The Riordan era crashed this week, and with it, perhaps, the end of Los Angeles' capitalist renaissance. Not only did the most aggressively left mayoral candidate, Antonio Villaraigosa, come in first place, but his challenger, City Attorney James Hahn, is himself largely a creation of public employee unions and the most conventional elements of the political class.
As the returns came in, the city's largely left-of-center big media could barely contain their glee. But give L.A. Weekly editor Harold Meyerson, the man who wants to make Los Angeles safe for reruns of "Waiting for Lefty," the real credit. He predicted that the City of Angels would move decisively to the left this year, and Meyerson was right.
Meanwhile, Riordan-backed candidates were virtually decimated, even in the San Fernando Valley. The very idea that Julie Korenstein, one of the architects of L.A.'s notoriously dysfunctional schools, could win re-election in the Valley can only mean that even the middle class has adopted a kind of civic death wish.
It may also be the death knell for secession. If the Valley could not muster support to put either Wachs or Soboroff in the runoff, one has to doubt it has the energy to secede from the emerging red-green republic on the other side of the hill.
The new City Council, to borrow from Rodney Dangerfield, will be no bargain either. It was a good year for retreads Tom Hayden, Mike Woo and the former aides of such council standouts as Rita Walters and Mike Hernandez all either won their races outright or made it into a runoff. We are clearly living in the age of amnesia. As my grandmother would say, "oy vey."
Two key races should now command the most attention. First, the city attorney race between former L.A. Deputy Mayor Rocky Delgadillo and Councilman Mike Feuer. This is critical for several reasons. First, Delgadillo has experience in economic development and is strongly pro-business. Second, he represents an emerging post-Chicano generation of leaders along with council members Alex Padilla and Nick Pacheco who represent the best hope for a future centrist politics in Los Angeles.
In contrast, Feuer promises to be a nightmare for every small-business owner and entrepreneurial developer in Los Angeles. The husband of the head of ultra-enviro NIMBY Natural Resources Defense Council in Southern California, Feuer is the embodiment of rampant enviro-nimbyism. If he becomes city attorney, it may become dangerous even to burp in the streets of L.A.
Of course, it's the mayor's race that will get the most attention.No champion for business
Unfortunately, there is really no one that business should feel comfortable with. A Villaraigosa administration may be fine with the ultra rich, like Eli Broad, who will get to build their favorite monuments, but it could be tough on just about everyone else. Particularly threatened would be the generally low-paying, unionized "grassroots" economy of Los Angeles manufacturers of garments, textiles, toys and metal products.
Villaraigosa's "red-green" coalition is likely to have little interest in such industries. County labor chief Miguel Contreras, who may be the most powerful man in Los Angeles after this election, has admitted that labor can not organize most of these workers effectively. The enviro-nimbies, for their part, have never liked these "dirty" industries, which need such horrible things as diesel-burning trucks and warehouses built on brownfield sites, which they prefer to turn exclusively into open space.
Los Angeles residents should watch carefully over the next few months as developers, particularly from the outside, begin to reassess their future under what the L.A. Weekly promises to be Villaraigosa's "new new deal."
The other big concern with Villaraigosa revolves around crime. A former head of the L.A. ACLU, Villaraigosa has an unenviable record as being "soft" on crime, opposing draconian measures to deal with gangs and other infestations. He showed contempt for L.A. police officers, as reported in the Webzine Salon, when he told a South Central audience he would "end the culture of us vs. them of people who fell off the turnip truck and think they're in the Marines."
Not exactly a resounding endorsement of our boys in blue.Windows of opportunity
Crime and character could emerge as the critical wedge issue for Hahn. Villaraigosa's lobbying for a pardon for convicted drug dealer Carlos Vignali provides Hahn with a weapon to show not only that the former Speaker has a soft spot for cocaine dealers but a Clintonesque regard for people who give him campaign funds. The pardon outraged the cops and would have derailed Villaraigosa's candidacy if Xavier Becerra and Cardinal Roger Mahony had not signed on to the same sleazy cause.
The timing may also be right for a Hahn upset.
Hahn's core African American voters, as well as many working-class Latinos, are aware far more than the white "progressives" who dominate the media and the political class that, after years of decline, crime is on the rise. It is clearly Villaraigosa's and the city's Achilles' heel.
But it's not clear that Hahn would be much better for the economy, which should be his other key issue.
After all, this is the candidate of the Service Employees' International Union, the predominate city employee union. And he has shown, to date, little appreciation of economic issues.
But even if Hahn begins to mount a strong campaign, it is unlikely that he can stop Villaraigosa. Like almost everyone who has spent time with him, I find Villaraigosa remarkably engaging. He has succeeded largely by being all things to everyone a Judeophile to Jews, a Messiah-like figure to Christians, a comrade to hard-bitten lefties, a pragmatist to deal makers, a homeboy to inner-city youth, a compadre to Latino nationalists and the boyish Latino Clinton to breathless young female voters.
"The question is, which Antonio did we elect?" says observer Gregory Rodriguez.
That may become the key question as Los Angeles leaves the Riordan era and enters an unknown, and potentially uneasy, future.
Contributing columnist Joel Kotkin is a senior fellow at the Davenport Institute for Public Policy at Pepperdine University and at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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