\o7 For the first time in years, Democrats on much of the Westside face a real election with real choices on June 2. Redistricting has shattered the political tranquillity of the last decade. Nowhere is that more obvious than in a bitter and costly primary battle being waged for the state Senate.
In little more than two weeks, voters will decide who will represent the 23rd Senate District, which stretches from burned-out businesses in Hollywood to oceanfront homes in Malibu, and from Studio City across the southern San Fernando Valley to the Ventura County line. The district is such solid Democratic turf that the Republican Party has not fielded a candidate, so the winner of the primary will face only minor party opposition in November.
This Q&A with Pacific Palisades businesswoman Catherine O'Neill begins a series of interviews with the three candidates. Interviews with Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica) and state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) will run in the coming week.
O'Neill was interviewed by Times staff writer Jeffrey L. Rabin. \f7 Q: Los Angeles has experienced the nation's worst urban riot of this century. Parts of this Senate district were touched by the violence. Has this affected the campaign?
A: What happened is a concentrated form of what had been happening daily throughout our community. The tragedy is that it takes an explosion to get our attention. One of the saddest scenes was the picture of the 2,000 people lined up (for government checks) at the post office. That is a sign of the failure of what was meant to be a transitional program to enable people to get on their feet. We have to revise the welfare system so that the check is no longer in the mail--the check is at the job.
Q: What can you do to address these problems if you're elected?
A: We have to change the way that social services are delivered. We have to move from a sense of entitlement and dependency to a sense of participation and responsibility. We have to do that by requiring people who receive welfare, who are able-bodied, to work. If there is no work in the private sector, they have to put in a certain number of hours in public-sector work. That should be coupled with job training and child care.
Q: What was your reaction to the jury verdict in the Rodney G. King beating case? Do you believe the four LAPD officers used excessive force?
A: From the primary piece of evidence introduced in that trial--the videotape--the verdict was unimaginable.
Q: Is this riot a landscape-altering event in terms of the kind of issues you are talking about?
A: Since I started to campaign, I have talked about the fact that in the last 10 years the issues of family and children have literally fallen off the table as a priority. We have come to accept conditions that we would never before have accepted as normal. I've spent time over the last 10 years in refugee camps throughout the world. In Los Angeles today there are many, many children with less access to normal health immunizations, less certitude of minimal daily nutritional requirements and who live in greater fear of random violence than at refugee camps. That is a scandal.
Q: What role should the state be playing?
A: We need to reshape the programs that have failed. Without spending new money, we have to bring people who were standing in that post office line into the system. We need to pass laws to aggressively disarm the gangs. Whatever legislative support the community needs to stop from being terrorized they should have.
Q: Are you willing to raise taxes?
A: I do not go there determined to oppose an increase, but I know that we don't just throw money at the problem alone. That's the difference from before. I am very supportive of this enterprise-zone concept. We definitely have to have a strategic plan for the economic development of this state.
Q: Do you favor police reform, Measure F, on the June ballot in Los Angeles?
A: The passage of Charter Amendment F is essential. We must never again get ourselves in a situation where it is unclear who can tell the police chief what to do. If eight years is enough for the President, it should be enough for the police chief of Los Angeles.
Q: What do you see as the underlying causes of the rioting?
A: There has been disaffection, disassociation from society. We have to acknowledge that the gangs were involved in the original explosion. The expansion of gangs unchecked over the last 12 years in Los Angeles is Chief (Daryl F.) Gates' greatest failure. As long as they were just abusing their own communities, the Police Department has not responded sufficiently to check them or to protect their communities.
Q: How would you respond differently as a legislator?