DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter
The sleepy L.A. mayor’s race finally gathered some steam last week, with incumbent Richard Riordan and challenger Tom Hayden offering starkly different visions of the city’s economy and what to do about it.
In their most direct confrontation to date, Riordan and Hayden held separate speeches within an hour of each other to lay out their economic agendas.
Riordan struck first, telling a Town Hall Los Angeles breakfast crowd that L.A. “is on a roll.”
Riordan cited the addition of 20,000 new jobs last year, the issuance of 31,000 new business licenses and the fact that local unemployment dropped to its lowest level in six years.
“Los Angeles has proven time and time again that we have what it takes,” Riordan said, “but we cannot let up for even one second.”
But at a separate press conference, Hayden offered a darker view. The vast majority of new jobs are in low-wage and low-benefits occupations, he said, while large employers continue to leave the city and personal bankruptcies and business failures are on the rise.
“You have a deterioration to rust-belt levels in L.A.,” Hayden said in an interview later.
Last week’s glass-half-empty, glass-half-full approach by the city’s two mayoral candidates came as no surprise, said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political analyst at Claremont Graduate School.
“It’s a textbook case of a way a campaign like this is waged and should be waged,” she said. “It’s an incumbent defending his or her record, and an opponent trying to unmake his or her case for re-election.”
Riordan offered just two new initiatives: A proposal to freeze business license taxes for five years for businesses in parts of South Los Angeles, East L.A., Pacoima and Watts, and a plan to create 15 “media academies” to train students to enter the multimedia and digital arts industries.
The mayor preferred to focus on improvements to L.A.’s economy in the last year and in the nearly four years since Riordan was elected mayor.
Riordan cited a 15-percent rise in downtown hotel occupancy rates in the last year, an infusion of $10.5 billion to the L.A. economy by more than 23 million tourists, and an all-time high in local film product, with 250 productions taking place in L.A. on an average day.
But Hayden criticized Riordan’s record, saying that 40 percent of L.A. businesses are delinquent on their tax payments, tax breaks have been given to powerful special interests and Riordan has failed in trade diplomacy.
Hayden offered more detailed proposals for improving L.A.’s economy.
Among other things, he proposed a $250 million bond measure to supply public schools with multimedia learning centers.
In his economic plan, Hayden also recommended passing the “living wage” ordinance, which would set a minimum wage for employees of businesses doing work for the city. Riordan has opposed the ordinance, but said recently that he would not veto it if it were scaled back.
Hayden also proposed eliminating fees for new businesses to register with the city, using the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to promote telecommuting and refusing to consider requested tax breaks with health maintenance organizations unless they commit to health care reforms.
Bebitch Jeffe said she feels that Riordan’s economic platform while it may be on the optimistic side is likely to connect better with the average voter.
“Of course every group is not better off than they were four years ago, but the people who are going to come out and vote see the economy on the up-tick,” Bebitch Jeffe said.
She added that Hayden’s more-pessimistic view is not likely to win him many voters.
“I don’t see that as being an effective approach. There is a view out there that things are looking up,” said Bebitch Jeffe.
Bebitch Jeffe said voters on April 8 will base their vote for mayor on how comfortable they are with what’s in their pocketbooks.
“I think that’s the bottom line,” she said. “The economy’s doing well.”