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Choices in Tuesday's L.A. election

The Times' picks for mayor, city attorney, controller, other offices and five ballot measures.

March 01, 2009

Los Angeles city elections of the current era will no doubt be examined one day by puzzled historians trying to explain why the people of one of the world's most creative and important cities stayed away from the ballot box. We offer this suggestion: Voters show up when they believe they have a choice, and that their choice will make a difference.

It may appear at first glance that voters have little choice and little chance to make a difference in Tuesday's election, with a mayor and half a City Council cruising to reelection against poorly funded opponents or, in some cases, none at all. But it's an important election. The new controller and city attorney -- two offices that are being contested in this race -- will help set the city's course for at least the next four years, as will at least some of the five charter amendments on the ballot.

Over the last several weeks, The Times has offered its recommendations for the election. On the Web, we offered readers an opportunity to read and hear the discussions between the editorial board and the campaigns for and against some of the ballot measures, and to participate in the debate.

The Times restates its recommendations:

Mayor: Antonio Villaraigosa. The mayor has so far fallen short of his potential, and his performance has not caught up with his talk, but he has done a good job of supporting public safety, expanding transportation funding and promoting the city. The Times found no one among the nine challengers ready to lead Los Angeles in a better direction.

City Attorney: Carmen Trutanich. Of the five candidates, Trutanich offers the best combination of experience as a prosecutor and civil practitioner and is in the best position to represent the interests of Angelenos and not the City Hall status quo.

Controller: Wendy Greuel. Sometimes criticized as too accommodating, Greuel actually can be quite feisty. She has the ability to critique city programs and hold officials to account for their performance without turning every performance audit into solely a political event.

City Council: Council members are running for reelection in all of the odd-numbered council districts except the 5th. Incumbents use their considerable political power and fundraising clout to clear the field of realistic competitors, too often leaving only those with personal gripes or untenable politics on the ballot. An evenhanded assessment of the winnowed field almost invariably then shows the incumbent to be the better candidate. But to endorse the incumbent under such circumstances would move The Times' editorial page away from analyzing and critiquing the city's broken political system and perilously close to becoming a part of it. We decline to do so and simply note that while we salute the challengers for trying to give incumbents a run for their money, we find no council races in which the challengers are clearly preferable.

City Council, 5th District: Ron Galperin. The Times sees attorney-businessman Galperin as the candidate best able to respect constituents' desire to keep their generally high quality of life while guiding, without killing, development that could enhance the district if handled properly. We also like Galperin's interest in citywide issues and prefer him to candidates who would seek to hoard resources -- police patrols, for example -- that are more desperately required in less-wealthy parts of town.

Measure A (authorize an "independent assessor" to report to the Board of Fire Commissioners): Yes. L.A.'s Fire Department shouldn't need this new position to fix its costly and seemingly perpetual personnel problems, but it does.

Measure B (solar power and job training): No. This charter amendment may set back Los Angeles' solar power efforts by locking in place a program that will be unable to take advantage of a still-developing field, and by politicizing oversight. Los Angeles can have smarter solar power without this deceptive and rushed ballot measure.

Measure C (technical changes to police and fire pensions): Yes.

Measure D (technical changes to police and fire pensions): Yes.

Measure E (city incentives to businesses): No. In the name of attracting business to Los Angeles by offering straightforward incentives, this measure would increase the city's ability to make deals based on politics and personal favors.

Los Angeles Unified School District Board, District 4: Mike Stryer. He is the stronger of two good candidates, in part because students would benefit from his focus on improving classroom instruction and in part because the district should be subjected to the scrutiny that his background in finance would provide.

LAUSD Board, District 6: Nury Martinez. She would be a good advocate for students and their parents, although we would prefer to see more emphasis on educational, and less on social, concerns.

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