It is often said that public service is one of the highest callings that exist. For Venice resident Nicholas Karno, that calling has taken him from the classroom at two local schools to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, a seat on the Venice Neighborhood Council and to a panel of environmental experts of international renown.
Those themes — education, the environment, and public service in the legal arena and on his hometown advisory council — have largely shaped his adult life. And it is these experiences that the candidate stresses on the campaign trail in hopes that they will lead him to the finish line in the June primary and ultimately to the state’s capital in November.
Karno is one of eight Democratic candidates who are seeking the nomination for the 53rd Assembly District, which encompasses Venice, Playa del Rey, Marina del Rey, Mar Vista and Westchester.
He contends that no other candidate has the level of experience in a wide range of areas that he has, and he believes that is reflective in the number of endorsements that he has garnered throughout the primary campaign.
“We have a lot of candidates that have a lot of great ideas, but when we bring it down to a real level where the rubber meets the road, I think that my experience having worked in government is going to make the difference,” Karno said in a recent interview at a Venice coffee shop. “It’s the number-one distinction between my candidacy and the other candidates that are running.”
Karno, who was a member of the Climate Project, an environmental non-profit founded by Nobel laureate Al Gore, started the environmental committee on the local council and lists that as one of his most satisfying accomplishments during his council tenure.
“That was a great way for me to channel my efforts and passion for environmental work,” said Karno, a Los Angeles deputy city attorney. He helped initiate a “Green Film Series” as well as town hall meetings on climate change and the state of the ocean during his tenure on the local council.
Linda Lucks, a longtime, well-connected Venice resident and the president-elect of the Venice Neighborhood Council, suggested that he should run for an open seat on the council four years ago.
“I’ve known Nick since he was in high school, and I thought that he would make a great council member,” Lucks, who has endorsed Karno in the Assembly race, told The Argonaut. “He’s very thoughtful in terms of his deliberations and he did a lot of great environmental work when he was on our council.”
Karno views his time on the neighborhood council as another example of his commitment to public service and as an opportunity to see many of the concerns that Venice residents, as well as potential constituents of the 53rd Assembly District, are grappling with: homelessness, budget cuts, shrinking water resources, etc.
“You get so (aware) of the different stresses, tensions and movements going on in the community,” he said. “Venice is changing and you really begin to learn about so many things on a fundamental level. And Venice tends to be filled with very active, very dedicated and passionate people who are not always on the same side, and I think that’s good in some ways because it allows for all viewpoints to be heard. It’s been a great experience.”
Karno has lined up heavy union support. To date, 17 have endorsed his candidacy, and they range from law enforcement to firefighters to teachers.
“If we’re going to fix our schools, we need leaders who have firsthand knowledge of what it takes to teach our kids. We are confident that Nick Karno will go to Sacramento to fight for better schools and for giving teachers the tools they need,” said Marty Hittelman, president of the California Federation of Teachers.
Karno, whose platform includes a “teachers bill of rights,” taught at Marina del Rey Middle School in Del Rey and Mark Twain Middle School in Mar Vista.
“Teachers are one of the most unsupported professions that we have,” he said.
The candidate disagreed with a recent proposal by the man whom he hopes to replace in the Assembly, Ted Lieu. Lieu, who is campaigning for state attorney general, submitted a bill in the Assembly last month that would allow Los Angeles to restrict parking on coastal streets between the hours of 2 and 5 a.m. and issue coastal permits for overnight parking as well.
Both of those mandates lie with the California Coastal Commission.
“I did not agree with Assemblyman Lieu’s bill, and once he learned of the ramifications of the bill, he did the right thing and rescinded it,” Karno said. “Disempowering the Coastal Commission and cutting some of the authority from the Coastal Act is I think the wrong way to go.”
Karno supports changing the state constitution to repeal the two-thirds requirement for passing a budget, a provision that a number of legislators and public policy analysts feel is a contributing factor to California’s inability in recent years to pass a budget on time.
“It’s is one of the worst laws that we’ve passed, but more importantly, what are you going to do if you can’t repeal it?” Karno asked.
The Assembly candidate says that he has prosecuted pirated DVD rackets and that underground economy, as he calls it, has taken at least a million dollars in taxes from the city’s coffers, Karno claims.
“We need to make a comprehensive statewide push to go after the underground economy,” he said. “You don’t need a two-thirds vote for that.”
Karno’s campaign office is in Redondo Beach, and he believes that making inroads in the South Bay will be another critical factor in determining the winner in the primary.
“We feel that we got our message out strong and early,” he said. “A lot of the people who are part of the (South Bay) political establishment know me through various events, and as a result I think we’ve made tremendous inroads.”
Karno is cognizant that he or Mar Vista Community Council member Kate Anderson have the opportunity to become the first neighborhood council member to ascend to elected public office.
“The truth is, on a neighborhood council you do learn skills that can be very invaluable, even though they’re only an advisory body,” he said. “It’s very gratifying to have been a part of a neighborhood council and to watch other people look at this race and think, ‘I want to get involved at the local level.’
“And who knows,” Karno added, “one day they might want to seek higher office as well, and I encourage that.”
Lucks is also excited about the possibility of seeing a former neighborhood council member in Sacramento.
“I’m very happy to see that there are people who are going from neighborhood councils and are using it as a spring board to higher office,” she said. “Neighborhood councils can soon become a training ground for a lot of people in the future.”
Karno said the sum total of his strengths and experiences are what voters should consider on June 8th.
“The future of our state will be determined in the classroom, our courtrooms and through sustainable practices in our communities, and I’m the only candidate who has experience in all three,” he said. “At such a critical time, rather than sending someone up to Sacramento who is just going to give you platitudes and pie in the sky promises, we should have very experienced, capable, competent and experienced legislators to help us fix the problems right, so that there are long-lasting solutions.
“I’m very confident that when the dust settles, we’ll end up winning this thing,” he concluded.