Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Democratic Party

Is there really 'something' about Gingrich?

Newt Gingrich in Florida

Serves me right, really, for trying to get my news by just scanning headlines.

There it was on The Times' homepage Wednesday: "Pelosi, Gingrich trade shots again."

Wow, I thought: So the two former House speakers have been throwing back Jägermeister?

Maybe Newt Gingrich is a miracle worker. I mean, I know he appeared with Pelosi in a 2008 ad in which they urged action on global warming. But who knew they were drinking buddies?

Uh, no. Turns out Pelosi was asked about Gingrich's presidential prospects in an interview this week with CNN's John King. Her response: 

"He's not going to be president of the United States," Pelosi said. "This is -- that's not going to happen. Let me just make my prediction and stand by it. It isn't going to happen."

Asked how she could be so sure, Pelosi said: "There's something I know."

Naturally, inquiring minds wanted to know what that "something" was. Including Gingrich:

"Who knows? Who knows?" Gingrich chuckled [when asked about the Democratic leader’s suggestion by NBC’s Ann Curry on Wednesday]. “She lives in a San Francisco environment of very strange fantasies and very strange understandings of reality. I have no idea what’s in Nancy Pelosi’s head. If she knows something, I have a simple challenge: Spit it out; tell us what it is. I have no idea what she’s talking about."

And then Pelosi's office, asked to clarify, pointed reporters to the four-part House ethics report on the former speaker.

Aw, c'mon, congresswoman. You imply there's a "January surprise" or somesuch coming, and that's all you've got?

It's fine for TMZ to tease, but ... 

Seriously, there are plenty of reasons to not vote for Gingrich. But as Jonah Goldberg argued in Tuesday's Opinion pages,  "conventional weapons are useless against Newtzilla …. Everything bad about Gingrich -- the flip-flops, the wives, the ego -- is known. Once voters have convinced themselves they can overlook that stuff, it's hard to change their minds simply by repeating it."

And in a massive upset, I find myself agreeing with Goldberg.

I'm still not convinced that Gingrich will be the nominee, nor do I think he could beat President Obama. But a musty old ethics report certainly won't do him in.

And the 24-hour news cycle that makes stories out of comments like Pelosi's isn't doing us any favors either.

As for me, I'm going back to scanning headlines. Hey, how about that "Headless body in topless bar" update?


McManus: Obama's common touch

Newt Gingrich has a real chance to be president

Mitt Romney doesn't want a tax break from Newt Gingrich

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich at a campaign event with his wife, Callista, in Naples, Fla. Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Supreme Court votes for states' rights in Texas redistricting case

Supreme Court
For those who follow political and legal controversies over the Voting Rights Act, there were a couple of eyebrow-raising features of the Supreme Court’s decision last week in a Texas case.

The court rejected an interim redistricting plan necessitated by population growth that will give the state four new seats in the House of Representatives. The plan was drawn by a federal court in Texas, which rejected a map drawn by the state legislature.

The lower court’s plan was friendlier to the creation of minority districts than the legislature’s version. But the justices ordered the lower court to go back to the drawing board and use the legislature’s plan as a “starting point” for a map to be used in the April 3 primary. They criticized the lower court for having "substituted its own concept of the 'collective public good' for the Texas Legislature's determination of which policies serve the interests of the citizens of Texas."

The legislature’s map is still awaiting approval -- or disapproval -- by a special federal court in Washington, D.C. Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, states with a history of racial discrimination in voting must “preclear” voting changes with either the attorney general or the D.C. court. Meanwhile, opponents of the legislature’s map sought to block it based on another part of the Voting Rights Act covering the entire nation. Thus the Texas federal court’s map.

The legalities are complicated, the politics less so. The legislature’s map was drawn by a Republican majority. It is opposed by Democrats and Latino activists who say it dilutes minority voting power.

