard Alarcon, visit alarconforla.com and ” alt=””
align=”left”>James Kenneth Hahn
MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES
Jewish Journal: Many people are familiar with two major events of your first term: the defeat of the secession effort to break up the city and replacing Police Chief Bernard Parks with William Bratton. What else would you cite as major accomplishments?
Mayor James Hahn: Well, those two that you mentioned are awfully huge, and they were pretty mighty achievements. The other thing, we’re pushing forward housing, [with a] $100 million housing trust fund that more than doubled the number of housing units being built in this city.
You see a real housing boom going on in Los Angeles now. And that was due to streamlining ordinances, as well as the housing trust fund, and expanding the adaptive-re-use ordinance, which had applied to buildings downtown. [That] also preserves our old buildings from being torn down. It gives them new life and uses.
I was very proud of working with L.A.’s Best after-school program, [which was] started by [then-Mayor] Tom Bradley. I made that a goal to see how many schools we could expand that to…. There [were] about 78 schools when I came in as mayor, and we added 45 schools.
[Regarding] homeland security, I chaired the United States conference and mayors task force on aviation security. We’ve gotten over $180 million in funding for airports and ports and other things to work around security.
We really made [it] a priority to connect people to their government. Got over 80 of these neighborhood councils certified. … Also the government [is] more connected to people through our 311 system.
We brought statistical measurements to City Hall for the first time. I was shocked to find out that we never measured anything in this city. I don’t know how anybody ever figured out how they were doing. So we borrowed a page out of [Police Chief] Bill Bratton’s book [by gathering and using detailed data].
Started off with the Board of Public Works, and we actually had different departments say what the performance goals are, and then they’re measured against those goals. And we see we can improve efficiency.
A good example of that was we have street lighting, you know, [and] identifying how long it takes to put street lights in this city. We were noticing that there were a whole bunch of [street lights taking more than] 30 days [to repair] in South L.A.
I said, “Why are we taking so long to fix street lights down in South L.A.?” It turned out … that’s where most of the older street lamps are. And the stock of replacement parts was low. And so we worked to solve that problem.
We worked with the Department of Water and Power, which sends out trucks everywhere every day. We had the Police Department let them know about these stupid tennis shoes hanging over power lines. We’ve already got the crews out there where you see these things; they can take them down.
The city government’s worked really closely together in a more coordinated fashion. And I think people are seeing it. The government’s a lot easier to use, a lot more user friendly.
The most remarkable thing is, obviously, we’re making this a safer city. You don’t want to rush right by that…. If you go to Hollywood now, you see tons of tourists coming back there. Go right over here to MacArthur Park, [which] was overrun by drug dealers and gang members, and we had the Pasadena Pops Orchestra perform a symphony [there] a few months ago. Families using that park instead of drug dealers.
JJ: Regarding the plan to re-shape Los Angeles International Airport, what about the safety concerns raised by the RAND Corp.?
JH: RAND told me the same thing that every other security expert has told me. The main threat to LAX, or any airport for that matter, is a large vehicle bomb.
The plan that I’ve come up with is to disperse entry points in the airport and eliminate private vehicles from the central terminal area. It’s the cleanest, simplest, most effective way of protecting the central terminal area.
Their top two recommendations I have no control over. They said the airlines should hire more people at the ticket counters to check packages, and the [Transportation Security Administration] should hire more people to open more screening lines. Well, thank you very much, I can’t make that happen, you know. Those two agencies — airlines, TSA — are beyond my control.
JJ: Can you address the issues of corruption in city hall?
JH: Sure. I don’t think anybody in the public life holds himself to a higher standard. And so, I’m very concerned about these allegations, urge full cooperation in these investigations.
If somebody has done something wrong, they need to have the book thrown at them. We are now well over a year into these investigations. Either point out if [someone] did something wrong, or point out that they haven’t found anything. So far, I have seen no evidence that anyone either did or did not get a contract because they did or did not make a campaign contribution.
JJ: Do you have any reflection on bringing in someone like Troy Edwards as deputy mayor, a person who had a fundraising role in your campaign?
JH: He was out of the fundraising business. He wasn’t doing it anymore. So far, we have rumor and innuendo.
