My segment today is about the remarkable rush of emotion at the Century Plaza on Tuesday night, and me grumping that by the next election in March Los Angeles voters will be back to their usual apathy and disengagement. The spot airs on 89.9 FM at 4:44 pm, will be online after that, and the script follows after the jump.
Also on KCRW: A one-hour special episode of Left, Right and Center — with Robert Scheer, Arianna Huffington, Matt Miller and Tony Blankley on stage at the new Eli and Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica — will air live on Sunday at 6 pm. It will also stream live at KCRW.com and be available to podcast on Tuesday.
The lobby of the Century Plaza Hotel is usually a pretty quiet place.
Sedate comes to mind. You could fall asleep there and probably nothing would disturb you. Downstairs, the ballrooms had hosted many Republican celebrations through the years.
But on Tuesday night, my image of the Century Plaza changed. With ten seconds to go until the polls closed at 8 pm, hundreds of Barack Obama supporters who were crowded around TVs in the lobby began to count down -- out loud.
These were savvy election watchers, and at the top of the hour Keith Olbermann didn’t have to tell them that California’s 55 electoral votes had just elected Obama president.
The lobby erupted in bedlam. Cheering, applause and Obama chants, bouncing off the marble. I saw veterans of early battles for equal rights and respect in Los Angeles embracing. Some crying too, but mostly big smiles that seemed to just go on forever.
Outside under the high-rise lights of Century City, the jubilation rippled through a massing of people the likes of which I’d never seen on an election night in Los Angeles.
Hundreds were queued up on Avenue of the Stars and around the block, hoping to get in and join the celebration. I’d found the scene amazing when I arrived at 7 pm – no one lines up in L.A. to get inside an election victory party before the polls even close.
Two hours later, the gathering was still growing. Happy people of all ethnic groups streamed out of parking structures to get in line. They were mostly young -- and dressed like they were headed out for a night of clubbing.
The media mostly missed the emotional street scene because the cameras were inside, at the dance party rocking the hotel’s main ballroom.
The LAPD also was caught unaware, and as I left black and whites were speeding up with sirens on to close off streets and re-direct traffic.
Across town, a spontaneous celebration broke out on the street at Leimert Plaza. A scene duplicated in African American neighborhoods across the country, and right outside the White House.
It was a remarkable election night, to go with a history making election.
All this outpouring reminds me that even here in LA, elections don’t have to be trance-inducing rituals where most of the citizenry feels disengaged and stays home.
When we elected a new mayor three-plus years ago -- which was a pretty interesting election -- the turnout was just 33%. More than twice as many LA voters came out this time.
That’s the way it should be, but probably won’t be the next time we do the voting thing. That’s only in about four months, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will almost certainly romp to easy reelection.
He has come to be viewed as a disappointment by many of the supporters who got behind him in 2005, when Villaraigosa defeated the incumbent mayor James Hahn. This time, the one challenger who could have made things interesting -- and who was actively testing the waters -- opted out.
Rick Caruso is the wealthy developer of the Grove, the Americana in Glendale, and other shopping malls. His personal wealth could have counter-balanced Villaraigosa’s huge lead in fundraising.
But Caruso announced today that he’s not up for an election campaign right now.
City Controller Laura Chick might have been able to run a spirited challenge. But she’s putting out feelers for a job with the Obama Administration, and doesn’t have the political base that Villaraigosa has.
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s elective career is probably over. After that the bench isn’t deep.
So – sadly - after the rush of Tuesday night, we’re probably going to slip back into a cycle of local politics where no one rocks the boat. And, as a result, no one really cares.
Rats. It was just getting fun around here.
For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.