Hovering over the dispute is an argument by conservatives that Section 5, which like the rest of the Voting Rights Act was inspired by the discriminatory practices of the 1950s and 1960s, is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has not squarely addressed that issue, but -- ominously for minorities and the Democrats they tend to support -- it said in a 2009 case that Section 5 raised “serious constitutional questions” related to states’ rights. This week’s decision cited that language.

So what’s so intriguing about this decision? First, it was unanimous, coming in an unsigned opinion with no recorded dissents. That suggests that even liberals on the court take seriously the idea that federal judges are too ready to override the decisions of legislators in states with a history of old-fashioned voting discrimination. That’s a sign of the times. So is the fact that the court that overrode the legislature in the Texas case was located -- in Texas! The reason Congress gave preclearance authority to a federal court in Washington was that it didn’t trust federal judges in the South to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

Is that an obsolete assumption? If so, is the Voting Rights Act itself a relic? Sooner or later the Supreme Court will have to address that question.


Say no to retroactivity

Sue your own state? Why not?

Challenging eyewitness evidence

-- Michael McGough

Photo: The Supreme Court. Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg

Newt Gingrich's best value among 'values voters'? Beating Obama

South Carolina retirees
Here's my New Year's resolution -- a bit tardy, but hey, I'm a procrastinator: I will not read, nor write, any more stories about "values voters."

In fact, I believe that the "values voter" is practically extinct.  Either that, or he/she is a figment of the imagination, sort of like Bigfoot.

My proof? Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich stood on stage Thursday night at the Republican presidential debate in South Carolina and denounced the media for asking him about his ex-wife's claim that he sought an open marriage. And the audience stood and cheered.

They cheered a man who has been married three times; one who reportedly cheated on wife No. 1 with wife No. 2, and then cheated on wife No. 2 with his current wife.

Not only that, Gingrich is reportedly gaining ground in South Carolina against front-runner Mitt Romney, who may not want to talk about his taxes and his finances but certainly doesn't have a multiple-wife problem.

And what do South Carolina's "values voters" think about Newt of the wandering eye? 

Here's The Times' Alana Semuels, writing Thursday about a group of retirees who meet often in a coffee shop in Mt. Pleasant:

The B.S. Club's chosen candidate, this morning at least, is Gingrich (though Kirkland says Gingrich, like most older men, has too much baggage). They like Gingrich's forceful manner and his debate skills, and say he could go up against President Obama and win….

"We want anybody but Obama," says Jimmy Sinkler, 63, a retired telecommunications worker with a thick Southern accent, sipping a mug of coffee at the B.S. Club's table. "He's destroyed the country. We've all become socialists under Obama. He's not done anything except destroy us."

Which says it all, doesn't it? "He could go up against President Obama and win," and "We want anybody but Obama."

Values are fine, it seems, but in presidential politics at least, winning is finer.


Romney allies ramp up attack on Gingrich

Gingrich: School prayer would have prevented Columbine 

What does Romney's refusal to release his tax returns say about him?

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: Retirees arguing about how to vote in Saturday's Republican presidential primary are a familiar scene in South Carolina diners these days. Credit: Ariana Lindquist / Bloomberg

Juvenile offenders and lawmakers get another chance

Wally skalij California Youth Authority in Chino

We've said it before -- more than a dozen times. A child, even a bad one, should not be sent to prison for life without any chance at parole. It's a mark of societal fear and a lust for revenge. Some younger criminals may indeed be so incorrigible that they should never go free, but after he or she has been behind bars for a quarter of a century, a judge, and a parole board, should be able to consider release.

On Tuesday, the state Assembly is reconsidering SB 9, a bill to put California among the ranks of civilized societies by ending juvenile life without parole sentences. Finally, Assembly, put this matter to rest, pass the bill and send it to the governor.

Or, as we have said previously:

Jan. 16, 2008:

But of all the inequities of a dysfunctional penal system and harsh state laws, few can touch our predilection for discarding the lives of children who commit crimes before they're old enough to fully understand the consequences of their actions.