JJ: There’s also the allegation that Fleishman-Hillard, the public relations firm, was becoming a tool of the mayor’s office, even though the DWP was footing the bill. Should Fleishman-Hillard have been working for the city in the first place?
JH: These contracts were really in [place] before I ever came here. They were extended after I was in here. … [Fleishman-Hillard] was doing things for the [DWP]. I’m happy to show up on things like that. I am the only mayor. So when people want attention, they usually try to get me to come there.
JJ: How would you compare your approach to education vs. your predecessor, Mayor Richard Riordan?
JH: You generally learn from other people’s experiences, as well as your own. The previous mayor spent a lot of time and effort raising money to rearrange the members of the school board. One of them, I think, still remains of the people that he elected to office.
I want to be a partner with the school district. We’ve created a historic understanding with them on working with the school district to site schools, steering them away from, as much as possible, tearing down homes to preserve our housing stock.
And then, of course, the after-school programs. And [we’re working] to make areas around schools safer. I think there is no more important issue in the city than education. [As opposed to Riordan], I would rather spend my efforts in activities that actually bear fruit.
JJ: Is part of your job to deal with the achievement end of the school district?
JH: Look, [Riordan] made no impact. I’m making an impact in thousands of kids’ lives every day by having an after school program.
They’re doing better in school. They’re getting better grades. They’re getting better attendance. And they’re staying out of trouble.
Yes, it would be wonderful if I was in charge of the school district, but that’s not going to happen. And neither is breaking up the school district [as proposed by mayoral challenger Bob Hertzberg]. So I think people ought to level with people, you know. We’re running for political office — stand by what’s real and what’s honest.
JJ: What are your accomplishments and future plans regarding traffic?
JH: I haven’t seen any grand visions [from the challengers], big ideas. People want this magic wand to be waved in traffic to make it disappear, so they can continue to drive their own car.
That’s what it really boils down to when you talk to people. That’s what I’d wish, you know. Everybody else get off the road so I can just go wherever I want whenever I want.
Just this year, we got the full funding agreement for Eastside, the Gold Line. And that was 10 years in the making.
And as soon as I got on MTA to assess where everything is, I said we’ve got to start moving forward on the Exposition light rail. That needs to move. And so we’ve been pushing it forward. That will take 10 years to build. We have to eliminate this restriction on tunneling through the Wilshire corridor.
Let’s connect the Green Line to the airport. That’s part of my airport plan. But let’s start looking at some other things. How do we use existing capacity better? You know, installing the software that can even improve the already synchronized traffic lights.
We can continue to make improvements like that. I’ve identified 35 streets, like Wilshire, like Vermont. See how we can squeeze more capacity. Get much more aggressive about enforcing no parking during rush hour. And you know what? I’d like to eliminate the parking on a street like Wilshire.
We can encourage more companies to have staggered work hours and telecommuting, and things like that.
It may not sound like much when you improve traffic signal synchronization, but if you squeeze an extra 2 percent out of every intersection, and you add that up as you drive across the city, you’re adding real minutes here.
JJ: How would you make Los Angeles more business friendly?
JH: If we’re so unfriendly, why are we the place where more small businesses started than any other place in the country? I’m proud of that fact. And I want to encourage that. That’s why business tax reform is one of the things that I’ve embraced.
For more information about Mayor James Hahn, visit www.jimhahn.org or ” alt=””
Jewish Journal: What is your central critique of Mayor James K. Hahn?
Bob Hertzberg: He just doesn’t get it. Everything he does is calculated — a calculated transaction to get support from somebody, one group or another…. There’s no leadership involved at all.
It’s like, “Oh, golly, gee, shucks. Now, I better deal, deal with the environmental community. What can I do for my green power program?” And: “Oh, golly, gee, shucks, I gotta deal with this community. What can I do to bring them along?”
JJ: But he defeated secession. Wasn’t that a success?
BH: No. It wasn’t. Because he came to the San Fernando Valley, and instead of trying to inspire people with a sense of the greatness of a world-class city, he came out and said, “You people,” and it was insulting, and demeaning to the San Fernando Valley.
Los Angeles is … you’ve got a place where, when you go travel downtown, they say, “We want our fair share.” You go to South L.A.: “We want our fair share.” You go to San Fernando Valley: “We want our fair share of this.” It comes by virtue of the fact that the place is a city of more than 110 communities and 284 annexations.
