DANIEL TAUB Staff Reporter
Tom Hayden made the transition from student activist in the ’60s to state Senator in the ’90s.
Today, the West Los Angeles Democrat is running what many political observers believe is a quixotic challenge to Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in the April 8 primary.
Hayden spoke with the Business Journal last week:
Q: Conventional wisdom, as you know, says your chances of winning are not great. Do you think you can win? And if so, how?
A: I’m definitely running to win. I think the “conventional wisdom” is manufactured spin by the Riordan administration and its consultants. I also think it reflects the sense that having an unlimited open checkbook is somehow going to permit you in every case to prevail in politics.
The polling I’ve seen shows that he has something like a 20-point lead, which I don’t think is difficult to make up. His support is very soft.
Q: Why are you looking to replace Riordan as mayor?
A: I don’t think the city is safer. I think mindless violence has increased. I don’t think he’s made good on his promise of 3,000 more police. The only thing he’s proven is that he listened too much to publicists and not enough to budget analysts. He’s expanding the police by reducing firefighters.
The economy is actually not better. You can look at all these glowing headlines about recovery, but if you look at the facts, unemployment in L.A. County was higher last year than the year before. It was 8 percent last year and 7.8 percent the year before.
His claim of 30,000 new jobs is a complete hoax. Those jobs would have been created without a mayor because they happen when you start to get a tiny recovery after a long recession.
He’s had five deputy mayors for economic development, and he’s had four chiefs of staff. I’ve had people who’ve been with me 10 or 15 years. This man seems unable to find loyal employees for very, very high wages.
Q: But there is activity going on in town, and there is a sense that the economy has improved under Riordan.
A: It’s nonsense. There’s activity going on for people who work in law firms and downtown office buildings who do not live in Los Angeles. I am amazed at the number of people who are the movers and shakers of Los Angeles who don’t live here. They don’t. They live in Pasadena, they live in Malibu, or whatever.
Q: Of course, until recently, you lived in Santa Monica yourself.
A: Well, that’s silly. I lived in Los Angeles many years before, I had an office building on Third and Broadway for several years in the middle of the downtown area. I’ve lived in Venice, I’ve lived in Westwood.
My point is that there’s a disconnect. People who think the economy is recovering are perfectly correct. They are in the mergers and acquisition world. They are in an affluent world to begin with. We’re in the era of economic recoveries that leave a majority of people behind. That’s in the era we’re in the era of jobless recoveries.
I think the average voter in the Valley, whose house is still deflated by 25 percent or 30 percent, who has not figured out his finances from the earthquake, and who keeps seeing large health companies buy up other health companies and knows what that means for his access to health care is not feeling that Riordanomics works for him.
Q: Riordan has been called the business mayor. Can you give us a critique of Riordan in that role?
A: Let me put it in perspective. The big business community sees Tom Hayden as their nemesis on quality of life issues, on CEQA (the California Environmental Quality Act) and so on. But it’s not unusual that business in America has been saved by their supposed critics. If there hadn’t been a New Deal, I don’t know what would’ve happened to capitalism in the ’30s.
The proposition that I am here to present to you isn’t that my philosophy is better for business than Riordan’s, because what I think business needs now is a better emphasis on the broader issues. And Riordan’s emphasis as a mergers and acquisitions attorney is on the deal-making end, which is often unproductive, inefficient and doesn’t yield very many jobs, but creates the illusion of a lot of activity, and a lot of profit, and a lot of benefit.
I really think his so-called business-friendly agenda means that he’s friendly with business friends of his.
Q: What would you do with the Metropolitan Transit Authority?
A: I think you can change the MTA. First you have to get rid of the culture of scandal. My legislation says no contributions from contractors to board members, period, end of discussion. Secondly you’ve got to stop the subway. Third, you’ve got to do a new analysis of whether there’s any money for cost-effective light rail.
And fourth you’ve got to do natural-gas buses and buses that are attractive not only to the working poor but to the middle class, and you’ve got to use some money for employer incentives to alter work hours so you can de-congest the rush hour. Not only that, but telecommuting, shortened work weeks.