April 30, 2009:

Knowing they will live and die in prison, people who acted in the rashness of youth have no hope of returning to society, and therefore no reason to learn, or grow, or mature, or reform. But surely their example will dissuade other youth from crime? Nonsense. Kids who can't imagine next year can't imagine life in prison and can't be expected to make decisions based on something as obscure to them as parole.

Nov. 7, 2009:

Society can and should countenance a hopeless existence in prison for adult perpetrators. But not for juveniles. The U.S. is, for now, the only nation that has not banned life in prison without parole for juvenile offenders, and more than 2,000 are serving such terms behind bars.

Jan. 14, 2010:

The Times recognizes that some people who commit crimes before they have developed a resistance to peer pressure and an adult's brainpower, judgment and moral capacity may remain dangerous even after years of punishment and repentance. [State Sen. Leland] Yee's bill does not compel judges to grant parole when it's inappropriate. But it demonstrates California's faith that not every person whose life got off to a destructive start remains irredeemable. It offers a window of hope to imprisoned teenage offenders and gives them an incentive to learn, reform and aspire to a productive life.

May 18, 2010:

Thirty-seven states allow for such sentences, but [U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony M.] Kennedy persuasively argued that a better indication of whether they are cruel or unusual — and thus a violation of the 8th Amendment — was the infrequency with which they are imposed. According to the court, only 129 prisoners are serving life without parole for non-homicide offenses committed as juveniles. (The number in California is two.) Kennedy also noted that "the United States is the only nation that imposes life without parole sentences on juvenile non-homicide offenders."

Aug. 19, 2010:

All this bill offers juveniles is the possibility of a future, a chance at a chance. An offender who has served 10 years could ask a judge to reexamine his case. Even if a judge does resentence the offender, he must serve 25 years total before he is eligible for a parole board hearing. And parole need not be granted.

Sept. 1, 2010:

By a 38-36 vote Monday night, the Assembly killed the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act authored by state Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), refusing to lead California out of the Dark Ages by banning sentences of life without the possibility of parole for juveniles. No other country sentences children to prison in this manner, and it is appalling, but not unexpected, that the Assembly could not muster enough political will to enact a law that in every way is beneficial to the public.

Dec. 8, 2010:

Not all juvenile criminals should receive parole, but if they turn themselves around as Kruzan did, they should be given the opportunity to put their cases before a court or parole board. That's why the Legislature should pass a bill that was reintroduced this week by state Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco) after being rejected in August. The modest legislation would allow courts to review the cases of juveniles who were sentenced to life without parole after 10 years, possibly reducing their sentences to 25 years to life.

Aug. 11, 2011:

Assembly Democrats who have voted against earlier versions of this bill for fear of being labeled soft on crime should look at the facts. SB 9 would not automatically open prison doors for violent criminals. It would not eliminate life-without-parole sentences for any offender, adult or juvenile. It would merely give inmates serving life terms for crimes they committed before they turned 18 a limited opportunity to seek a 25-years-to-life sentence — and for the first time, a slim chance of parole before they die.

Nov. 9, 2011:

In fact, we in supposedly enlightened California come close to first place for cruel treatment of youth offenders. Year after year, California Democrats who live in fear of the county prosecutors' and victims' families' lobbies have voted down attempts to eliminate sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles.

--Robert Greene

Photo: Juvenile offenders being moved at the California Youth Authority prison in Chino. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.

Council District 15: Wilmington and the air that it breathes


Sometimes you can smell Wilmington before you see it. It might be the scent of the wells, tucked in between houses and neighborhood streets, pumping the last drops of oil from the giant Wilmington oil field, the third-largest petroleum field in the contiguous United States; it might be the odor of one of the refineries -- either the massive Valero oil plant, turning heavy crude into jet fuel and gasoline, or perhaps Valero's asphalt refinery, or maybe the Tesoro (formerly Shell) facility, or perhaps the ConocoPhillips (formerly Union Oil) refinery right there in Wilmington or its companion just across the line in Carson.

