Question: After years of interviewing candidates, what was it like to actually be one?
Answer: I had been both a campaign manager and a fundraiser on several campaigns, so I thought I knew what I was getting into. But this was a totally new experience being a candidate myself. It's always easier to sell someone else to the people than it is to sell yourself. Knocking on doors and meeting complete strangers was very humbling and satisfying. Not so satisfying was getting doors slammed in my face by other politicians. It really was a roller-coaster ride that helped me grow as a person.
Q: And what about having to raise all that money?
A: I learned that raising money was really about selling myself to the voters. You have to have a lot of self-confidence to get people to believe in you enough to open their wallets. But I didn't focus on this when I went raising money. I instead kept telling myself and anyone who would listen that I was running because I think I can make the world a better place.
Q: Did you get advice from other elected officials?
A: Yes I did. They told me that I had to stay disciplined and focused, and above all, not let the negativity in the campaign get to me.
Q: What's it like being one of them?
A: I'm now in a very unique club. The campaign is the tempering of the metal that makes a politician. Its length and nastiness are unique to the American political system. So when I interact with all these elected officials now, I'm treated as a colleague.
Q: Your biggest surprise?
A: Knowing that I'm able to make a difference. It's one thing to talk about the issues, as I've done all these years, quite another to be able to introduce a motion, get my colleagues on the council to pass it and then watch it get done.
Q: In your first post-election meeting with Antonio Villaraigosa, what did you talk about?
A: Of course we talked about the campaign. Then we talked about LAX and the first thought from both of us was taking a regional approach that all the future growth in air passengers should not go to LAX. But we both realized that even without that growth at LAX, we need to immediately reinvest in the infrastructure around the airport.
Q: Is the existing plan dead?
A: We do have to upgrade the existing facilities that infrastructure really hasn't been improved in 20 years, since before the 1984 Olympics. We need to make the airport as safe as possible, physically. That means widening the runways. Then we need to make the security improvement recommended in that Rand study: reducing the wait times in lines and putting in more baggage screening equipment. If any of this needs council approval, I will push for it. I also want to see some sort of mass transit connection to the terminals whether it's the Green Line or some hybrid involving a people-mover. But otherwise, we need to look at growing our other airports before we do any more with LAX.
Q: If you cap passengers at LAX, where are all those passengers supposed to go?
A: The growth has to be at Ontario and Palmdale. Now I'm not talking about people on the Westside going there. For them, LAX is closest and they should use that airport. But there are plenty of people in the San Gabriel Valley who I'm sure dread the prospect of getting to the 405. And there are people in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys who should be able to use Palmdale. We need to do a better job of marketing Ontario and to get moving on turning Palmdale into a regional airport.
Q: You want both the Exposition Boulevard light rail line and Red Line subway extensions built. Where will the funding come from?
A: We have got to get our fair share of tax dollars from Washington. Right now, for every dollar we put in, we get 79 cents back that's $50 billion a year that California is not getting back from Washington much of which can be used to build the rail and bus systems that we need.
Q: Others have already tried this. What's your plan?
A: I'm forming what I call the Ambassador Club. There are many wealthy people in my district of both political parties who function as ATM machines for the national political parties. I'm talking people like Bill Simon, Eli Broad, Haim Saban, Dick and Nancy Riordan. Well, in exchange for their thousands and millions of dollars in contributions or for hosting fundraisers, I'm seeking their commitment to ask no, not ask, demand from these politicians that the L.A. region get more funding for transportation projects. They will, in effect, become our lobbyists. I've talked to the mayor about this and he said he will play a role in this effort.
Q: Have you talked with these people?
A: I'm just beginning discussions with them both Republicans and Democrats. The response has been favorable so far. The gridlock has reached such epic proportions that even these folks realize something has got to be done.
Q: Where do you stand on placing affordable-housing set-asides on new developments?
A: I support set-asides, but I'm more sympathetic to a voluntary approach. In my district, 58 percent of residents are renters and a good number of them live in affordable, middle-class units. These units are now being threatened by rising land and home values. I want to make sure this stock of affordable housing is preserved.
Q: Developers say that building affordable units doesn't pencil out, given the price of land.
A: I don't believe that for a second. Look, there already is a requirement for affordable housing set-asides in my district. Under the state Mello Act, any housing built in the jurisdiction of the Coastal Commission must have a certain number of affordable units. Has that stopped developers from building there? Of course not. Look at Santa Monica, with its affordable housing set-asides. Or look at West Hollywood.
Q: What are your priorities as chairman of the education and neighborhoods committee?
A: One is to turn neighborhood councils into a stronger force on development issues. Right now, they are only advisory. But if they want to have a greater role, they really need to represent the residents of that community. No more people being bused in from outside to cast votes for slates of candidates, like what happened in Westchester-Playa del Rey.
Q: And in education?
A: The city must have more say in how the School District is run. I'm not yet sure whether I would support giving the mayor the ability to appoint some of the school board members. Even if we don't assume control over the school board, there's still a lot the city can do to improve the schools.
Q: As an openly gay councilmember, are there any civil-rights issues you plan to pursue?
A: The city already offers benefits to domestic partners of city workers and I want to make sure that continues. But on a broader scale, the City Council must advocate for the people of Los Angeles to make gay marriage legal. Marriage is above all a civil ceremony; after all, you go to the government to get a marriage license. I don't care one way or the other whether churches or other religious groups sanction gay marriage that's their business. But gay marriage is a matter of civil rights, just like making sure blacks had the right to vote in the 1960s.
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