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City Hall or frat house?

Does City Councilman Jose Huizar's affair illustrate once again that there's too much testosterone in L.A. city government?

October 24, 2013|By The Times editorial board
  • Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar and his former deputy chief of staff Francine Godoy. Godoy has sued him for alleged sexual harassment, and the councilman has said they had a consensual relationship.
Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar and his former deputy chief of staff… (Los Angeles Times )

Human nature being what it is, people are going to have extramarital and intra-office affairs, and no amount of warning from friends, Scriptures or made-for-cable movies will prevent them. But anyone in a position of power to hire and fire is inviting more than just personal trouble when getting involved with an employee.

That's especially true when the affair involves an elected official and an aide. Residents want to know that the staffers trying to solve their problems are being promoted or demoted based on their policy expertise, not because of their fling with the boss. They want to know that their tax money is being used to promote the public good, not to pressure employees to accept sexual advances from their bosses.

So Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar's assertion that he had an extramarital affair with a staff member, and her allegations of a link between his advances and the councilman's threats and promises to her, is of public concern. Regardless of which version of the story is true, Huizar should recognize that his own actions made his private life public, and should now say when the relationship began and what former aide Francine Godoy's duties were in his office.

This isn't the same as the affair that helped end former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's marriage. That episode inevitably sparked a public discussion because Villaraigosa was the mayor, so the entire city — the entire nation — was his office, and people in the office are going to talk. But despite the talk, that relationship was in the end a personal matter between Villaraigosa and his family, because it did not involve a public employee over whom he had any power.

It's different with Huizar. Godoy's allegation that he undermined her plan to run for office after she refused his advances would be troubling in any event, but is much more so because the councilman also held the power to promote, demote or fire her.

Godoy's sexual harassment suit is, unfortunately, nothing new in City Hall. Whether the allegations ultimately are proved — and along with them, those in a lawsuit filed against the city last month by a former aide alleging harassment by City Councilman Mitchell Englander's chief of staff — too much of City Hall seems stuck in a bad movie about frat house antics.

The declining number of women in positions of power doesn't help; only one of Los Angeles' 18 elected city officials is female, a precipitous drop from a decade ago. That fact, just like Huizar's affair with a staffer, puts a spotlight on the city's work environment. Elected officials should take note.

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