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Kevin James OKd for board seat after grilling by L.A. council

The Republican, nominated for the Board of Public Works, was questioned about past comments on immigration and climate change.

July 30, 2013|By Seema Mehta
  • Kevin James, whose nomination to the Los Angeles Board of Public Works was approved by the City Council, finished third in the mayoral primary. He was the only Republican in the race.
Kevin James, whose nomination to the Los Angeles Board of Public Works was… (Anne Cusack, Los Angeles…)

After being grilled about controversial past statements on immigration and climate change, former Los Angeles mayoral candidate Kevin James was confirmed Tuesday as a member of the powerful Board of Public Works, which is expected to play a key role in Mayor Eric Garcetti's effort to improve basic services.

The City Council voted 11 to 0 on Tuesday to appoint James, a Republican, with some members saying deference should be given to Garcetti, who nominated James, in picking commissioners.

"The mayor has been elected, chosen by the people and he has a duty, obligation and right to make appointments," said Councilman Gil Cedillo, one of those who pressed James about his stance on immigration reform. "Potholes are neither Republican nor Democrat."

During his days as a radio talk show host, James, an entertainment industry attorney, made statements that came back to haunt him as a candidate in heavily Democratic and ethnically diverse Los Angeles. Among other things, he once suggested Los Angeles should hire a lawman like Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to deal with the "illegal alien invasion." He wrote that Democrats were "global warming wimps" exploiting the issue of climate change to increase government intrusion into Americans' lives.

Cedillo and others prodded James about his past views, with Councilman Jose Huizar saying that as an immigrant, he was "quite offended" by some remarks. Councilman Paul Krekorian questioned James on his environmental positions, and said he didn't believe there had been a previous appointee "that I have had more strenuous political disagreements with." All three men said their concerns had been allayed by recent private discussions with James, and his testimony Tuesday.

"I look forward to working with you, I think you bring a lot to the table, even your political views, whatever they might be. It is a good conversation for this democracy to have," Huizar said, adding that James' campaign showed that he was committed to making Los Angeles a better city. "We all agree on that."

James told lawmakers his views have evolved since his days as a conservative talk-radio host and commentator. He reiterated statements he made during the mayoral primary, affirming his support for immigration reform that will provide a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally. He also acknowledged that human activity has caused climate change.

Councilman Felipe Fuentes abstained, saying that he had not had a chance to discuss his concerns about past comments with James.

"There's a lot that he has said that I think is important for me to understand, what's different, and how it speaks to equity and fairness, especially in a service delivery agency as important as the Public Works Department," he said.

Among the council's 15 members, Joe Buscaino and Mitch O'Farrell were not present, and one seat is vacant.

James, the sole Republican to run for mayor this year, finished third in the March primary. He endorsed Garcetti in his runoff contest against Controller Wendy Greuel and campaigned for him vigorously, helping Garcetti increase his support in the San Fernando Valley.

Garcetti's other appointments to the Board of Public Works also were approved. They are: Matt Szabo, former deputy chief of staff to former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Barbara Romero, a planning commissioner under Villaraigosa; former Assemblyman Mike Davis; and Monica Rodriguez, an executive with the California Assn. of Realtors.

The Board of Public Works oversees street and sewer maintenance, tree trimming and other services, and is the city's only full-salaried commission, with each appointee earning more than $134,000 annually.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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