Four of the top five candidates for Los Angeles mayor spent most of their time at a Loyola Marymount University (LMU) candidate debate last week lambasting the fifth candidate, Mayor James Hahn, who was not there.
The mayoral debate was actually part of an event for students associated with the annual Urban Issues Lecture Series of the LMU Center for the Study of Los Angeles.
Originally, the candidate event had been billed as “invitation only,” but after it appeared that LMU students would be able to find enough seats in the Hilton Center for the event, LMU announced two days prior to the event that the doors would be flung open to the public.
The evening had a Spanish flavor, with the moderator and the two media personalities questioning the candidates representing La OpiniÛn, the local Spanish language daily, and Spanish language television Univision and KMEX-TV.
On-time arrivals included candidates Bernard Parks and Antonio Villaraigosa.
Slipping in late were candidates Richard AlarcÛn and Robert Hertzberg.
BERNARD PARKS — Parks painted a negative picture of how Los Angeles has deteriorated in recent years.
“So many things are different now than when I was growing up,” Parks said. “Then people had dreams. You could own a home.
“Now, people are moving out and we have the highest rate of illiteracy” in the country.
“If we don’t change, we will find that many of us won’t want to live in this city,” Parks warned.
ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA — Villaraigosa began his comments on a more optimistic note.
“This election is an opportunity for us to have a conversation about what we want in our city — what we want to do to make this city and our neighborhoods better,” Villaraigosa said.
Referring to his own personal earlier setbacks, Villaraigosa told the LMU students that he had been able to change his personal history and to get “a second chance.”
He credited civil rights laws with helping minorities achieve their dreams.
DIVERSITY OR RACIAL
ISSUES? — The candidates were reminded that the top five candidates for mayor include two whites, two Latinos and an African-American.
“Will race make a difference in this election?” the candidates were asked.
“Race plays a role in every decision,” Parks replied.
“I would hope that people in this city — which is a city of minorities, not majorities” would get beyond the race issue, the former police chief added.
“We need to turn our backs on those who would use discrimination or bias. It is our job to reject anyone who uses bias,” he urged.
Villaraigosa called Los Angeles “The Great City on the Hill […] where we come from every place.”
He said people in Los Angeles should be judged by their achievements and not by their race or gender.
AlarcÛn pointed out that eight percent of those who live in his San Fernando Valley district are African-American, especially those who live in Pacoima, which he represents in the State Senate.
“I know about the tension between Latinos and African-Americans. The bottom line is we all want the same things,” he said.
“When I worked with Mayor Bradley, he demonstrated that we can build communities together,” AlacÛn said.
There are various tensions between various groups, he added, pointing to some tensions that exist between Latinos and Armenians in parts of his district.
Parks admitted that some of the tension comes with changes in the community, such as when Koreans take over businesses that were formerly run by African Americans.
“Los Angeles is not a melting pot but a place where everybody has to open up to coalitions,” Parks said.
POLICE WITHOUT TAXES? — The candidates were asked about claims that the city needs 3,000 more police officers, whether the city can achieve such a goal without increasing taxes and whether the city really needs more officers.
Villaraigosa said he is proposing 4,000 new police officers.
He took credit for recently helping the Los Angeles City Council to approve 265 more police officers without increasing taxes.
“We are now the most under-policed big city in the country,” Villaraigosa claimed.
Again, Villaraigosa held himself up as one who had benefited from prevention and intervention programs in his earlier years.
But Parks warned that “we have to get away from the politicization of the police department.”
“It is almost impossible to add 1,000 officers a year,” the former police chief said. “Three hundred officers leave every year” and need to be replaced, he added.
Rather than raising taxes, Parks would have the city pay for the police department from the city general fund.
Parks called public safety “the most important thing” the city provides its citizens.
Other solutions to crime must be examined, Parks added.
“Sixty percent of those in state prisons are illiterate,” he said. “That gives you an idea why education is so important.”
On the issue of criticism of the police department for recent shootings, Parks said that when he was police chief he cut the number of such shootings from 100 per year to 48.
“As chief, I fired 130 officers,” he added.
Parks said police officers need to operate under “an open complaint system” and not be “negotiated out” by a police commission.
RICHARD ALARC”N — AlarcÛn said he is running for mayor because “this city needs to move away from moneyed interests that run the city.”
He wants to empower communities.
“We can do these things if we change the mayor,” he added.
AlarcÛn pointed to his efforts to sue the city Department of Water and Power for raising rates and noted that he introduced a motion designed to forbid contributions to candidates who might vote on projects of their contributors.
On the issue of race, AlarcÛn said that he had worked with former mayor Tom Bradley and that Bradley had been mayor for 20 years because Bradley knew that as mayor “you have to serve everyone.”
L.A. HOMELESS ISSUE —AlarcÛn said one of his top priorities as mayor would be to address the homeless issue.
Los Angeles has 100,000 homeless — 25 percent are women, 35 percent are Latinos and ten percent are children, he said.
AlarcÛn lamented that Los Angeles has a $50 million budget for homeless while New York City spends $640 million assisting the homeless.
“Will you commit additional money for homeless?” AlarcÛn asked. “Is your solution to hide them or to do something for them?”
Villaraigosa said the city needs “a funding stream” to help the homeless.
Parks said the homeless issue involves four elements — the mentally ill homeless, the unemployed homeless, homeless with addictions and convicted criminals who return to their communities.
“We should not allow the Los Angeles County Jail to become the largest mental illness facility in the county,” Parks warned.
THE HOUSING ISSUE — Parks noted that the city is losing 1,000 apartment units every year as apartments are converted to condominiums.
Apartments are being built in the Inland Empire and San Diego, he said, but not in Los Angeles at the rate that is needed to prevent an increase in homelessness in the city.
“Converting apartments to condos increases the amount of homelessness,” the former police chief said.
Parks also lamented that affordable housing is not being developed in many areas of the city.
“We have to spread out our affordable housing throughout the city” so that affordable housing is available in every part of the city, he said.
But Parks also wants market-value housing built in his council district, which includes South Los Angeles.
“The first market-rate development in my district was built recently, even though we have had affordable housing for 15 years,” Parks said.
ALLEGED CORRUPTION — The candidates discussed the current allegations of “pay to play” facing the Hahn Administration.
Several Hahn commissioners were alleged to have required that if developers wanted favorable responses from the city on their projects these developers would have to make political contributions to Hahn and policies he favored — such as defeating the recent Valley secession movement.
“This mayor is missing in action,” Villaraigosa charged.
“This administration has been the most investigated in my lifetime,” he said of the Hahn Administration.
Parks said that last October he introduced a motion in the City Council that city commissioners could not raise money for candidates such as the mayor.
Parks called such efforts “inheritently dirty.”
JOBS AND ECONOMY — Parks charged that while the number of jobs in the city may be increasing they are not “the better jobs” that are being replaced with less paying employment.
“One of the most important things for the mayor to address is the economy of the city,” Villaraigosa said.
“We have UCLA, USC and Caltech that can stimulate our economy,” he added.
Villaraigosa chastized the mayor for not using the city Department of Water and Power (DWP) to stimulate additiona business in the community.
“We have this $4 billion asset in the DWP,” he said, “but instead of using that asset, Hahn uses the DWP to promote himself instead of stimulating new industries.”
TEACHERS SALARIES — The candidates were asked about the impact of the mayor on education.
“I think a teachers salaries should be higher that those of prison guards,” AlarcÛn said.
He urged teachers with full credentals.
“The question is how do we get more dollars into the classroom?” he said.
“The mayor doesn’t have control over the school district, but he does have the authority to move plans of more school through faster,” he said.