Michael Woo, a member of the Los Angeles City Council since 1985, has cast himself as the mayoral candidate best qualified to ease the city's racial and social tensions. In his eight years at City Hall, Woo, 41, has positioned himself as a new breed of politician, sponsoring a liberal urban agenda that frequently put him at odds with the city's status quo. Woo, who lives in Silver Lake, leaves a mixed record of accomplishment in his Hollywood district. In an interview with Times staff writers Frank Clifford and Rich Connell, Woo discussed his campaign, his City Hall record and his aspirations for Los Angeles. Here is a condensed transcript of that conversation.
Question: If you could just pretend for a moment that this is July and your first week in office after being elected. What kind of signal or gesture could you send out to allay any lingering fears of the people who maybe didn't vote for you that you're now a mayor who is determined to do something about crime, about middle-class flight, about the kinds of issues that clearly have a lot of people running scared right now?
Answer: First, I will declare the state of economic emergency. More than just a symbolic step, I intend to do that as a statement directly to civil servants, a statement directly to the bureaucracy, saying that we've got to change our way of doing business in City Hall. And that will be a prelude to a proposed reorganization plan for city government, which will be directed at making it easier to get a permit within the city of Los Angeles. I will call together the cabinet meeting of the general managers of city departments and talk about my short-term goals for the beginning of my administration and what I hope to accomplish.
Also, in the first week I will be reaching out to council members, those who supported me and those who did not support me, to give them the message very clearly that I want to put the past behind us, and that I realize that as mayor I will need their cooperation in order to be a success as the mayor.
And then, beyond that, I also will be spending a major part of my time in different parts of the city, being very visible addressing the main two issues that I see before the city, which are fighting crime and violence and revitalizing our local economy.
Q: Even if your plan works to hire 1,000 more police officers, it'll happen over time, it'll be an incremental expansion. (Do) you have any ideas about taking the Police Department as it exists today and making some new step toward solving or attacking a crime problem that is particularly worrisome to people right now?
A: One of my main emphases will be getting rid of guns. Emphasizing the fight for gun control and, as I've been stating during the campaign, that I will lead the fight for an ordinance to ban the sale of Saturday night specials within the city of L.A. Beyond that, the issue of increasing the size of the Police Department is a matter that requires greater economies within city government, potential cutbacks, potential transfers of funds within city departments.
I've already talked about transferring civilian positions from other city departments into the LAPD so that we can free up existing able-bodied officers to go out onto the street, and so I will also push to speed up the classification studies that are the bureaucratic necessity for being able to transfer those positions. I think that potentially within a year we can make those transfers, yes.
Q: You in your speeches talked about "too many factories have closed so that rich investors could profit." But whatever the reason, they did close. The economy has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. While you were in office, why did City Hall miss a beat during this period when the economy was changing, when manufacturing jobs were disappearing?
A: City government generally looks at the little picture instead of looking at the big picture. A better time to have started to plan ahead for revising our economy would have been in the early 1970s, in advance of the time when the aerospace industry started to shut down, or when military spending started to be reduced.
What's clear now in the 1990s is that our old economic development strategies won't work, and that city agencies such as the CRA (City Redevelopment Agency) should be redirected not for the purpose of attracting large corporations to come to L.A. but obviously the future growth in the economy is going to come in the form of small- to medium-sized businesses.
Q: How do you as a candidate disassociate yourself with what a lot of people talk about as the failed policies of city government over the last several years? How can you be the candidate for change, and at the same time, not bear some of the burdens of incumbency given the fact that you've been a two-term council member?