How did L.A.'s mayor's race get to be a punchline?

election3.jpgSeveral out-of-town budinskis have called the campaign an embarrassment for L.A., which was certainly not the case (Washington is where you'll find the real embarrassments). Let's just say that the race, like so many others these days, was a missed opportunity - drowned out by posturing and positioning by the city's interest groups, eclipsed by the intractable problems that no mayor is remotely capable of mending. It's been easy to beat up on both candidates (I've certainly done my share), but let's be clear that Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti are bright, well-meaning people who have devoted most of their working lives to public service and are passionate in their belief that L.A. can be a better place. So why was it so flat, so off-key?

--Waaaaay too long: This has been a two-person contest going back to the first part of the year, well before the initial election, and since then the race has been mostly about killing time with lots of over-spending and over-endorsing. Having the runoff drag out for three months is lunacy (one month between elections makes a lot more sense). Future candidates should also consider cutting back on the number of debates - the stultifying sessions between Greuel and Garcetti might have actually lowered interest in the race.

--Little substance: Much of the campaign had a "first do no harm" quality. This was especially true of Greuel - did anyone else want to scream each time she suggested that the city's money troubles could be corrected by stamping out waste, fraud and abuse (not remotely true) or that helping operate her family's small business provided some sort of managerial gravitas to run the nation's second-biggest city? Garcetti was disingenuous himself by claiming too much credit for reducing (but hardly solving) the city's structural deficit - and offering little indication of what he plans to do once the city begins contract talks with public unions.

--Crisscrossed interests: How on earth was Greuel supposed to lay out a coherent policy message when she had endorsements from both former mayor Richard Riordan, who has blamed the city unions for L.A.'s budget troubles, and the city unions? She couldn't even take a position on something as straightforward as moving one of the LAX runways for fear of pissing off somebody (either nearby homeowners who vote in droves or L.A.'s business establishment). But that's the nature of the job. If she can't handle that, how will she deal with the pension problem?

--Chronic voter ignorance: Most Angelenos haven't a clue about what the mayor does - or more important, what he/she does not do. Both candidates, for example, spent much of the campaign laying out their views on education when in fact the mayor has no control over the L.A. school system. An entire debate was devoted to education issues! Where a mayor can exert influence is on planning policy, which received next to no coverage. And what about dealing with the City Council? Some might argue that the elected official with the most power these days is Council President Herb Wesson, and yet we have no idea how the new mayor is likely to work with him or the full council.

--Chronic voter apathy: As the LAT reported last week, low turnouts go well beyond the current election (though having two unexceptional personalities with much the same politics doesn't help). What's unfortunate this time around is that the city's innards are falling apart. Mayor Villaraigosa and the Council have applied enough duct tape to make it seem as if things aren't all that bad because no elected official wants to face the truth on his or her watch. What the city should offer its citizenry, in good times and bad, is the real issue behind this year's race, but if no one is willing to fess up - candidates as well as voters - how on earth can we expect any change?

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
Recent Campaign 2013 stories:
Shallman and Carrick on 'Which Way, LA?' tonight
Greuel consultant blames the LA Times
Morning Buzz: Friday 5.24.13
Campaign 2013 photo gallery by Gary Leonard
Election post-mortem in quotes (some very pointed)

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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
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