Harold Meyerson sets up his final Powerlines column in the LA Weekly as a look "back and forward about the city Iíve reported on and marveled at and hectored and prodded for nearly two decades." He also has a critique of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Meyerson is the Weekly's former political editor (and top editor) but his column was discontinued by editor Laurie Ochoa. He is now acting editor of The American Prospect.
My first gig at the Weekly, courtesy of founder Jay Levin and his then-new editor, Kit Rachlis, was to put on a conference and edit a special issue of the paper on the subject of remaking L.A., way back in 1989. The mainstream civic debate at the time concerned how much densification this horizontal city of ours should permit. It wasnít a bad debate, but it missed almost entirely what had happened to black L.A. as factories had been shuttered over the previous decade; it missed the birth of the nouvelle sweatshop economy as the employer of first and last resort for the new immigrants; it missed the fact that the LAPD was still a racist force unto itself ó at the top no less than the bottom ó even as the city was becoming majority minority.
The Weekly in the late í80s and early í90s was an odd mixture of apocalyptic presentiment and social-democratic hope ó Mike Davis, Steve Erickson, Michael Ventura and me all reporting, in our different ways, on the tremors disturbing the landscape. Not that we predicted the 1992 riots, of course, but the paper in general and Remaking L.A. in particular projected a somewhat dystopian future for the city unless it embraced a panoply of proposals we solicited from lefty academics, wonks and organizers, or that we cooked up ourselves.
A lot of what Remaking L.A. predicted looks ridiculous today, but we did manage to state that the future of the city hinged on the mobilization of the new Latino immigrant Angelenos, provided that they found some grounds to make common cause with what was then the cityís unfocused liberal community (those of you who remember the largely themeless 1993 mayoral campaign of Mike Woo will know what Iím talking about).
In hindsight, both the apocalyptic fear and the social-democratic hope we voiced in these pages proved far more prescient than any of us really expected. The collapse of the old L.A. ó the middle-class city that was home to giant, unionized manufacturers and a powerful business elite that ran much of the town ó exceeded all rational anticipation.
Meyerson, a believer in labor all the way, takes mild issue with Villaraigosa's emphasis on the schools over a more progressive agenda.
That L.A. would benefit from a better-educated work force is beyond question, but a more plausible and far-reaching solution to our crisis of downward mobility would come from unionization and higher wage standards in service sector, retail, construction and transportation jobs that canít be offshored. Local government can only do so much to foster such transformations, but [Miguel] Contreras was a genius at pushing local government to the max, and Villaraigosa could do more if he were pushed more.