For business people in the city of Los Angeles, the outlook for sunny Southern California got a little dimmer last week.
That’s because Austin Beutner, the hope of business types, dropped out of the mayor’s race Tuesday. That leaves us mostly with a gaggle of career politicians who don’t know a business asset from a hole in Wilshire Boulevard.
In many ways, Beutner was an ideal candidate. He’s an outsider who had a very successful private-sector career, yet he’s a bit of an insider who spent more than a year as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s first deputy mayor. He’s a moderate Democrat with pro-business leanings. He is wealthy enough not to be too beholden to those who would bankroll him.
True, if you could somehow hook him up to a charisma meter, you may not get a pulse. On the other hand, he is intelligent and quietly competent. He led a State Department team during the Clinton administration to help transition Russia to a market economy. And he founded a successful investment banking firm, Evercore Partners.
Economically vibrant cities tend to be business-friendly. But Los Angeles is barely business tolerant, and Beutner expressed the frustrations of business people here. He talked about changing the culture in City Hall, lowering the gross receipts tax and blowing up the city’s East Bloc-like permit process. Little wonder Beutner was immediately endorsed by the likes of David Fleming, the local business leader, and Richard Riordan, L.A.’s last mayor from the business community.
But the broader community never embraced him. His poll numbers reportedly were in the low single digits.
In his announcement, in which he cited unspecified family issues as the impetus for his withdrawal, Beutner – refreshingly – cut to the real problem in the city.
“We need a city which can live within its means and can effectively provide core services like police and fire,” he wrote. “And we need once again to make Los Angeles a city where private-sector employers can prosper – creating good paying jobs and providing the tax base to pay for the services the city has to provide.”
Stop and savor that for a moment. A city that lives within its means. Provides core services. Allows employers to prosper.
Contrast that with what we’ve gotten out of City Hall. A city so broke it wants to make people pay to fix broken sidewalks on their property. A Fire Department with slowed response times. Eighteen months to get routine business permits.
Business people now turn their lonely eyes to Rick Caruso, the developer who seems reluctant to run for mayor and hasn’t even announced, and Kevin James, the lawyer and radio talk-show host, who’s got about a snowball’s chance on the Venice Beach boardwalk in July.
The other candidates may be intelligent and well intentioned and love the city, but most are City Hall lifers out of touch with the private sector. It may be painfully clear to you why the number of payroll jobs in Los Angeles has been dwindling for 20 years. But it’s a mystery to them.
Beutner is one of the few who understands why.
Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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