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The present politics of knowing the correct mayoral candidate


A lot of the present pollsters have mayoral candidate Karen Bass comfortably ahead in the current race to be Los Angeles’ next mayor. But a reality check reminds us clearly that polls don’t vote, people do. In addition, popularity today is fleeting, and can easily turn to “I don’t know about her”, or “What was I thinking?” just before voting time.

It doesn’t hurt that she just had another amazing, well attended and strategic public gathering in the right part of the ‘community’ a few days ago, and that she is being consistently a solid and dignified candidate who deserves the outstanding support she’s earned.

But it ain’t over. Far from it. There will be many more negative and nasty ads coming from the other side before the final vote in November. And some of them will quite probably hit home and will have to be well defended against to minimize the damage. We should probably also expect some poison-laden rejoinders.

But really, isn’t this all a bit much? With absolute certainty, Congresswoman Bass is more than qualified to become the first female mayor in L.A.’s history. But when it all comes down to a popularity and slinging contest, how can the public be sure?

One valid method is to change the narrative: the mayor’s race should not be reduced to a mere popularity contest. Who looks better on tv? Who “feels” right?

Who looks more “macho” in front of the bulldozer facing the homeless camps?

The mayoralty is a job. It should be evaluated like other job applications. What are the qualities needed to do the job, and how can the applicants best show that they are the best qualified for that job?

The City of Los Angeles, the second largest city by population in the U.S., is not a Single Strong Executive type of city, based on the L.A. city charter. Unlike San Francisco, which is such an entity, political power—that is, the authority to make financial and administrative decisions for Los Angeles city’s 4 million residents, is shared in L.A., not concentrated in the mayor’s office. That means the mayor must be a diplomat-negotiator—one who can work out authority arrangements with other decision-makers in city government. True, the mayor does appoint a great number of city department and city commission heads, including the head of the police commission, which is responsible for L.A.’s often-maligned police chief and police force. In fact, the L.A. mayor gets to appoint the heads of over 100 city commissions, bureaus and boards, but always subject to the approval of the City Council.

Essentially, Los Angeles city is a Mayor-Council-Commission form of government, as defined by the City Charter, and reaffirmed by a new version of that Charter beginning July 1, 2000. The Mayor, the City Controller, and the City Attorney are each elected by voting residents every four years and can act independently. Fifteen City Council members, each representing one of fifteen districts, are also elected by residents for four-year terms, for a maximum of three terms, and can also act semi-independently.

Since power is shared, the mayor of Los Angeles must have considerable skill in

building consensus, in negotiating between myriad district interests, and be a political master of organizing and strategizing for action. Being a general used to giving orders that underlings are obligated to follow is not a useful stand-alone skill for a successful L.A. mayor.

Clearly, of the two main candidates, both have much to offer L.A. But of the two, given the nature of the L.A. beast, Karen Bass comes more uniquely qualified for the task.

Who we like is always appealing. Who is most qualified to get the job done, however, is much more important.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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