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Los Angeles | Patt Morrison

If Secession Loses, No One Ought Celebrate

November 05, 2002|Patt Morrison

Here is what I want you to do, right now.

Put down the paper. Slowly tear out this column. Lay it aside. Put it up on the refrigerator. Heck, put it in the refrigerator, if that's where you're sure to see it tomorrow morning.

Because that's when I want you to read this -- tomorrow morning, after all the votes are counted, after all the confetti's been Hoovered up from hotel ballroom carpets, and the campaign consultants are packing for Bermuda holidays courtesy of all those contributors' millions.

Everyone clear on that? Fine.

Now. Good Wednesday morning to you, and especially to all of you whose names have ever appeared in the winners' category of an election-night tally, and to all of you who work in any branch, any level, any quarter of government in Southern California.

By now you'll have read that the secession measures that would have amputated the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood from the body of Los Angeles lost. The city of L.A. will remain the lumpish, one-legged gerrymandered shape it's been for about as long as the Thomas Brothers have been making maps.

Well, hoo-flippin'-ray.

There's not a lot of applause to go around here. The anti-secession forces outspent the pro-secession team by more than 5-to-1. The anti-seceders' millions bought TV ads to scare voters (with some justification) about the financial crapshoot of secession.

What they didn't have to spend money to get was the benefit of ballot language as dense and indigestible as a Texas fruitcake, and voter indifference, that great lump in the civic belly where a fire ought to be.

So if I hear this morning that the marbled corridors of City Hall are resounding with gloating and high-fives, I may just walk across the street and deliver a few high-fives myself -- to somebody's mug.

This election, winning should scare the politicians more than losing. A winning secession vote could have left Los Angeles City Hall like a wounded soldier, left to cauterize the wounds and then go into rehab to learn how to get along with a big hunk of itself missing. A losing secession vote means the still-whole city has to figure out how to fight off the infection of disaffection.

Memo to Fortress Spring Street, to everyone from Jim Hahn to the road-repair dispatchers: Don't you dare get cocky and pat yourselves on the back. You didn't win a war, you won an election. The war is still going on. You haven't persuaded people that staying in the embrace of Los Angeles is necessarily good for them -- you've just frightened them into not bailing out.

For Los Angeles' leaders to be celebrating this morning instead of knuckling down to fix what was broken is to insult the seriously alienated ranks of Angelenos beyond the Hollywood Hills, or even at the foot of them.

Instead, what might we be in for? Scorched real estate. First the votes, then the vitriol. The Times' Beth Shuster found some in Hahn's camp want the mayor to consider city contracts and appointments against a list of who was with them on secession, and who wasn't.

Already, a Valley attorney named Bob Scott was yanked off the Planning Commission over the summer, after he turned down a direct invitation by a Hahn advisor, Scott says, to "go over to their side" on secession, with hints that if he isn't with 'em, he's against 'em. (No, no, no, demurred a Hahn spokeswoman, predictably. No connection at all.)

Reward and punishment, payoffs and positions. Enrich your supporters, then maybe selectively co-opt a few of your enemies. It's the classic Machiavellian technique of every canny ruler, crowned and uncrowned: Dole out land or titles or business to keep your friends happy and the squawkers quiet. And leave the foot-soldiers, the rank-and-file, the abandoned masses, in the same condition they were before.

I've heard it said that Hahn has had the time of his political life campaigning against secession. I'm so glad he had a good election. The last time he built up such a head of steam for anything was election night in 2001, when he won his job.

And how is this energy carrying over past the afterglow of victory parties? How to make the thrill of politics subside back into the humdrum of policy again? I am sorry to have to tell you that our mayor is considering certifying this election with a trip to Sacramento to ask that the law be changed to make it hard for anyone to try to secede again anytime soon. That'll teach 'em a lesson, all right.

Hey, Mayor H -- you can save the city the cost of the airfare. How about just staying home, and fixing the way Los Angeles works, neighborhood by neighborhood, so that no one ever again wants to leave it? That's my idea of a legacy.


Patt Morrison's columns appear Mondays and Tuesdays. Her e-mail address is

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