In their many forums, the five mayoral candidates resemble a traveling troupe of actors performing the same roles at each performance, always pretty good but never noteworthy. Tuesday night at Sinai Temple, however, City Councilwoman Jan Perry broke out of the pack with a star turn that made her the evening’s clear winner.
The moderator, Rabbi David Wolpe, asked questions “intended to put the mayoral hopefuls off of their pre-scripted stump speeches,” Jonah Lowenfeld observed in his Jewish Journal story.
One late in the forum certainly did. Wolpe said, “Let’s say you had in front of you the top 500 Hollywood executives. What is it you want to say to them about the movies they make, the city they live in and about the image they give our city and our country to the world? And is it the mayor’s job to monitor, lecture, to uplift, to help shape Los Angeles’ most important industry?”
City Councilman Eric Garcetti offered his usual pitch about giving the industry more tax breaks and other incentives to film in Los Angeles. Similar economic solutions were offered by Controller Wendy Greuel, attorney and former radio talk show host Kevin James and Obama administration transition official Emanuel Pleitez.
Councilwoman Perry seemed to understand that the rabbi had something deeper in mind. She said she had supported legislation to make it easier to make feature film in California, but she quickly moved on: “If we had a room full of executives from the film industry, I would say this: I would encourage your creativity. I would encourage you to put people in Los Angeles back to work. We have unchecked potential here and I would encourage you to create more apprenticeships, more internships, more opportunities to reach out to young people who may not have the connections or the wherewithal to have a career in the industry and to pull them along with you.
“I’d also say this: ‘Let’s go to the schools, let’s talk to families about the portrayal of violence in movies and how it does desensitize younger people who spend too much time playing violent games on line and then go see it in the movies and remember how it does affect the growth of the next generation.”
She made a good point. City hall is obligated to help Hollywood but it’s not a one-way street. Hollywood has an obligation to the city, to the women and men trying to break into the notoriously closed industry and to the young people who support its films.
It was gutty for a candidate to talk like that to an industry which brooks no criticism. I thought her clear, plain language—without the city hall jargon of her earlier appearances—distinguished her from her opponents, and showed growing skill on the campaign trail.
Interestingly when Wolpe asked the candidates whom they would vote for if they couldn’t vote for themselves, Perry’s four opponents said they’d cast a ballot for her. Perry said she’d vote for Pleitez.
A word about the crowd. It was big, almost filling a large room at the temple. Cars were lined up for a block on Beverly Glen Boulevard, waiting to get into the garage. I had to park two long blocks away on Wellworth Avenue and when I reached the temple the entrance was packed with people waiting to be admitted. You needed to have sent in an RSVP, but the frustrated crowd was too big for the system . I had not submitted an RSVP and was barred by the overwhelmed security guards until a man who had recognized me as a journalist googled a bio with a picture, showed it to the guards and escorted me inside just in time. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t take down his name so I could thank him here.
There are supposed to be 18 more of these forums until the March 5 primary election. Let’s hope the forums turn into debates and the moderators are as sharp and provocative as Rabbi Wolpe.
The fact that homelessness occupied just a few minutes at the end of a recent mayoral election debate is evidence of how low one of the city’s most serious problems ranks on the civic agenda.
With homeless encamped from Skid Row to South Los Angeles to the Westside and over the mountains deep into the San Fernando Valley, the matter certainly deserves more time and attention.
The candidates were limited to a minute each on the subject at the Temple Beth Israel debate earlier this month. But each gave it a shot. City Controller Wendy Greuel said she would end homelessness but was vague about how she would do it. Attorney Kevin James said he would convert unused city buildings to shelter the homeless. City Councilwoman Jan Perry said she would fight for more county funds for Los Angeles, where large numbers of the homeless are found. Councilman Eric Garcetti pointed to his efforts to create housing for the homeless in his Hollywood district. Emanuel Pleitez spoke of harnessing private capital.
An extended discussion of homelessness would have revealed much about the candidates’ philosophies, knowledge and politics. For the subject touches many societal troubles—mental illness, substance abuse, recession-caused unemployment and the needs of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On veterans, Katharine Russ called attention on the CityWatch web site to the frustratingly slow efforts of the Veterans Administration to provide housing and rehabilitation facilities on the largely empty VA hospital grounds in West L.A. She noted that Santa Monica City Councilman Bobby Shriver in 2004 proposed that three buildings be used for housing and therapy but work has started on only one and it won’t be completed until after 2014.
As for the VA hospital grounds, I want to know how the next mayor is going to lead us through a stubborn VA bureaucracy, and how she or he will overcome the opposition of Brentwood homeowners afraid of having more vets as neighbors.
So far, help throughout the city is provided by non-profits that know how to corral funding for housing. Ground was broken for a project that will house 46 homeless and mentally ill people in the Sunland-Tujunga area of the Valley. Speaking at the event, the Daily News reported, was Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon, whose 35-year-old schizophrenic son lives on Valley streets. “He is lost in mental illness,and we don’t know if he is taking his meds,” he said at the event.
There are many families like his, a number growing with the return of veterans suffering from brain injuries and post traumatic stress disorder. Certainly, the problem is too big and complex for the next mayor to cure. The city-county Los Angeles Homeless Authority reported there were more than 23,000 homeless in the city and more than 51,000 outside city limits in the county—an estimate considered far too low by other homeless experts. But that’s a huge problem worthy of a big place high on the next mayor’s agenda.