So, what do you do when you govern a city like this? You bring everybody up together…. Instead of just concentrating on downtown, look to each community and find out things you can do for each community, and bring the city up together, so that it’s not an us vs. them.
JJ: What would you do to create jobs in Los Angeles?
BH: I’m in the process of forming an international foundation to help bring businesses here…. I’m gonna pick up the phone, and I’m gonna be calling heads of state and government people from all over the place to try to get activity here….
For example, the Korean banks — big money. [And] the Korean insurance companies are deregulating. The Spanish banks are buying up the Mexican banks and want to move here. I’m gonna reach out to these companies to bring capital here. Capital creates jobs.
The second aspect is, there’s great economic opportunities in South L.A., because of the real estate values…. If a mayor really leads the charge, there’s a real opportunity to attract capital there.
JJ: Should Jewish voters consider voting for a Jewish candidate, namely you? Is being Jewish or being something else a factor?
BH: I don’t know…. I do think there’s still somewhat of an impact. We certainly see it in terms of polls that people vote along ethnic lines….
There are people that come to me and say, “It would be wonderful to have a Jewish mayor who [is] from the community.”
I have very strong relationships in the Korean community, very strong relationships in the Chinese community…. I started [in politics] in South L.A. 31 years ago … working through a number of African American campaigns. I worked on the Eastside for a long time. My wife is Latina….
No one ever looked at me and said, “Who’s the Jewish guy?” Never did happen.
JJ: Is Police Chief William Bratton doing a good job?
BH: Yeah. I don’t think Hahn’s giving him what he needs to do his job.
But I gotta tell you something…. I’ve got to fund the police first…. There’s $450 million more in cash than there was on Day 1 [of the Hahn administration]. OK? Jim Hahn took that $450 million and basically gave most of it out [in] pay raises.
JJ: Would you undo the three-day workweek for the police?
BH: I don’t know…. I listen to Bratton on that.
JJ: How necessary is it to break up the Los Angeles Unified School District, as you propose? There are, after all, prime examples of bad small school districts.
BH: First of all, 53 percent of ninth graders don’t graduate, OK? How am I supposed to be the mayor of a world-class city when you don’t have a world-class education….
We’ve got an adult illiteracy rate worse than Mobile, Ala. Seventy-five percent of the kids that are in jail haven’t graduated high school…. Nothing is worse than the status quo.
BH It’s pretty damn hard to spend this amount of money and be this big of a failure.
Sometimes, when you have a problem this big, you have to take it and make a statement. I think John Kerry lost the election because he nuanced too much. I’m not nuancing this thing.
What I hear from teachers [is] that they want power in the classroom. They want to be able to make their own decisions…. We know that small classrooms with autonomy, without this top-down bureaucracy that just smothers people, works.
We’ve seen it in New York. One of the reasons why government fails is because we try to centralize power. We try to centralize policymaking decisions.
Why can’t you take the [proposed] Riordan model and let principals make the decision?
JJ: You’re mixing ideas that don’t necessarily relate: Empowering teachers is not the same thing as … empowering principals. Giving authority to principals and breaking up the district are not necessarily linked either. And New York City’s school district hasn’t been broken up.
BH: Here’s the notion: Sometimes, you fundamentally have to change the structure of power to fix things. Dick Riordan tried to do it with LEARN [a reform effort in the early 1990s]. He tried to do it by electing people to the school board. You keep moving down the list to try and make it work, and if it doesn’t work, guess what? You keep trying something new.
When I say break up the district, it may mean at the end of the day … that the LAUSD is just the city of Los Angeles, which could be fine with me.
JJ: So little Lomita, which is not part of Los Angeles, would have to create its own school district?
BH: I’m thinking about the quality of life, the future of Los Angeles. How do we actually make a school district that integrates with the rest of the city in a real way?
JJ: Limiting L.A. Unified to Los Angeles would make L.A.’s mayor more influential in the city’s schools, would it not?
BH: It would change the paradigm of power in education. Which is what we have to do.
JJ: How could you go about breaking up L.A. Unified?
BH: Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, we had a constitutional amendment that said in any city larger than 2 million people, the school district can’t exceed the boundaries of the city.
JJ: How does L.A.’s mayor bring this to pass?
BH: I use the bully pulpit … maybe cobble together a coalition statewide that talks about local control of the schools…. And I put it on the ballot.
