Johnathan Franklin, a senior running back on UCLA's football team,… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
Johnathan Franklin has gone through a lot of nicknames. There's "Jet Ski" for his speed in his Pop Warner football days, and "Hollywood" for his season-two gig on the reality show "Baldwin Hills." The latest handle for the UCLA star is "Mayor," because that's what he wants to be one day — the mayor of Los Angeles. The running back who's broken rushing records when he's on the field has cajoled his teammates into registering to vote when he's in the locker room. He plans to get to his personal goals the way he gets to the goal line: with focus. His last chance to apply that in a Bruins uniform comes Thursday in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.
You graduated from UCLA in June, but you kept your football eligibility by taking one class: Scandinavian folk tales. How did that go?
I just wrote my last paper, on "The Little Mermaid."
Did you find useful metaphors in it?
There were plenty of them. I wrote about how the Little Mermaid had all the money, everybody knew who she was, she was beautiful, but she still wasn't happy, and I related that to the world: People could have all they want, but at the end of the day, all you really want is somebody to love. And that's what the Little Mermaid wanted. She just wanted to be with the prince.
At Dorsey High School, you studied psychology and drama too. Why did you decide to pursue politics?
I always wanted to be part of a change and make a change. With psychology, I wanted to understand how people think and why they act the way they act. Being in politics, my major goal of being a mayor is to have the opportunity to do that, to make that change.
How did you get interested in politics and public policy?
The former Los Angeles City Councilman Martin Ludlow — he helped out at Dorsey and he became my mentor. I understood the things he did around the community and the impact that made. I also did an internship with the mayor [Antonio Villaraigosa] about two years ago.
I remember reading current events in elementary school and being mad at my teacher for making me. As a kid you just want to take the test, go home and play video games. It didn't really spark my interest until I got a little older. Now, me and my teammates argue [politics] all the time. When Romney and Obama were going at it, we'd literally have arguments in the locker room. It's funny — a bunch of football players talking politics.
What surprised you most in your six-week internship with the mayor?
All the voices who want to be heard in L.A. That's such a big responsibility that he has in addressing certain people; I wouldn't say pleasing certain people. It's crazy, picking and choosing who you can help and who you can't. It really correlates with football — with the mayor you have a team. You have to understand your team and understand everybody has different opinions, different perspectives. So — learning how to work with your team but also making your voice a primary voice but a respectful one.
At one game before the election, a fan was waving a sign with your name, Obama's and Romney's — and your name was checked off, like a ballot.
The day of the election, I got about 10 texts that somebody wrote my name in for president! It's been great, the support. Throughout the whole [team] banquet, nobody [told me] congratulations for the season, they said, "Man, when are you running for mayor? You've got my vote!"
A lot of people roll their eyes when they think of politics.
I just think sometimes people have the wrong perspective about politics; that sometimes it's not about now, it's about the future.
I love it, especially now that I'm starting to understand it. My interest is attacking problems in Los Angeles. I also want to form an identity for L.A. I feel we're always moving and changing so many things, we don't have our own identity. We're always new this, new that, let's change this, let's change that. Change is good, but without an identity or direction, it's meaningless at times.
You registered to vote when you turned 18. What party did you register with?
I will not declare that information right now.
I have to tell you: It's public record.
Oh no! [Franklin appears in The Times' voter database as "decline to state."]
You grew up in Baldwin Village. How did you stay focused — one of your favorite words — when so many kids you know didn't?
I had a prayin' mother. I don't say it just to sound good. God has really just shown favor on my life. It's been unfortunate to see all the kids I grew up with. Some have been shot; some went to jail; some are drug dealers. Even when I go through the neighborhood now, they're doing the same things. I had to be different. Ever since I was younger I wanted to make a change, to be a role model, so I just separated myself.
What did you do every day that was so different?