I've been on the road for a couple of weeks and trying to stay clear of LA politics and media as vacation therapy, but I can't wait to see how a certain plot moment plays out in the race for county supervisor between Sheila Kuehl and Bobby Shriver. It involves the Los Angeles Times. Before the primary election, when Kuehl finished in the lead by seven points, the Times editorial board went outside the box and endorsed John Duran. He wasn't considered a front-runner, but the Times wrote that the longtime West Hollywood councilman brought "a fresh perspective badly needed in county government." Duran got just 16 percent of the vote, 12 points behind Shriver, and was eliminated from the runoff. Now, with their guy out, the Times is due to endorse again.
Here's why that's interesting. Back in May, Times editors wrote that Duran and Kuehl were the only candidates in the race to stand out and that it was a close call between them. "Kuehl, an attorney, academic and 14-year member of the Legislature, brings an encyclopedic knowledge of county operations and a record of fighting for the underserved," the editorial said. Shriver, on the other hand, was dismissed for a style that was "unnerving" to the editors who interviewed him. In a passage that raised eyebrows for being so blunt, the Times wrote:
While pursuing the admirable goals of serving veterans or ending homelessness, Shriver has too often gotten in his own way, needlessly antagonizing colleagues, city workers and others. His prescriptions for county government too often come in the form of blurts that show too little evidence that he understands the complexity of the county's challenges and possible solutions.
Harsh stuff for a former mayor of Santa Monica. But now the Times has a new publisher: Austin Beutner. At the Times, as at most papers, the publisher is the last word on editorials and endorsements and can overrule the editorial board's consensus if he or she chooses. In this case, Beutner is a financial contributor to Shriver's campaign, chipping in (per the county's website) $1,500 as recently as June 26, after the primary and before he became publisher of the Times. When Kuehl went in for her endorsement interview after the primary, I'm told, Beutner took an active role in the questioning of her.
We don't know much yet about what kind of publisher Beutner will choose to be, but the next Times endorsement in the 3rd district race should give us some clues. At the very least, it will be read closely in political circles and in the Times newsroom.
Photo of Beutner: Monica Almeida/New York Times