Bill Boyarsky
 
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January 27, 2009

One LA activists show their clout

The double afflictions of foreclosure and job loss drew a crowd filling the San Fernando High School auditorium Sunday for a rally put on by One LA, a grassroots group with activists from churches and synagogues throughout the city.

Their goal was to persuade and pressure local elected officials to support legislation and programs to help those losing homes through foreclosure and to get local schools to do more in job training for the unemployed. One LA aims to do this by bringing large enough crowds so that politicians, bureaucrats, educators and business people have to listen. I felt good seeing so many people together on a Sunday afternoon doing something positive. It was a great antidote to the usual stories of L.A., city of strife, as well as those portraying L.A. as too airheaded to care about politics.

One LA is part of the Industrial Areas Foundation grassroots organization founded in Chicago in the 1930s by the late Saul Alinsky. The I.A.F. has spawned organizations around the country and has been here for years. Barack Obama worked as a community organizer in a Chicago program influenced by Alinsky. In 1990, while a Harvard law student, Obama wrote an excellent description of such organizing in a chapter of a book, “After Alinsky Community Organizing in Chicago”:

Community organizing, he wrote, “means bringing together churches, block clubs, parent groups and any other institutions in a given community to pay dues, hire organizers, conduct research, develop leadership, hold rallies and education campaigns, and begin drawing up plans on a whole range of issues — jobs, education, crime, etc. Once such a vehicle is formed, it holds the power to make politicians, agencies and corporations more responsive to community needs. Equally important, it enables people to break their crippling isolation from each other, to reshape their mutual values and expectations and rediscover the possibilities of acting collaboratively — the prerequisites of any successful self-help initiative.”

The One LA meeting followed the Obama—actually Alinsky—game plan. The One LA organizers had brought together women and men from Roman Catholic parishes, other churches and synagogues around the city. Elected officials were on the podium. Rep. Howard Berman, whose district includes the northeast Valley, pledged to fight during negotiations over the Obama recovery package for funds to strengthen job training. ‘I want to commit to be a partner of One LA,” Berman said. Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon said he would introduce an ordinance for the Community Redevelopment Agency to use its financial resources to help foreclosure threatened homeowners.

I hope to see more of this kind of thing. It’s just what Alinsky and Obama had in mind.

January 18, 2009

The L.A. election doesn't need newspapers and TV

I get almost as much e-mail from David Hernandez as I do from the Obamas.

Hernandez is one of nine candidates running against Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in the March 3 Los Angeles election. The word underdog does not adequately describe the unlikelihood of any of them winning. But they deserve credit for bringing at least limited democracy to the mayoral election. In addition to Hernandez they are Carlos Alvarez, Gordon Tanner, Walter Moore, Phil Jennerjahn, James Harris, Bruce Darian, David “Zuma Dogg” Saltzburg and Craig X. Rubin.

I like Hernandez, who spent 25 years as an insurance adjuster and has been a community leader/gadfly for a long time. He is president of the Los Angeles Public Access Coalition, which is fighting the state law that relieved cable companies of the requirement to provide studios and channels for public access.

One reason I like him is that he was one of the few people who saw through the City Council’s successful effort a couple of years ago to extend term limits—Proposition R—by disguising it as a political reform measure. It actually made it much harder for the City Ethics Commission to enforce ethics laws. I was on the ethics commission at the time and met Hernandez when we were both visiting neighborhood councils criticizing the maneuver. We both liked to point out that the law, while sponsored by the League of Women Voters, was written by the lobbyists who have since benefited from it. Hernandez is still fighting the law in court.

I also like the way he’s campaigning, adopting the Obama technique of compiling an e-mail list and flooding the recipients with his views on issues. Some of the other candidates are doing this, but not as much as Hernandez. And his e -mails and web site are heavily issue oriented. I don’t agree with a lot of what he says. I think the Wilshire Subway is a great idea. But he’s getting the debate out there, at least to those on his list. Other candidates for the offices on the March 3 ballot should do more of the same.

It’s a great way of publicizing the issues now that the newspapers are too strapped to cover the campaign adequately, and the television stations, as always, ignore local politics. Maybe during this campaign candidates like Hernandez will show how irrelevant the old media is becoming to L.A. elections.

January 9, 2009

A journalist's memoir and the story of a failed paper

If Sam Zell actually wants to buy the San Diego Union-Tribune—these bankrupts are big dreamers—he should read Peter Kaye’s excellent new memoir, Contrarian.

That’s assuming, of course, that Zell is actually interested in the cities in which he owns papers and television stations—an assumption that many of Sam’s critics would say is absolutely wrong. Sam the grave dancer doesn’t give a damn about where his media properties are buried.

Zell, owner of the Los Angeles Times and the rest of the Tribune Company, came to mind as I was reading Kaye’s book. I’d just come across a report in the Times that Zell is considering buying the Union-Tribune and the Orange County Register to consolidate the Southern California print and on line advertising market. Kaye was a longtime editor, columnist and political writer for the Union-Tribune, and his account of the once fat paper’s economic decline is a case study of how heirs can destroy a news empire.

This is just part of the book. Kaye has had a great and varied career. In addition to his time as a journalist, he was press secretary for a number of famous Republicans, including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, the late Houston Flournoy, and Pete Wilson. Journalistic ethicists may frown at this type of revolving door. But we Kaye friends know that he is so contrary—hence the title of the book—that he was pretty much impervious to influence by the politicians he worked for.

As a political writer, Kaye covered the legislature in the glory days of the ‘60s, when I met him, and presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. He became a Washington correspondent for public television and covered the Watergate hearings. His memoir is an interesting look at the early days of public television, before it became a cautious bureaucracy. In all, Kaye tells an enlightening story of the politics of the last century. The book deserves a place in collections of important California literature.

Personally, I was most interested in what Kaye had to say about his old paper, the Union-Tribune. Kaye returned to the paper after political campaigns and public television as a top- ranked editor. When he started years before, it was an awful paper, but it had improved over the years, but not greatly. The publisher was Helen Copley, the widow of James Copley, who had headed the Copley newspaper chain. She took over when he died. At her death, her son David Copley assumed command.

“Circulation was dropping, advertising revenues were off,” Kaye wrote. “We held meetings…our human relations department supplied a gaggle of gurus to guide us…an authority in diversity training said we should treat our employees more gently. A labor lawyer from Nashville told us how to smash the Newspaper Guild. One expert advised more features and lifestyle stories; another said we should emphasize hard news.”

Times are tough for newspapers and the Union-Tribune would have been hurt no matter how smart the owners. But except for rare periods, the paper was a mouthpiece for the conservative business interests, which ran San Diego, and for the most conservative elements of the Republican Party. San Diego was changing from that hidebound model, but the paper didn’t change with it.

After having to hire a lawyer to battle for retirement money owed him (“the company and I settled for 50 cents on the dollar which came to $100,000") Kaye retired in 1993, walking away from the remains of a once-prosperous enterprise. Hopefully, the process of keeping it alive will frighten away Zell and the survivors on the paper will be spared from seeing it reduced and dismantled by him.

The book is available on Amazon and www.booksurge.com


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