For Los Angeles and California, 2014 was loaded with heroes and villains.
Patty Lopez topped the heroes category by virtue of her odds-defying, virtually unfunded victory, in the 39th Assembly District over incumbent Raul Bocanegra and his deep pockets filled with cash from the usual suspects.
Had Brian Wilson written “Heroes and Villains” in 2014, the meaning of the lyrics would have been clear to all.
But she’s still dancing in the night
Unafraid of what a dude’ll do in a town full of heroes and villains
Patty’s still dancing on her feet while Raul is the dude, stewing in his own hubris and purportedly planning a rematch.
Lopez’s victory will be an inspiration and a model for average citizens willing to fight a machine politician.
Almost as spectacular was the defeat of a local favorite of bad government devotees – former Speaker of the Assembly, John Perez – in his bid for State Controller.
Perez was knocked to the mat by a tag team. Betty Yee and Ashley Swearengin, each of whom with far better credentials for the job, squeezed him out in the primary despite his overwhelming advantage in cash supplied by the public unions.
We saw two career politicians convicted of voter fraud – former City Councilman Richard Alarcon and State Senator Roderick Wright – and two indicted for felonies – State Senators Ron Calderon and Leland Yee, the latter arguably facing the most serious charges.
Another career came to an unceremonious end, although not for criminal behavior. In the course of a 12-month period, Wendy Greuel suffered two back-to-back, punishing defeats at the polls. Despite millions of dollars in campaign contributions, she crashed and burned as voters were not fooled by her deceit. Any potential donors will think twice before throwing good money after bad if she ever decides to run again.
But there are always those who shine through the darkness and provide hope.
Ron Galperin has been a lighthouse. Developing a user-friendly data set, loaded with years of history and a mere few clicks away from the public, automatically elevated him as the most technically savvy controller of a major city in the nation; maybe the world. He’s not just a numbers geek, either. Standing up to IBEW Local 18 boss Brain D’Arcy’s thuggery in the showdown over the Joint Trusts nonprofits audit is resolve rarely seen in government, especially when support from the mayor is lukewarm and completely absent from the City Council.
Ron now has his eyes on the workers compensation abuse costing us possibly millions of dollars worth of lost services and hard cash. The current system, as he told the Los Angeles Times, creates “a perverse incentive” to file more claims and extend absences. He added, “I’d like to believe that the vast majority of the people who make a claim have a legitimate basis for it, but you have to look at the numbers and wonder.”
To City Attorney Mike Feuer, quality of life is not just a catchy political slogan. He is cracking down on the many illegal medical marijuana establishments that have become a blight citywide and is the only local politician seriously supporting Ron Galperin’s fight against the IBEW Local 18’s attempt to deny transparency. Feuer has also resuscitated the Neighborhood Prosecutor Program, which expedites resolutions of grass-roots legal issues.
What about the mayor?
Let me first say that Eric Garcetti is a welcome change from Antonio Villaraigosa. The former mayor, who was once promoted as a possible gubernatorial candidate or a member of President Obama’s cabinet, has had to make due with his mug on an insipid billboard for a local bank.
But that is the fate that may await Garcetti if he stays in a bubble. Caution seems to be his watchword.
He seems to have forgotten his pledge to reform the DWP. Instead he rolled over and allowed the “compromise” over the nonprofit audits to deny his power to appoint board members to the trusts. He failed to stand behind Galperin and Feuer in the dispute and, instead, caved into a bully. He may have already squandered the political capital he earned in the mayoral election when he overcame D’Arcy’s rich support of Wendy Greuel.
He has chosen to chase feel-good issues such as a proposal to jack up the minimum wage to over $13 per hour. If he has hopes to reduce business taxes in order to improve the economy, as he pledged in his campaign, the minimum wage proposal will blow a hole in that strategy.
Going forward, he needs to rediscover his leadership potential or face irrelevance.
What will 2015 hold for us?
Will the City Council even attempt to rein in retirement benefit costs?
Will there be a strategy to deal with street repairs where everyone contributes to the cost instead of sticking the property owners with most of the bill?
Will the city pressure Governor Brown to dump the $68 billion plan for high-speed rail and instead focus on commuter rail and subways in Los Angeles, the region and the state?
No crystal ball here; just curiosity and anxiety.