Sacramento, Jan. 26, 1958Residence:
Eagle RockParty Affiliation:
Received B.A. in economics and juris doctorate from Stanford University. Worked in legal services office representing mentally ill, then worked for former state Sen. Art Torres. Served as deputy attorney general under then-state Attorney General John Van de Kamp. Elected to state Assembly in 1990; elected to Congress in 1992. Re-elected for fourth time in November; now serves on House Ways and Means Committee.Top Priorities, If Elected:
Conduct outside audit of all city departments; hold town hall meetings in neighborhoods; expand international trade opportunities for local businesses; meet with L.A. Police Chief Bernard Parks to chart path for reform of LAPD.
The Business Journal presents the last in its weekly installments of interviews with the six major candidates for L.A. mayor. This week: Xavier Becerra, who has spent the past eight years in Congress representing the Eagle Rock and Pico-Union areas. He serves on the House Ways and Means Committee. Becerra met with Business Journal editors and reporters to discuss his reasons for running, his plans to audit city government and hold town meetings, his standing in the polls, and his plans to site and build charter schools.Question:
Given that you also just successfully ran for re-election to Congress, why are you running for mayor of L.A.?
Answer: As someone who grew up with very little and sees how much Los Angeles has to offer now, we can be the defining city of the 21st century. But we can't get there unless we do those little things, like fixing the neighborhoods first. For too long we've neglected the people and their neighborhoods. They need to know that their streets will be clean and safe, that their kids will learn what they need to learn in school. Then we can address the big things, like international trade and ensuring that our industries remain competitive. In order for the next mayor to be poised to take advantage of all the city's assets, he or she has to take care of the neighborhoods first.
Q: Are you talking about more community policing, more powerful neighborhood councils those kinds of things?
A: It comes down to people believing that the city will deliver services right next to the house. I just finished talking to a group of seniors who wanted to know why the streets in their neighborhood were so dirty. I'm never going to get those seniors to concern themselves with the fact that the Port of Los Angeles is the No. 1 port in the nation and the third busiest in the world if I can't get their street cleaned. And some of these things are rather simple, like one senior saying to me that each building should have its address clearly marked so that people don't have to slow down on the street to look for the right building.
Q: What is the first action you would take as mayor?
A: One of the first things I would do as mayor is to conduct an independent audit of city government. I would then take the audit and the auditors with me to town hall meetings in neighborhoods throughout the city. You bring people closer to city government by bringing the government to the neighborhoods.
Q: An audit of the entire city government seems like a very daunting task. How long would it take and how much would it cost?
A: I'm going to get an outside auditor, so it will cost me a pretty penny. As for how long it would take, I want to give those folks a chance to do it the right way. That will be my base document that I'm going to use to tell people how we're going to get the job done. I need to have something that people can use to have confidence in city government. Right now there is very little confidence the secession movements are a manifestation of that.
Q: A cynic might look at this and say, "Well why don't we just hire the auditors to be mayor? I don't want some auditors to come in and tell us what the vision should be. That's the mayor's job."
A: The auditors won't supply the vision. They will come back to me with the facts. I don't want to go to the folks in the (San Fernando) Valley and say, "You're getting your fair share of services." I want the auditors to tell them that, or tell them whatever the findings are. That way it will be believed.
From there, the vision takes over. That's when I start implementing the recommendations, working with the neighborhood councils and with the City Council.
Q: Looking at the recent poll on the mayor's race, it looks like you and Antonio Villaraigosa are taking votes away from each other. Was it wise for both of you to run?
A: I have a vision and some determination to do something for the city. What anyone else's motive is I don't care.
Actually, my biggest competitor is not one of the other candidates; it's apathy.
Look, I need only 20 percent of 500,000 votes, which is about 100,000 to 110,000 votes, to get into the runoff. We're gearing up our grassroots operation now; it's 1,000 people strong and growing.
Q: You've been characterized repeatedly as the underdog. Why do you think that is?
A: Folks look at things conventionally in politics. And the convention is that you have to have a big wad of cash in order to win elections, you have to have most of the big and heavy hitters behind you. I typically haven't had those things. I've never raised more money than my opponents in major races; I've never had the establishment support. Yet I've always won. That's because we always go out and do things in a grassroots fashion. We always have the best operation on the ground: That's where I connect with people.
Q: Did L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina and Henry Cisneros ask you to withdraw from the race last fall, to increase the odds of a Latino (Villaraigosa) being elected mayor?
A: Those meetings between Molina, Cisneros, Antonio Villaraigosa and myself were supposed to be kept in confidence. Obviously, he (Villaraigosa) didn't keep those meetings entirely in confidence. But to respond: No, I was never asked to leave.
Certainly he (Villaraigosa) was interested to see if we could reach some arrangement. But the meetings never progressed to a point of saying: "One of you get out." I said I was not interested in sitting down and having the four of us decide who runs or doesn't run. The days of the casicas in Los Angeles politics are over with you know, the political bosses selecting who runs. You can stand on your own two feet.
Q: You sent a letter asking President Clinton to review the case of Carlos Vignali, the convicted drug dealer. In retrospect, was that a mistake?
A: I asked the president to review the case. I asked him honestly and openly. Unlike others, I didn't lie about my role and I didn't deny what I had done. Unlike others, I didn't say the man in jail should be released, or that he was innocent. I said in my letter that some of these community leaders Cardinal Roger Mahony included believe that there is reason to review the case. I also ask you (President Clinton) to review the case.
Q: Due to your union ties, some businesspeople might conclude that unions would gain more power with you as mayor, and that doing business here would get more difficult. Your thoughts?
A: I do what I think is right. I don't care whether it's supported by labor or the business community. When I voted for permanent normalization of trade relations with China, I was told straight out by the unions: "You vote for this, and please don't expect that we will be there for you if you run for mayor." Now, how can anyone vote against trade when Los Angeles has the nation's No. 1 port? I don't see how you do that.
Q: So what are some of the things you would do to help business?
A: It's time for this city to be online, so that you don't have to go to Building and Safety or other city departments to get a permit or pay a fee. This is especially important for the outlying portions of the city, like my own community of Eagle Rock.
As for the mayor's business teams, I think they are an excellent idea, but you just can't roll out the red carpet for big business. You have to also give small businesses the same treatment, and that's what I would do.
And then there's the area of international trade. As mayor, I would use my contacts with leaders in Latin America and Asia to give L.A. businesses more opportunities to export their products and services and create more jobs.
And finally, I would work to site major development projects along abandoned properties in South L.A. and just to the west of downtown. That would involve creating new CRA project areas and trying to bring in more federal funds.
Q: Steve Soboroff has proposed breaking up the L.A. Unified School District. Do you concur?
A: If I could find a way to get resources to inner-city schools, yes, I would support it. But I just don't see how you can do that. Right now, our inner-city schools are simply falling apart. What you need is neighborhood schools, where the neighborhoods have a stake in the schools. I would definitely like to see more charter schools. Those schools each have control over their own destiny and would help disperse the power away from 450 North Grand (the LAUSD headquarters in downtown).
Q: Joel Wachs has said that he would not support renewing the contract of L.A. Police Chief Bernard Parks. Would you support renewing Parks' contract?
A: The day I become mayor, I would sit down with Chief Parks and lay out three goals: reduce the crime rate, implement the Christopher Commission reforms and the consent decree on time and within budget, and stop the hemorrhaging of police officers. That last point involves restoring morale. If Chief Parks has made significant progress on those things, then I would support renewing his contract. Right now, I would say not enough progress has been made to this date, but he will have his day in court 18 months from now, as his contract comes up.
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