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Council Consumed by Intrigue Over Top Post

City Hall: Newcomers, veterans are lobbied hard in the drive for the presidency. Galanter and Padilla forge ahead.

July 02, 2001|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Forget Playa Vista, billboard blight and Valley secession.

In recent weeks, Los Angeles City Council members have been preoccupied by one thing: Which one of them will be the next council president?

Sure, the job is largely a bureaucratic one. The president runs the meetings and makes committee assignments--the sort of thing few people outside City Hall care about. But many of the lawmakers see this as their big chance to gain respect in an age of term limits.

They have spent meeting after meeting whispering among themselves in the corners of the council chambers, trying to figure out if anyone has secured the eight votes needed to win the coveted position.

At one point, council gadfly "Melrose" Larry Green became so frustrated with all the gossiping and chatting in the chambers that he approached the public podium to tell everyone to be quiet.

"People are gabbing like they are in a kaffeeklatsch," he complained.

Councilman Eric Garcetti, who took office two weeks ago, could barely put down his briefcase before he was lobbied by four of his colleagues--all of them eager to receive his support in their quest to lead the council.

Councilman-elect Jack Weiss showed up at City Hall last week to check out his new digs. He was cornered by Councilmen Alex Padilla and Nick Pacheco. Pacheco casually draped his arm around the newcomer and leaned over to whisper something in his ear.

"Welcome to politics at its basest," said one council staff member watching the scene.

The vote occurs Tuesday, with five new council members taking their places for the first time in the chambers.

Although the dynamics are constantly changing, it looks like the top two contenders are Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and Padilla.

Galanter said she was surprised when Padilla announced last week that he was seeking the presidency--because the last she heard he was supporting her. Padilla, who at 28 is the council's youngest member, says he wants the job because it would be a historic opportunity to serve as the council's first Latino president.

"I've done a good job of establishing myself and I'm prepared to lead the council," he said.

If Padilla wins, it will be because he has secured the support of the newest members of the council. Almost all the council old-timers say they are backing Galanter.

"She obviously has considerable experience, and that's the distinguishing characteristic," said Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is hoping to be president pro tempore.

Pacheco and Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski had hoped to be elected president, but neither appeared to have the votes, despite their best lobbying attempts. At last check, they were both supporting Padilla, although Galanter wasn't counting them out.

"We won't really know until people vote on Tuesday," said one council staff member. "The talks are ongoing."

To some, all the fuss only underscores complaints that the council is consumed by parochialism.

"Clearly, this is the No. 1 piece of business right now on the council," said one city official. "At the end of the day, it's mostly insider stuff. Meanwhile, the people's business awaits."

Political scientist Steven Erie, who has spent years studying Los Angeles politics, said he also finds the heated quest for the council presidency a bit mystifying.

"This seems like much ado about nothing," he said. "This sort thing can keep them going for days on end, even when there's pressing city business.

"Before term limits kicked in, all these things were decided in advance by people who had 10 or 20 years to seek the council presidency."

Now council members only have eight years to make their mark.

"I suspect you will see a lot more jockeying because of term limits," Erie said. "There will be newcomers every two years, and there will be this kind of bargaining again and again and again."

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