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Mayor's Race: Next Steps

April 15, 2001

With two Democrats running for mayor of Los Angeles--two candidates who essentially agree more than not--many pundits say the June 5 mayoral election is a contest of personality and style. While we relish the idea of a political race in Los Angeles that actually may be entertaining, deciding who leads the city needs a firmer base.

There are issues that received too little attention during the primary, in which the presence of half a dozen major candidates prevented detailed discussions. There's no excuse for Antonio Villaraigosa and James K. Hahn not to fully explore them now in a series of public debates.

How, for instance, is Los Angeles to encourage prosperity at a time when the national economy is slowing, dot-coms are going belly up and the region's most famous industry, entertainment, is facing potentially crippling strikes? The once-flush state surplus is dwindling daily as Sacramento tries to cope with the energy crisis, and less cash from the state certainly will affect local needs. Education is one topic we're confident that Villaraigosa and Hahn will address. Among the other topics they should tackle:

* Transportation. Both candidates are for more and better bus service. But there's no getting around the all-day rush-hour density that plagues both streets and freeways. Unsuccessful candidate Steve Soboroff had some good ideas on this subject, including reversible one-way streets and an end to road construction and repair during busy hours.

Any discussion of transportation must also take on the gridlock that is Los Angeles International Airport. It's not enough to say the obvious, that airport congestion is a regional issue. The next mayor should be the leader who helps the region find a way to safely create much more airport capacity. Given the many cities, counties and other governmental entities involved--plus the ever-present threat of lawsuits from people who always want to fly out from someone else's neighborhood--it will take extraordinary political acumen to break the logjam.

* The local economy. In regard to electricity, Los Angeles is benefiting from its lower municipal costs and higher reliability, and that's good for business. Beyond that, what steps can be taken to keep attracting a diversified business sector? Villaraigosa, a former union organizer whose constituency has high expectations that he will be pro-union down the line, especially ought to be specific about how to balance "living wage" demands with business competition needs.

Mayor Richard Riordan is credited with working hard to retain large businesses. The next mayor needs to extend the same effort to the smaller businesses and start-ups that have become the city's lifeblood. Both candidates should also offer us solutions to the affordable-housing shortage that Riordan failed to confront.

* Police. The big question is how to support morale and recruit good candidates while rooting out not just obvious lawlessness but also racial profiling and unofficial acts of intimidation. Hahn, the city attorney who helped push the necessary federal consent decree--but who also took too long to recognize the Police Department's problems--especially needs to address this.

* Race and class tensions. This is the hardest talk to have, and the most necessary. What can the mayor do to lift and unite this sprawling place? There is the old Los Angeles of former dust bowlers, of refugees from Jim Crow, a working class that picks up our trash and drives our school buses--and a new Los Angeles of entertainment and new-media wealth, of immigrant workers, mom-and-pop entrepreneurs, even struggling artists working as temps.

The secession efforts being pressed in the San Fernando Valley and to a lesser degree in the harbor area and Hollywood spring from disaffection over more than money and services. Secession movements thrive on an us-versus-them mentality. The next mayor may be the last to have a chance to give Angelenos reasons to remain as one city.

Antonio Villaraigosa and Jim Hahn, you want the job. We salute your sense of civic pride and dedication. With the race down to the two of you, the sound bites should stop and the real civic dialogue should begin. m

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