Politics often is a calling that comes knocking early in life, but for Harry “Craig” Wilson, the feeling didn’t come until well into his 50s.
A hydrographer with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for the past 30 years, Wilson is launching a long-shot bid to replace Bill Rosendahl as the city councilman of the 11th District. And he is staking his candidacy largely on what he feels is a growing tide against illegal immigration and his appeal to voters who may be unhappy with the way that the council is functioning.
Wilson, a Westchester resident for nearly 15 years, believes his experience performing public works jobs for Los Angeles gives him an advantage over Rosendahl.
“I know how the city works,” the challenger said.
Wilson says that he was motivated to enter the race after listening to Walter Moore, an attorney who is running to unseat Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
“I went to one of his rallies, because I was interested in the things that he was saying about Jamiel Shaw,” Wilson, 57, began in an interview with The Argonaut recently.
Jamiel Shaw Jr., a high school football and track star in Los Angeles, was killed last year on his way home from school. Pedro Espinoza, who police say is a member of the 18th Street Gang in Los Angeles, was arrested for Shaw’s murder. Espinoza is reportedly living in the United States illegally, police say.
An initiative to place a measure on the March 3rd ballot called Jamiel’s Law failed to qualify in December. The proposed law would have modified Special Order 40, a policy by the Los Angeles Police Department that prohibits officers from initiating contact with individuals for the sole purpose of determining whether they are illegal immigrants.
Wilson, who says that his job consists primarily of collecting water data, cites the murder of Shaw and story of Danielle Bologna, a San Francisco widow whose husband and two sons were gunned down during a “road rage” incident last year by an alleged illegal immigrant, as evidence that Jamiel’s Law should be passed and Los Angeles should no longer be “a sanctuary city.”
“(The government) needs to deport (illegal immigrants) before they kill someone,” Wilson argues.
He also believes that combating illegal immigration, a federal matter, should be a municipal function.
“Robbing a bank is a federal offense, but LAPD goes after bank robbers,” the council candidate stated. “If they can go after bank robbers, they can go after illegal immigrants.”
While he does not endorse all of Wilson’s ideas, Moore, a former Marina del Rey resident whose law practice is in Westchester, does support much of what he believes the candidate for City Council represents.
“(Wilson) has a lifetime of real public work and does not take spending money lightly,” he said. “That perspective of working in the real world is something that I value.”
Wilson calls Los Angeles a “Third World city” due to what he says is the large number of illegal immigrants. The DWP employee is banking that resident frustration with crime and an anti-incumbent sentiment can get him into a runoff with Rosendahl.
A lack of funds does not permit him to showcase his differences with Rosendahl, so Wilson is trying to use the Internet to draw distinctions between the councilman’s positions and his platform.
On his Web site, www.Wilson CD11.com, Rosendahl’s challenger alleges, “My opponent is in bed with developers from Dubai and other places (that) do not care one whit about the quality of life here in L.A.”
Rosendahl, in fact, was the first member of the council to oppose granting public funds to the wealthy emirate. Last May, the councilman publicly broke with his council colleagues in granting $3 billion in city subsidies to the Grand Project, a luxury mixed-use development venture that is co-owned by Istithmar, an investment fund controlled by His Highness Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai.
Wilson also accuses Rosendahl of being in league with Villaraigosa, and opposes allowing sleeping in vehicles, which Rosendahl has proposed for designated areas.
“My opponent is for allowing people to live and sleep in their cars or (recreational vehicles) in front of your house, but not his,” Wilson wrote on his Web site.
The California Coastal Commission has reviewed appeals by Venice residents who are against establishing overnight parking districts, which would restrict vehicles on the street during certain hours.
“My daughter goes to Santa Monica High School and a lot of her classmates live in their cars,” Wilson claims. “No one should be able to sleep in their cars, mostly for the safety of the women.”
Pressed for his opinion on resolving this hot-button topic, Wilson acknowledged that he agreed with a proposal that Rosendahl has floated — using municipal parking lots and asking churches to use their parking areas after hours.
Wilson proposes using land that he says is owned by the DWP near the Chatsworth Dam.
“They could fence it off and have a place where you can go and sleep in your RV,” he suggested.
Wilson says that there should be a limit on commercial development in the 11th District, including a project at the Howard Hughes Center.
“I’m against all development,” he said. “The people who live here don’t want high-rises for the rich or high-rises for the poor. You can see all the traffic, and we don’t need more cars.”
When asked about the prospect of developments that could bring jobs and economic benefits to a community, Wilson answered, “I don’t want someone tearing down my house to put up a donut shop or a Chinese restaurant.”
Wilson admitted that he was not aware that the environmental impact report on Phase Two of Playa Vista’s commercial component would soon be released and offered no opinions of his own on the project.
“I would follow whatever the people in Playa Vista want,” he said.
To date, Wilson says that he has appeared before only one of the many Neighborhood Councils in the 11th District, the Neighborhood Council of Westchester/Playa del Rey, to solicit endorsements for his candidacy. The candidate says that he prefers to engage potential votes on his journeys throughout the city on his motorcycle, carrying his campaign signs and banners.
“I feel that talking to people on the street is the same thing as talking to maybe five people at these meetings,” Wilson said, although he then added that he would consider going before some of the local boards at some point to introduce himself.
Wilson and Rosendahl have agreed to a debate before the election, and the challenger says he is looking forward to facing the councilman.
Asked to access his chances in the race, Wilson said he believes that he has a “50-50” chance of winning on March 3rd. “This (candidacy) is not for me, it’s for the people of Los Angeles,” he said. “I’m in it to win it.”