Investment banker, Sacramento veteran Kathleen Connell also wants more charter schools and buses

The Business Journal presents the fifth in its weekly installments of interviews with the six major candidates for L.A. mayor. This week: Kathleen Connell, an investment banker who has served the last six years as state Controller. Connell met with Business Journal editors and reporters on March 2 to discuss her reasons for running, her proposed reforms of the L.A. Police Department and the L.A. Unified School District, her plans to reduce L.A.'s legendary traffic congestion and to build more affordable housing units.

Born:

Denver, June 30, 1947

Residence:

West L.A.

Party Affiliation:

Democrat

Credentials:

Came to L.A. to get a doctorate from UCLA in municipal finance. Joined administration of former L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley in 1975, serving as his housing director from 1984 to 1988. Started own investment banking firm; taught graduate courses at UCLA and UC Berkeley business schools. Elected state Controller in 1994, one of only three Democrats to win statewide elected office that year. Touted as gubernatorial candidate in 1998, but opted instead to run for re-election; won handily, carrying 55 of 58 counties. Term-limited out of office next year. Was last of six major mayoral candidates to throw hat into ring.

Top Priorities, If Elected:

Conduct performance audit of LAPD and meet with Police Chief Bernard Parks to chart reform course. Set up 60 charter schools and expand after-school programs. Set up financial incentives for employers to stagger work hours to reduce rush-hour congestion on L.A. roads and freeways.

Question:

As state Controller, you could have run for another statewide office or even the governor's post. So why did you decide to run for mayor of L.A.?

Answer: I love L.A. I've been living here for over 20 years. I think it's a great city and I think that with the right leadership it can be a better city. We have a remarkable number of issues that need to be addressed very quickly, and how they are dealt with will determine the course of the city over the next several decades. We have mounting traffic problems in the city, we have a school system tragically failing our children I might add I have two children in grades four and five, so this affects me directly. I am also very concerned about the functioning of the LAPD and about providing adequate services in our neighborhoods.

To meet all these challenges, it takes a fresh pair of eyes, it has to take someone who is independent of the special interests at City Hall, someone who brings to office the executive ability to implement the changes that are required. And I think that's what my record is. I'm a businesswoman, I'm an educator, I'm an executive in state government who manages a $100 billion budget and I have direct and indirect responsibility for more than 10,000 employees.

Q: All these challenges you tick off sound like an indictment of the current city leadership.

A: It's not an indictment. I think L.A. can be a city with greater potential. We need to put our resources in places where they can have greater positive effect. We need to cut back on the waste in City Hall. We need to take those savings and invest them in our neighborhoods. We have to demand accountability from our city departments and that certainly includes the LAPD.

Q: Many Angelenos regard you as "that woman from Sacramento who is going to come down here and tell us how to run our city." How are you trying to dispel that perception?

A: I think the perception of Kathleen Connell is someone who has a record of accomplishments, who has been independent of special interests, who has been a successful businesswoman in her own right. I owned and operated an investment banking firm in Los Angeles. I was an educator at UCLA. And I have roots that go back to City Hall I was the first housing director the city had under former Mayor Tom Bradley.

Q: Yet you entered the race late compared to the other major candidates and there is a perception that your campaign hasn't yet really gathered momentum.

A: That's completely false. I have been traveling across the city and met with enthusiastic responses from everyone we have met and talked with. I'm not going after endorsements from organizations; we are seeking the endorsement of the voters. We are five weeks out from Election Day and you will see that we have the resources to be competitive on TV.

Q: Which of the five other major candidates are you most concerned about?

A: I'm running to be mayor of Los Angeles and to get my vision for the city out there for people to consider. I'm not focusing on the other candidates.

Q: As the only woman among the major candidates, weren't you disappointed when the National Organization for Women endorsed Antonio Villaraigosa?

