The fourth candidate to throw the proverbial “hat” in the ring for mayor is Kevin James, an attorney and a former conservative talk show host on radio stations 790 KABC and 870 KRLA.
James grew up in Norman, Okla., and Texas. At the University of Oklahoma, he became a Sooner cheerleader and studied accounting, and he holds a law degree from the University of Houston.
In 1987, at 23 years old, he headed West to what he calls “the land of opportunity.”
In 1988, he joined the litigation department of the huge global law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, before being hired by the U.S. Department of Justice as an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles. He remained with the department for three and a half years before joining the “boutique” entertainment firm of Lavely & Singer, where he may be found when he’s not campaigning.
Like his three political opponents, James identifies the city’s No. 1 problem as the lack of employment. When told that he was in agreement with the other three mayoral candidates in mentioning unemployment first, he demurred.
“You let me talk long enough and I’ll separate myself from everybody else,” he said, laughing. “I suspect that my opponents are going to take the position that much of that is the effect of the national economy. I disagree. Part of it is, but when you have an unemployment rate that is at best described as 50 percent higher than the national average then that’s a bigger problem than just what the nation’s economic problems have brought us.”
The real problem, says James, is that “our city government has run private business and small business out of Los Angeles. Our leadership in California, and more locally, in Los Angeles, has created this environment that says no to private business.
“There are two primary problems,” says James. “One is the gross receipts tax and the business tax structure in the city. The other is the permitting process . . . , and then there is the third arm that is believed to be, and I tend to agree, a corrupt City Hall . . . what the Wall Street Journal calls the second most corrupt regional government in the country.”
As proof of corruption, James cites a lack of outcry from city leaders where the John Noguez, county assessor was charged with giving huge tax breaks to political supporters; the scandal involving the so-called “Gold Card Desk,” where council members were allowed to fix parking tickets for constituents, and the federal investigation of the building and safety department. He also notes the lack of affordable housing “and what this City Council has allowed to happen with some of their big-time, corporate, crony developer friends and donors” and what he sees as “a massive shift away affordable housing into what many of their favored developer friends want.”
How long were these things were known and allowed to fester to the extent we have to have indictments to stop them? he asks. He also holds city leaders responsible for the looming threat of bankruptcy.
James says he’s been labeled a political outsider with no City Hall experience and the only candidate who has never held public office. Further, James has collected only a skant amount of funds comparatively in his political war chest to contend with such formidable political combatants as Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilman Eric Garcetti, who have both collected well over $2 million, and Councilwoman Jan Perry who has collected well over $1 million.
James, however, sees these so-called negatives as positives, pointing out that since most of his funds have been collected in small grassroots contributions that he doesn’t have “the debt-load that his opponents have to special interests.” However, he expects to garner larger support, especially from Republicans, after November.
James points to a February poll done by Fernando Guerra, Ph.D., of Loyola Marymount for the university’s Urban Lecture Series. “One of the biggest surprises of the poll was how well I did,” he said. “I out-polled my opponents in a number of categories.”
James said he polled in double digits in union households and out-polled at least two of his opponents in the Korean American community. Among those who give Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and F for the way he has run the city, he polled second behind Wendy Greuel, he said.
James claims he is very familiar with the workings of City Hall, having covered it for 10 years on the air and having developed relationships with insiders disgruntled with city government. As a mayoral contender, he is the only lawyer in the field and has a background as a prosecutor, which he believes is beneficial for a mayor. Villaraigosa has a law degree but never got the legal experience. “No one in the mayor’s race even has a business degree,” he said.
The “openly gay candidate” points to his more than six years’ experience as both vice-chair and co-chair of AIDS Project Los Angeles as another plus. At the time, it was the largest locally based nonprofit in the city, a $20 million a year agency.
“My theme is to make L.A. great again, but my vision is to make L.A. work again. Nobody thinks L.A. works. It wasn’t that long ago that people did. We were the center of the entertainment industry, and while we still have the foundation in place, but we have runaway film production, we’ve lost the aerospace industry. So much of what we used to do well we don’t do anymore. I have a vision for Los Angeles and maybe it sounds simple: If we can make L.A. workable again and livable again, it’s amazing what we will be again.”
James would like to see the Los Angeles City Council made a part-time body, an idea he says, facetiously, that he copied from the other 87 cities in the county, all of which have a part-time councils. He also mentions other big cities–New York, Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, Chicago, San Antonio–have part-time councils.
“To find a full-time city council you got to come to Los Angeles, Calif.” He believes if you’re elected to the Los Angeles City Council you shouldn’t have to leave your primary job.
James said what he finds attractive about being mayor is “using my skills, and the fight in me, to help the city. Look, I came to L.A. because there are opportunities for me here that a guy like me didn’t have in the mid-’80s, I didn’t think, in Oklahoma or Texas even, but I have those opportunities in L.A. I have seen that in people, and I’d love to see people get that back. And I do believe that not having the debt load to the special interests that my opponents have can make a big difference in City Hall, and I know what I feel in my skill set. I’m not going to take the easy road. I haven’t taken the easy road on anything.”