In the first 90 days [after being elected mayor], I’ll pull everybody together, listen to everybody and ultimately, I’m going to decide what I want to do.
Breakup proponents in the Valley won’t necessarily like a breakup plan that doesn’t give the Valley its own school district.
What they want is a school system that works, a school system that’s connected to their community…. They’re tired of the waste. They’re tired of the bureaucracy…. They’re tired of not being listened to…. They just want a [school] system they can send their kids to.
JJ: How would you critique Riordan on education while he was mayor and afterward?
BH: What Riordan’s done is magnificent. Here’s a guy who doesn’t have to engage…. This guy doesn’t need to do anything. And he’s out there spending tens of millions of dollars of his own money buying computers.
He’s trying to fix it. He’s trying to engage other wealthy people to care about education. Now, do I agree with every single solution he’s got? No, but who cares? He’s in the game. He’s at it, fighting it.
JJ: But how effective were Riordan’s efforts?
BH: We all build upon those who were there before. [He] basically tried and tried and tried and tried to make it better. There’s no question about his sincerity. I give him all the credit in the world.
Let me tell you what leadership is…. You’ve gotta move people out of their comfort zones, everybody–your best friends and your worst enemies.
I’m in it. I’m doing everything I can. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. … I’m telling you, if I win this thing, fasten your seatbelts. Fasten your seatbelts.
For more information about Bob Hertzberg, visit ” alt=””
CITY COUNCIL/RETIRED POLICE CHIEF
Jewish Journal: Why shouldn’t James K. Hahn be mayor for four more years?
Bernard Parks: [He’s] been missing in action on a variety of issues — missing on transportation, only shows up about 30 percent of the time [to Metropolitan Transportation Authority]. Issues such as housing, issues of public safety.
The city is too dynamic to be running on cruise control.
[And] we’ve got corruption. We’ve had people get arrested. We’ve had people steal money. We’ve seen extortion in city government.
JJ: But how closely do any of these issues connect to Mayor Hahn himself?
BP: I don’t think he can avoid or ignore or deflect any longer that he’s responsible for the environment of corruption in the city of L.A.
JJ: How would you differentiate between scandals on Hahn’s watch and the police scandal in the Rampart Division, which happened on your watch as police chief?
BP: I don’t think that Bernard Parks sat there and waited for the grand jury to come and tell me there was a scandal. We invited the FBI in. We invited the U.S. attorneys in.
This corruption is unique. These people are doing things for the betterment of an individual [Hahn] or [his] administration. You either have one of two things. You have corruption [or] you have incompetence. Neither one’s acceptable.
If you look at Jim Hahn’s record, it hasn’t really changed. Jim Hahn has been hands off and a nonparticipant leader in every job he’s had. It’s just been it’s more acute in the mayor’s office.
JJ: Did you notice these traits in him when you were police chief and he was the city attorney?
BP: We dealt with him on a number of issues. Many attorneys, many judges will tell you the reason for the significant liability issues that we’ve had in the city was the poor administration in the city attorney’s office [under Hahn].
JJ: Do you think Mayor Tom Bradley’s ability to create a progressive black and Jewish coalition can be reproduced?
BP: Anyone that has any hopes of doing anything productive in the city of L.A. has to understand coalitions. But it’s not as simplistic as the Bradley era of Jewish-black.
The Asian population, the Hispanic population, and all these subgroups…. We have to be able to walk in all of those communities and address those issues. It’s very simplistic when somebody says, “Hertzberg’s gonna get the Jewish vote; Parks is gonna get the black vote.”
I went to the event at the Wiesenthal Center. I couldn’t count the number of people that came up from the Jewish community and said, “No. 1, we appreciate you being here. No. 2, we appreciate that you seem to be here all the time. And No. 3, we’re gonna remember you on March 8.
People have a comfort level with those who seem to be around when they don’t need anything or around when they’re not asking for something. And so I don’t believe that every Jewish vote is going for Hertzberg.
JJ: How do you revitalize communities while also addressing the housing shortage?
BP: The city has to realize that it cannot solve the housing problem by itself. Developers are going to solve it. [And] you cannot concentrate totally on senior and affordable housing.
We have a brain drain in the city, because nurses and police officers and firefighters — people that actually make a living — are living outside the city because there’s no housing for them.
