It was the first time I’d seen the Los Angeles mayoral candidates on the same platform so I listened closely to discern the differences between them.
Last Friday’s event was perfect for a discussion of some of the most complex issues facing Los Angeles. It was the annual Health and Human Rights Conference at the St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, which provides a wide range of health care to thousands of poor people in South Los Angeles. I had spent several hours at the conference before the candidate forum, hearing speakers talk about the difficulties the poor face in getting care and other services.
On the mayoral panel, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Kevin James, an attorney and radio talk show host, were the best speakers. For James, after years on the tough L.A. talk radio circuit, it comes naturally. Garcetti lacks James’ resonant voice and blunt talk radio phrase making. But he can rise to eloquence, as when he spoke of the poor “as voices we don’t hear.” He also spoke Spanish on occasion, appreciated by Latino members of an audience composed of Latinos, African Americans and whites.
City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilwoman Jan Perry were straightforward and sincere, but they tended to talk of their accomplishments in a manner that assumed the audience knew of the many programs that emerge from city hall.
As a political outsider running as an anti city hall candidate, James blasted Garcetti, Greuel and Perry for accepting campaign contributions from developers. He went after Perry in particular, blaming her for the closing of the big South L.A, community farm. “I have a higher expectation for the factual accuracy of what you say,” said Perry, declaring James didn’t know what he was talking about.
For students of arcane political moves like me, the James-Perry exchanges were interesting. Was Republican James trying to tear down Perry, who may be the candidate of conservative downtown business interests? We’ll have to wait and see.
The issues raised at the conference—health, welfare, and poverty—fall, to a great extent to county government although the mayor can have great influence as a vocal advocate. All the candidates pledged to do something. Garcetti, who said he and his wife have been foster parents to seven children, spoke with some knowledge of the county’s troubled foster care system. James, who is gay, spoke of his years as a leader of AIDS Project Los Angeles, which has been deeply involved with the county health program,
The audience seemed appreciative of the four appearing at the conference, hitting them with questions and opinions. It was a good experience for the candidates, who, as the campaign continues, may be allocating more of their time in more affluent places, figuring that’s where they’ll find the most voters. Hopefully, the eventual winner will remember this particular afternoon in South L.A.