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City Hall: More diverse than ever (minus the women part)

July 01, 2013|By Robert Greene
  • New Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, left, and his husband, Rabbi Zachary R. Shapiro, make their entrance before Galperin was sworn in.
New Los Angeles City Controller Ron Galperin, left, and his husband, Rabbi… (Los Angeles Times )

Los Angeles’ inaugural ceremonies Sunday evening were a bit of a throwback in this sense: You could watch each new elected official emerge from behind a marble column and walk down the Spring Street steps and imagine that it was 1953. One after another -- the mayor, the city attorney, the controller and then every member of the City Council -- male.

Come to think of it, that wouldn’t have happened even in 1953, because Los Angeles then had a female member of the City Council. Even in "Mad Men," now, there are women in executive and ownership positions. But not Los Angeles City Hall.

This has been written about at length, especially during the recent campaign in which two women ran for mayor but were defeated, and the handful of women running for council seats were likewise defeated. The all-boys club will change, ever so slightly, later this month when either Nury Martinez or Cindy Montañez is elected to the council. But except for that seat, City Hall’s elected slots will be filled, for the first time in many years, exclusively by men.

Still, for anyone paying any amount of attention, lack of gender diversity notwithstanding, this scene was very 2013 -- a scene tailor-made for the weekend following the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision striking down California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.

That’s because each elected official walked down those steps with an escort, most of the couples holding hands: Mayor Eric Garcetti, yes, with his wife, Amy Wakeland, and City Atty. Mike Feuer with his wife, Judge Gail Ruderman Feuer; but then Controller Ron Galperin with his husband, Rabbi Zachary Shapiro. And two councilmen, Mike Bonin and Mitch O’Farrell, each with their male partners or husbands.

It was a bracing, exciting reminder that, regardless of the ups and downs over the last several years of the movement for marriage equality and equal rights for people regardless of sexual identity or orientation, progress, at least in Los Angeles, has been steady. In the campaigns, sexual orientation was very much a “so what?” issue -- that is to say, not an issue at all -- for Galperin or the two openly gay councilmen.

There were other interesting signals of the new era as well -- of diversity, of variety and of the fact that race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and religion are more of a “so what?” issue than previously. Interracial marriages, like those of two of the new council members, would have sent eyebrows rising or tongues wagging in the "Mad Men" era and, in some states, would actually have been illegal.

On another front, there was a time in the 1990s when Jewish representation on the council appeared to have peaked. There has been talk, more recently, that such a phenomenon wouldn’t be repeated because the era of Jews having a prominent role in coalition politics had ended. And here we are now, with each of the citywide elected officials professing their Jewish identity. Garcetti spoke at the inauguration of how his grandparents fled persecution in Poland and Russia. Feuer, the former director of the advocacy organization Bet Tzedek, founded by Jewish lawyers to pursue justice according to Jewish tenets, spoke of his father, a survivor of a Nazi prisoner of war camp. And Galperin spoke of his parents, Holocaust survivors. There are at least two Jewish members of the City Council as well. Just among elected officials, City Hall is halfway to a minyan.

Does this diversity matter? Does it mean different issues will be pressed or abilities presented? Perhaps the more important question is the one already raised: So what? The fact that marriages or ethnic or religious backgrounds might be interesting without being controversial is a big deal when looked at in historical perspective. This is one area in which Los Angeles is well ahead of the curve. May the rest of the nation catch up quickly.

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