In the Eighth District that I represent, there is no such thing called market-rate housing or workforce housing.
Now, tell me what benefit is it to keep dumping poor people on top of poor people? And then [we’re] amazed that the community doesn’t work, the education system doesn’t work, that all of these things have gone wrong when we have created policies that shift people in mass numbers away from the city of L.A.?
In the Eighth Distract for 15 years, the only housing that’s been built has been senior and affordable. Now, we just got the first market-rate housing development approved a month ago.
You can’t mandate it. You can’t come up with this inclusionary zoning and then say, “I’m gonna make you build houses a certain way.” With incentives you have more of an ability to get what you want.
[Also] you need a Planning Department that actually plans, that actually looks at a city and says, “Why is it that in Grieg Smith’s [Northwest San Fernando Valley] district you have no affordable housing, yet Bernard Parks’ [South Los Angeles] district has nothing but affordable housing?”
JJ: How do you feel about the role of the mayor in relation to the L.A. school district?
BP: I don’t agree with breaking up the school district, because I don’t think that’s the answer…. The school district didn’t get [into its] condition overnight.
The dramatic difference in education and change in Chicago and New York, when they changed the administration to be the responsibility of the mayor, is remarkable…. They finally figured out who’s responsible for education.
Right now [in Los Angeles] who’s responsible for education? Nobody knows. It’s certainly not the superintendent, because almost everything he recommends, the school board says no. Is it any one board member? No. So it’s a diffused operation over one of the most significant issues that we have.
JJ: Talk about your support for the Wal-Mart store in your council district.
BP: People will come to us and say, “Don’t let them in your city, because they pay low wages and they have no medical insurance.” Except when you look at Wal-Mart and you see what they actually pay, and they do have medical insurance, it’s contrary to the story given by the union.
My experience with Wal-Mart is very narrow. I have a shopping center called Baldwin Hills. It’s the oldest shopping center west of the Mississippi. Before Wal-Mart came in, a retailer left in the middle of the night five years ago. Not one retailer showed up and said, “Let me go into the 100,000-square-foot building.”
Wal-Mart comes in. They put several million dollars in the building. They hire 500 people from the community that happen to be seniors, young people, minorities, disabled. … The only complaint in the shopping center today is, “I can’t find a parking place.”
JJ: Do you have any concerns about Wal-Mart?
BP: I have concerns about anybody that is a monopoly. [But] those great union stores that everybody trumpets, they’re not building in these communities.
We can count on one hand the grocery stores that are in the Eighth District. Most of them are Food 4 Less, which means you must bag your own groceries, unstick your feet from the floor to walk and deal with rude people, bad groceries and higher prices. But yet, we would make sure that a competitor can’t come in and sell groceries that might give people better quality.
JJ: But there’s the argument that Wal-Mart drives smaller community-based stores out of business.
BP: That’s a good theory, except no one in the Eighth District competes with Wal-Mart.
JJ: Public safety also affects whether residents or businesses will move into an area or stay in an area.
BP: They also move out because they believe their kids aren’t being educated. They also find that there’s no housing that they would pay $300,000 for. But the issue of public safety comes down to: Why let our police officers work three days a week, when in the last four years, we’ve had over 300 more murders than the four previous years?
If you went from a three-day workweek to a five-day workweek, you would increase the number of police cars that respond to calls by 30 percent.
JJ: What do you think of Police Chief William Bratton’s work?
BP: It’s going to be difficult to assess his true value under this current leadership [of Mayor Hahn], because I don’t think he can perform very well as long as officers are only here a short time. I also am very concerned that we have eliminated many of our prevention and intervention programs that compensate for the three-day workweek.
We digress from many of the long, hard-fought battles to put prevention, intervention and education as part of the police strategy, and we’ve gone back to almost the ’89, ’90s era of arrest figures.
[And Hahn] made a policy decision in the city of L.A. [that] it’s far better to have a smaller, better-paid Police Department than adding [officers].
JJ: Would you give Chief Bratton a second term?
BP: I wouldn’t make a commitment for any general manager two years out. Every general manager that works for me is going to have to sit and look me in the eye — understand where I’m going, what the direction is.
JJ: Do you think [labor leader] Miguel Contreras and organized labor have too much influence in city hall?