Q: The mayor has spoken out against the subway in the past several months. He has said that we need to do more with the bus system.
A: I think that’s under my pressure. But the words don’t mean anything.
When he ran for office, he said he was for monorail. Then at the key moment, he cast the key vote for the subway. Then he started to get worried about the subway, but he had a political obligation to certain people in the Valley to VICA (Valley Industry and Commerce Association), and to others to take the subway to the Valley or give it the best shot.
So we’ve got this terrible subway extension draining the watershed of Runyon Canyon heading out to North Hollywood where it will surely end for all time. And he had a political obligation to (City Councilman) Richard Alatorre to start a subway on the Eastside.
Well, these are billion-dollar handshakes when you shake hands with VICA and you shake hands with Alatorre. It means that the money for anything else is gone, it’s encumbered.
They have a $3.1 billion debt at this agency. Twenty-two percent of their budget goes for debt service. They have a borrow-and-spend mentality over there that means the subway money drains all money for anything else, including buses, and rhetoric from anyone will not make this different.
Q: What are some of the current policies in city government that are hurting business in L.A.?
A: My suspicion is that fees for businesses, particularly small businesses, are too high because they are driven by a bureaucratic culture that tries to balance government budgets through increasing fees.
In fact I know that to be the case. It’s not that the mayor writes a written instruction, it’s that departments never want to lay off people for understandable reasons. They feel shortchanged in the budget, and that’s why you have multiple fees and escalating fees, and it’s why you have parking tickets for that matter.
So I would start an honest budget critique and say this, and this is an absolute commitment, that fees should be based on what is the actual cost in terms of administration to let somebody do their business.
Q: So you would cut business license fees?
A: Well, we would start a new principle to make them based on costs I’m just asking people to see me as I am and not how they first see me or they have been conditioned to see me, and I think you will find that I am much more anti-bureaucratic than Riordan, than most Democrats or Republicans, including Wilson, and that I have never seen a budget that I couldn’t cut.
And at the same time it’s true that I go out of my way to help the elderly and the poor and the working poor, and I believe wages should be higher and that the gap between rich and poor should be narrowed, that it’s in our common interest.
Q: So to put this in some context, as an example, let’s say the living wage ordinance you would support the role of local government to essentially tell businesses that have some involvement with government contracts what wage they should provide?
A: I’d say let’s have an exemption for small businesses or hardship cases. Fine. But let’s not use tax dollars of L.A. taxpayers to subsidize poverty and think it’s good for the city.
Let’s have a mayor who insists on a living wage for those workers. We can be flexible about it, but the principle is that you don’t use tax dollars to subsidize poverty. The outcome of that is already being spoken.
Q: Isn’t that more of a state or federal problem?
A: It’s a Los Angeles cultural characteristic to have a widening gap between the rich and the poor who are physically close, but who are separated by these walls that protect the rich on the one hand, and that the poor can’t get through on the other.
Q: You don’t have that in Fresno or Oakland or New York?
A: It’s particularly true of the entertainment capital of the world, where you have massive wealth and a high premium on status and celebrity, and how much athletes and movie stars and CEOs make is promoted as part of the status system when people that clean their homes and wash their cars and serve them food are making $9,000 a year or $10,000 a year, and their kids see no prospect of ever even going to college, and those kids, some have said, sit around literally making plans for their funerals instead of making plans for their future.
That’s what’s happening.
Q: If elected mayor, you have to deal with a council that some would suggest, especially from the Riordan camp, is a dysfunctional council that has a very difficult time getting things done, much less getting things done in concert with the mayor. As the mayor, how would you deal with that reality?
A: It’s typical of dysfunctional people to say everyone else is dysfunctional. Here’s a mayor who can’t keep a chief of staff, and he says the council is hard to work with?
Of course the council is hard to deal with. Welcome to politics. The state Senate’s hard to deal with. Gov. Wilson’s hard to deal with. I’ve had experience with more difficult political cultures than the L.A. City Council.