A: We are very pleased with the endorsements we have received from a number of women's organizations. I've been endorsed by the National Women's Political Caucus, Emily's List and the Women's Political Committee. NOW hasn't endorsed any woman running for citywide office, not for City Attorney and not for City Controller. I find that rather ironic.

Q: Like Mayor Riordan, you have a reputation for being very hard driving and opinionated. This has no doubt contributed to Riordan's rocky relations with the City Council. How would you work better with the Council?

A: I must say that when I was working for Mayor Bradley, we did not have a single occasion where we did not get an 11-vote majority for a program or change we were pushing for. We spoke on an ongoing basis with individual council members and respected their opinions. So I think I've demonstrated my ability to work with the City Council. And as Controller, I work with 120 legislators. I carried 12 bills last year, 10 of them passed and eight were signed by the Governor. I think that is a pretty respectable record.

Q: What would be your first action as mayor?

A: First, I would reform the LAPD. I think we have an organization that is crying out for change. We have a $250 million liability as a result of Rampart and another $180 million in liabilities stemming from other police settlements. We have a police force that has lost 2,000 officers in the last three years. We have a recent audit of the LAPD which says that 60 percent of the officers are uncomfortable with the leadership of the LAPD. We have a recognition that the discipline system is viewed as arbitrary and perhaps political.

Q: So what would you do to correct these problems?

A: I would initiate a performance audit of the LAPD immediately upon taking office. That audit would come out with recommendations for change. I would also meet with Chief Bernard Parks within the first few days and lay out the agenda of reform and the timetable within which that reform must be enacted. We also need more community policing, not the current "Robocop" system in which officers are unfamiliar with the communities in which they serve.

Q: What would be your second priority?

A: We need to implement changes in the way the LAUSD operates. I don't want to tamper with the politics of the school board I think Richard Riordan was successful there. Rather, I want to focus on what happens to the child in the classroom. The first is to set up a pre-kindergarten program for 4-year olds. It would be academically based and would be offered three days per week for two hours a morning.

Q: Where would the funding come for this?

A: From private foundations. There are programs already out there that we can tap into.

Getting back to my LAUSD agenda, I have announced an initiative to set up 60 charter schools over the next four years that's 15 a year. I'm a strong advocate of charter schools because I know they work for kids in the classroom. Test scores are higher and there is more opportunity for parents to get involved. There are also far greater financial resources going into the classroom than the average for LAUSD schools because they operate outside the LAUSD bureaucracy.

One added benefit of building these charter schools which would be smaller in size than most district schools is that it would reduce the number of new schools that need to be sited and built.

Lastly, I would also expand after-school programs, to keep children in a safe environment until 6 p.m., when their parents can pick them up. It is in that period after school gets out but before the parents come home that kids get into trouble with gangs and other activities. Working parents need to have the security of knowing their children are in a safe environment until they can get home.

Q: Do you advocate the breakup of LAUSD?

A: No I don't, not at this time. We need to focus on the pragmatic reform measures that are available to us. I think any attempt to break up the district would meet with stiff legal resistance that would consume the whole reform effort.

Q: What is your third priority?

A: Dealing with traffic congestion. Until we aggressively address traffic, we're not going to have the quality of life we need in L.A. We spend more time in our cars than with our families. We are finding that commerce is being crippled and productivity is being lost because of the continuing frustrations of drivers on our roads and freeways.

I'm now supporting an effort to go back to what we did in the 1984 Summer Olympics that proved so successful: giving tax credits to employers and employees in major employment centers like L.A. to stagger their work hours.

I also believe the MTA needs to be restructured. I'm auditing the MTA right now. More dollars need to be put into buses and less in other areas. My goal would be to put 3,000 more buses on the streets in the next several years; a good portion of those would be Rapid Buses.

Q: What are some key things you would do for business?

A: First, people need to know when they consider locating a business here that there is affordable housing for their employees. We need more affordable housing projects and we need to work with neighborhoods to ensure that there is minimal disruption of those communities.

I would also pass the business tax reform as speedily as possible.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.