Picking mayors: When will L.A. voters be as smart as N.Y. voters?

villa.la.magFeb. 8, 2013

By Chris Reed

Despite some pension reforms and program cuts, the city of Los Angeles remains in difficult financial shape. A Jan. 24 Fitch credit-rating service analysis says the L.A. economy is rebounding, but that city leaders struggle to find the political will to deal with structural budget problems, and that huge annual deficits will cause headaches for many years to come.

What is a key culprit in L.A.’s financial woes? You guessed it. Fitch says that of the city’s $3.9 billion 2011 general fund budget, nearly 20 percent ($773.5 million) went to fund retirement health care and other post-employment benefits and that nearly 15 percent ($577.4 million) went to city employee and public safety pension funds.

So what are the three key candidates in the March 5 mayor’s race saying they’ll do to deal with the budget and the daunting fact that more than one-third of the city general budget goes to fund public employee retirement benefits?

As this L.A. Times story makes clear, all want to basically duck the topic. Still, at least one candidate, City Councilwoman Jan Perry, knows tough times are ahead, with bankruptcy a possibility.

Wooing cops, firefighters and the SEIU

But two candidates want to make the problem even worse. Candidate Wendy Greuel wants to add 2,000 police and 800 firefighters — a 20 percent increase in a city where crime and fire problems are near modern historic lows. As the city controller, one would think Greuel should know better.

Meanwhile, City Councilman Eric Garcetti, the third major candidate, is in a fight with Greuel to see whom can do the most pandering to the Service Employees International Union, according to a Feb. 5 L.A. Times report:

“[Greuel and Garcetti] offered strong commitments of solidarity with the union representing a major chunk of civilian employees at City Hall, according to recordings of the [candidate interview] sessions obtained by The Times.

“The pledges [were] made last week in a members-only meeting for union workers considering a possible endorsement …

“Greuel … accused city leaders of failing to follow collective bargaining procedures when cutting retirement benefits for future city employees — a complaint being voiced loudly by the SEIU. …

“When it was his turn, Garcetti repeated a pledge to make all of the city’s department heads reapply for their jobs — offering a commitment that city workers would play a role in deciding which managers will remain. …

“The remarks show how much Greuel and Garcetti covet the backing of a union that represents thousands of janitors, trash truck drivers and other blue-collar city workers. If SEIU weighs in on the contest to replace Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, it could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars and scores of volunteers for a favored candidate.”

Unfortunately for L.A., Greuel is considered the clear favorite, not the far more clear-eyed Perry.

richard.riordanHaving lived in Southern California since 1990 and watched the city of Los Angeles go downhill under labor-friendly mayors (Antonio Villaraigosa and James Hahn) and do well under pro-business moderates of both parties (Richard Riordan and Tom Bradley), I’ve wondered when Angelenos would become as pragmatic as New Yorkers.

The same dynamic of mayoral success holds in the Big Apple — pro-business centrists like Michael Bloomberg and Rudy Giuliani have a way better record than labor-friendly liberals like David Dinkins and Abe Beame. And in New York, the heavily Democratic electorate figured this out long ago. When was the last time New York City voters elected a Democrat to be mayor?

All the way back in 1990.





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