BP: No doubt…. What, who is the workforce that’s gonna [rebuild] LAX? It’s trade unions. Many of the people don’t live in the city. So what did the city get out of this other than the airport that’s gonna be dysfunctional?
When I talked to [a] trade union president, his basic answer to me was, “We don’t care what we build. We just want the 11 billion [dollars].”
You can’t put the president of almost every union on your commissions and then say no when they want something. Do you think it’s by coincidence that Miguel [Contreras] is on the LAX commission when there’s an $11 billion project that’s sitting in the wing?
When you come up with a proposal that’s anti-Los Angeles, I’m not gonna buy into it. I don’t care if you’re union or if you’re Democrat or Republican. When you offer a plan that’s anti-L.A. I’m not gonna support it.
For more information about Bernard Parks, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.lacity.org/council/cd8/index.htm.
Antonio R. Villaraigosa
Jewish Journal: What is your central criticism of Mayor James K. Hahn?
Antonio Villaraigosa: Over the last four years, he’s not demonstrated the leadership that a great city needs and deserves, pure and simple.
JJ: In 2001, you got a huge boost from union endorsements. This time, Hahn’s got the lion’s share. Why?
AV: Because Jim will do anything and say anything to get elected. He used LAX expansion as a means to secure union support for another four years.
JJ: So it was just the LAX expansion issue?
AV: It wasn’t just LAX. It was a number of things. But LAX expansion was the engine….
[Regarding the airport], a regional airport system is critical. To invest $11 billion, we should be investing in a lot more capacity than you could ever get at LAX.
LAX is already a parking lot. And the growth in the region is on the east and in the north. It seems to me that putting our airport capacity in the parts of the region that are growing makes more sense for traffic, for convenience and for, you know, spreading out the capacity over the region.
When I’m mayor, we’re going to put a plan together to develop and make real a regional airport system.
JJ: Besides the unions, you also don’t have the same phalanx of elected officials supporting you. Last time you had Gov. Gray Davis, Mayor Richard Riordan, Gil Cedillo and also philanthropist Eli Broad. This time, the current governor is neutral and the others support someone else.
AV: Tom Bradley’s second race [for mayor against incumbent Sam Yorty] was very different from the first one. In the first one, he had 5,000 volunteers. In the second one [which Bradley won], he barely had half of that. I think he had 2,000 is the number I heard.
[State Assembly Speaker] Jesse Unruh who was with Bradley in ’68 ran against him [in 1972]. Baxter Ward ran.
I mean it’s not the same race. It’s a different race. [I’m] running against an incumbent now. People know you better.
So, yes, maybe you’re not as exciting. But it’s gonna be more difficult for Jim to create a climate of fear around my candidacy. If you look at his mailers [in 2001], they were remarkably similar to the mailers used against Bradley. Armed and dangerous, do you remember that one?
JJ: This time you’re also running against Bob Hertzberg. You were roommates with him in Sacramento, when you were both in the Assembly.
AV: And we’re still friends. All you guys have been trying to squeeze out of us all this drama. We don’t have issues with one another…. Rather than compare myself to Hertzberg, let me just talk about my strengths.
My strength is, I have an ability to see the big picture. I have the ability to create consensus around a vision and a plan for what needs to be done. That, I think, makes me different from the other candidates in this race. I’ve always been able to both hire and attract strong leaders who can help implement that vision…. I had really good people around me.
JJ: When you ran for City Council, you said you would serve four years. You said you wouldn’t run for mayor in this election.
AV: I said I would be a council member for four years. I believed that then. But, you know, circumstances have changed.
As time went on, it became clear to me that Jim just didn’t have the wherewithal to lead the city. And I didn’t really believe that any of, you know, the candidates running could beat him.
JJ: What about charges of corruption in the Hahn administration?
AV: This is the most investigated administration since Frank Shaw in the 1930s. The gall that [Hahn] would act like the victim when he’s failed and refused to answer a simple question.
JJ: Which is?
AV: Why did you put your chief fundraiser [Troy Edwards] in charge of the three proprietary funds giving out more than a billion dollars worth of contracts?
JJ: The mayor said to us that Edwards wanted to do something other than fundraising.
AV: I will appoint deputy mayors that have expertise and knowledge in the area that they’re overseeing. Come on, everybody. That’s not an answer. He gave you an answer, but that wasn’t a real answer, and you know it. I’m surprised you didn’t fry him.
