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Political Careers Are Dead: The Final Destination For Political Careers
The political maelstrom that awaits the future mayor of Los Angeles is highlighted by the ongoing racism controversy at City Hall. But it also highlights a deeper truth: America’s second-most populous city has become a political graveyard for rising Democrats.
Local government in this city was already struggling before leaked audio of a conversation between three City Council members stoked racial tensions. The city was also dealing with increased crime, widespread homelessness, and corruption investigations.
Democratic strategist and former Biden speechwriter Mathew Littman of Los Angeles remarked, “This is a tough job right now.” It’s like being the leader of England after WWII, whoever the next mayor is.
The position of mayor of Los Angeles might have been more enticing politically just a few years ago, when the incumbent, Eric Garcetti, was prepared to run for president. Garcetti’s candidacy to be ambassador to India has stalled due to criticism of his handling of sexual misconduct charges against a top aide, and he may leave office today without a job.
In 2020, Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, a mayoral contender, was considered for the vice presidency by President Joe Biden. Nonetheless, the White House is not a concern for the mayor of Los Angeles. Not a single one has ever been governor. Former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa campaigned for governor of California in 2018 but came in a disappointing third.
The job is “very, extremely tough because everybody sees you,” Garcetti said in an interview. What I enjoy most about my work is being able to make a direct and immediate impact. But they also think it’s possible to alter anything, and that their positions are both more potent and more limited than others may realize. For example, why can’t you just get rid of that tent? Please make this crossroads safe.
Those issues, as well as the fallout from the leaked audio of three City Council members engaging in a racist chat, will now lie on the shoulders of whoever becomes mayor, whether it be Bass or her rich former Republican opponent, Rick Caruso. There is significant cynicism among voters that anything meaningful can be accomplished.
The voters “were just dejected and dispirited and had given up hope that any elected official anywhere in the Los Angeles area was going to get anything done — on homelessness, for sure, but also on other issues,” according to Democratic strategist Darry Sragow, who ran a series of focus groups on homelessness in the Los Angeles area at the end of last year.
The next mayor of Los Angeles will have to deal with an independent school board, 15 influential Council members, and a powerful county government over which he or she has no control, in contrast to New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who oversees the school district and works with a 51-person city council where each member’s power is diminished.
The Council is quite influential,” Sragow added. “Whether Bass or Caruso is in charge, you have a Council that is quite dysfunctional at the present, and will likely remain so for some time and has lost the confidence of the voters. “I don’t know how you get anything done.” It’s been a week since Nury Martinez resigned as president of the Council following the emergence of a covertly recorded audio in which she was overheard uttering racist and sexist slurs, but two other Council members who were present during the conversation remain in office.
Despite requests for them to step down, Kevin de León and Gil Cedillo have refused to do so, leading to significant outrage and the promise by demonstrators that any upcoming in-person meetings will be disrupted. Protesters attempted to storm City Hall at a Council meeting held remotely this week after one member tested positive for Covid-19. For the better part of three hours, they yelled at members to end the meeting while using a wide variety of colorful language.
In the race for mayor, Bass had been seen as the frontrunner, but Caruso has been spending significantly and has pulled even in several surveys. Bass, a former speaker of the California Assembly and a lifelong community organizer is not thought to be using this position as a stepping stone to a higher political position, therefore he may not be overly concerned with the office’s political trajectory.
Kerman Maddox, a veteran Los Angeles political strategist and unpaid adviser for the Bass campaign, has remarked, “What’s different about… Antonio Villaraigosa and Eric Garcetti are that Karen Bass is 69 years old. The end has come for her. Currently, she has no plans to seek office again.
She told me early on, “Kerman, this is it, this is my last one,” referring to her decision to leave a safe position in Congress and return home to deal with the issue. As a result, I’m going to come in and make some harsh, unpopular decisions without worrying about how they might affect my future political ambitions.
So, she has a different point of view than Antonio Villaraigosa or Eric Garcetti because she isn’t trying to get into politics. The role is “a terrible profession that tends to end careers more than it starts,” according to John Shallman, a political consultant who worked closely with previous Los Angeles mayors Richard Riordan and James Hahn.
This has been true for many years or even generations. Previous failed gubernatorial candidates in California include Riordan and Tom Bradley in addition to Antonio Villaraigosa. From 1973 through 1993, Bradley was the mayor of Los Angeles. Shallman, who assisted City Attorney Mike Feuer’s losing campaign, said, “You just have to get acclimated to the idea that in this specific job, do the best darn job you can do, and call it a day.”
Mayors of Los Angeles face a complex web of local and regional leaders that don’t always cooperate toward the same ends. Shallman compared each of the fifteen council members to a “little mayor” with their policy priorities. The mayor also has to coordinate with the powerful Board of Supervisors for the county and the local governments of dozens of nearby cities.
Many of Bass’s fans believe she is the best person to steer the city through this racial reckoning because of her history as a community organizer. But Villaraigosa, a longstanding ally of Bass’s, noted that the ability to work across racial and political lines is a crucial characteristic for any mayor of Los Angeles, who has a restricted scope of authority.
He remarked of her in an interview, “The mayor of Los Angeles has to be comfortable in every community, and she is.” To my knowledge, no one else has a record of success in collaborating with people of different races. Although this time has been difficult, I do not believe it has altered the criteria for the future mayor.
After decades of fighting poverty and violence in South Los Angeles as an activist, Bass said she decided to leave a safe congressional district to run for mayor. She claimed that racial and economic inequalities in the city had gotten worse. Now look at the homeless scenario,” she stated in an interview. There would be no need for me to seek the office of the mayor if we had dealt with the issue and resolved it. If I were to decide to run for re-election, it would be to the House.
It’s unclear how much either Bass or Caruso will be able to do if they take office. The present employee in the position recognizes the office’s shortcomings. In his opinion, “I think it’s OK to not want one solitary tent on the streets of LA,” Garcetti added. If you don’t want to deal with Los Angeles traffic, that’s fine, too. It’s perfectly reasonable to seek a Los Angeles free of pollution and smog.
It’s reasonable to aim for no more than a small number of overpriced homes in LA. What are we doing if we aren’t working toward those? His next comment was, “But what’s hardest for folks in a one-click culture — where whatever you want from Amazon is arriving this afternoon — is to comprehend that governance is different.”
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