If you believe the exit polls in last week's election, more than half the voters who bothered to show up feel that Los Angeles is moving in the wrong direction what would normally spell curtains for incumbent Mayor James Hahn.

But it's really a trick question certainly an incomplete one. What the Los Angeles Times really should have asked is whether the mayor of Los Angeles, whoever it turns out to be, is in a position to correct the ills that have gotten the city off track in the first place.

Angelenos know the difference, which could explain why so few voters bothered to cast ballots and why much of the noise that's made up the last couple of months of campaigning has sounded vacant, implausible and downright silly.

Sorry Bob.

Better luck next time Bernie and Richard.

Thus, we are left with the coolest customers in the field the charming if enigmatic Antonio Villaraigosa, whose strategy to run on smiles and generalities has worked beyond many expectations, and the phlegmatic mayor, who somehow saves his best performances for the campaign trail.

Not that you need me to state the obvious, but don't expect either of these guys to create mass transit networks and hire thousands of cops and attract dozens of Fortune 500 headquarters. There will be efforts at incremental improvements that are deemed doable pothole patrols, a few more conventions, maybe even an NFL team.

The big ideas

The strange thing about this campaign is that while all the challengers talked about having the vision to carry out the big stuff, there was barely any mention of precisely how they would get it done. The sound bite era has reached the point where campaign lackeys don't even bother handing out position papers. Who would read them, first off, but more to the point, who would believe them?

Bob Hertzberg was the self-proclaimed candidate of BIG IDEAS, and in the end it might have been his undoing because, well, BIG IDEAS tend to make people EXTREMELY NERVOUS. Or haven't you ever had a new boss who sweeps in with crazy plans that you and your co-workers just know will blow up? And even if they aren't unmitigated disasters, they're often little different than the old way of doing things. It's the not-better-but-it's-mine school of management.

I got a twinge of this from Hertzberg when we asked him a while back what he would do to make L.A. a more attractive place to do business. He said his first priority was to find a replacement for the city's gross receipts tax even if it meant changing state law.


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