JJ: Are you trying to remake a Bradley coalition in some ways with a Jewish and Latino synergy?
AV: Not purposely. Look, I’ve always had a very strong connection to Jews in my life. Other than my mother, the people — the librarians, the teachers, the people in authority that gave me a chance — most of them were Jews.
I lived in Boyle Heights. There was still a residue of [Jews] if not living there, working there. I’m talking about the ’50s and the ’60s. And I’ve always felt a connection.
The three things my mother, as a young boy, told me about — and maybe it’s because where we lived — was the Holocaust, Jim Crow and what happened to the Japanese. In the ’50s in our home, we would have Jews, blacks, Asians and even gay couples. My mom, she was just very progressive.
JJ: There doesn’t seem to be so much of an ethnic voting pattern in Los Angeles right now.
AV: Even with Latinos.
JJ: What do you think that says about Los Angeles?
AV: It’s a good thing. I love it. Judge me by the content of my character and what I have to contribute. I’ll go on that any day. I’ll ride that horse any day.
JJ: Do you feel the city needs more police?
AV: We need a minimum of another 1,000 and probably upwards of that to be honest.
JJ: And how do we do that?
AV: Let’s move ahead with the [L.A. Councilman Grieg] Smith’s proposal, which [the City Council] just passed, to put 300 cops on the streets of Los Angeles. … And then put a Measure A on the ballot, a half-penny sales tax countywide in 2006. Why 2006? Because we just lost this half-penny sales tax in November, ’cause people don’t have trust and confidence that government’s going to spend the money the way they said they would.
So I proposed put the 300 cops on now, tighten our belt, show people that we’re committed to making cops a priority now with the money that we have. Then build support around the region for a half-penny sales tax that is a little different than the last one.
It would have a citizens oversight committee to ensure that we’re spending the money the way that we said we would. And we would put in this initiative, by the way, specific language about putting these officers not in administrative functions, but in positions that really impact patrols and community-based police.
JJ: In terms of the housing crisis, are you in favor of inclusionary zoning, which could require developers to include “affordable” units in their projects?
AV: I support the concept, but the devil’s going to be in the details. The only way it’ll work is if you get a buy-in from developers. It’s got to cost out. It’s got to have the parking variances and the bonus densities, you know, that allow them to make money.
The communities need to revitalize. That doesn’t mean that you want gentrification. But you do want homeowners anchoring the community.
The other thing I talked about in the plan [is] streamlining the permitting. We’re gonna re-think what housing looks like. Not every home is gonna be a 2,500-square-foot home with a front yard and a backyard.
We’re gonna do a lot more mixed use, you know, retail on the bottom and adapt. And nobody has really called Jim on the absolute misrepresentation of his “fully funded” Housing Trust Fund. It’s never been fully funded.
JJ: Talk about schools.
AV: I don’t support school district breakup, because the process of breakup will be a legal quagmire and very divisive for the city. I do support smaller schools, smaller classrooms, teacher training and compensation, teacher accountability [and] more parent and teacher control with a strong principal.
A specific thing we can do as mayor is re-think what schools look like. I’ll make education my top priority. I’ll build 100 schools.
You know, it’s been very difficult to site many of our schools. The city can work with the school district to site the schools and build the community consensus around the siting of those schools. The city can create synergies that come with parks and libraries [near] schools, extending libraries’ hours to create community centers at the schools.
The city can expand the after school program. Jim did do some things about that. There’s no question. But I guarantee you we’re gonna exponentially multiply what he did.
Finally, we have an important opportunity in the city to support and expand charter schools. Do I think a stronger mayoral role in the schools would be a good thing? Absolutely.
JJ: Would you try to pursue that?
AV: Right now, I’m gonna focus on the things that we can do. I also think there’s a role in creating a more harmonious relationship between the school district and the teachers union. And I think I have a unique ability to do that.
JJ: What do you think about the Riordan-style relationship to the school district?
AV: I’ll say this: While Dick Riordan often failed in his objective to exert greater control over the school district, he was passionate about education, in contradiction to Jim Hahn, who’s just been missing in action.
For more information on Antonio Villaraigosa, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.lacity.org/council/cd14/page2.cfm?doc=home.