It could be flares -- the routine or emergency burn-off of excess toxic gases that make eyes itch and Conocophillips Luis Sinco breathing difficult and that have been implicated in asthma and cancer; it could be the uncovered mounds of sulfur,  the residue of impurities removed from petroleum; it could be fumes from the trucks, trains and other heavy equipment or the solvents and other chemicals wafting from the recycling centers that stretch along the Alameda Corridor or a leak in one of the many underground pipelines.

Less and less, promise officials of the Port of Los Angeles, is it diesel exhaust from heavy container ships or cruise ships, some of which already have converted to electric power while idling, or (starting Jan. 1) from trucks moving into and out of the port that fail to meet the 2007 Federal Clean Truck Emissions Standards.

And every now and then, fighting its way past the noxious odors, it is the scent of the sea.

Wilmas muralWilmington is one of the large Los Angeles neighborhoods, or rather collection of neighborhoods, that make up the 15th Council District, where LAPD officer Joe Buscaino (born and raised in San Pedro) and state Assemblyman Warren Furutani (a resident of Harbor Gateway but with a Gardena postal address) are facing off in a Jan. 17 runoff. Unlike the parts of the district that have the words "harbor" in their names but aren't actually on or even all that near the harbor -- Harbor City and Harbor Gateway -- Wilmington is directly on the inner harbor and suffers the consequences and occasionally reaps the benefits of its location.

It's named after the largest city in Delaware, which had been the birthplace and childhood home of California transplant Phineas Banning. Banning arrived in the 1850s as a dockworker and soon began driving stagecoaches from the waterfront to Los Angeles, 20 miles north. He and his business partners incorporated Wilmington as a city, and it grew as a sort of twin to neighboring San Pedro.

He began building Southern California's first railroad -- from his new city on the harbor to Los Angeles -- at just about the time the Central Pacific was linking Northern California to the rest of the nation. The rail line and a Southern Pacific connection north made the port and Wilmington essential real estate. Only later did the rails reach San Pedro.

The cities of Wilmington and San Pedro were consolidated into Los Angeles in 1909 after L.A. offered a library, a school and other amenities. Federal money built a breakwater, and the former muddy harbor was built into the one of the world's largest and busiest ports. The oil field was discovered and developed in 1932.

But for all the heavy industry in the area, there are parts of Wilmington that are barely developed, with no sidewalks, streets virtually unpaved, unlighted alleys. Elected officials in far-off City Hall -- even representatives of the 15th District, who invariably have been residents of better-connected San Pedro -- have found it convenient to view Wilmington as a freight yard or transportation corridor rather than a community of families living among the industrial goliaths.

Poverty is commonplace, directly affecting at least a quarter of the residents. About a third of local jobs involve transportation, warehousing and goods movement. The harsh economy means job loss -- and additional pressure to ignore environmental standards to keep people employed and food on the tables.

Evolving housing policies have made over the Dana Strand Village federal public housing project, which once sheltered World War II-era workers and later became a dreary complex beset by drug sales and violence. After a bulldozing and a redesign, Harbor View Place Garden Apartments and another New Dana complex are tidy and relatively comfortable and safe.

Neglect has helped drive gang violence, and although it persists, the once-common clashes between the East Wilmas and West Wilmas have quieted and allowed the area to nurture, and become a center of, art, murals, poetry, journalism (see the extraordinary Wilmington Wire) and other expressions of the area's multi-generational local culture.

Amid the heavy industry and chemicals, Wilmington has also become a center of a reinvigorated fight Wally Skalij 2010 for cleanup and for environmental justice. Residents gave the city a high profile in 2010 as they protested against Valero's and Tesoro's support for Proposition 23, which would have pushed back California's landmark AB 32 anti-global-warming mandates. Still, the air can be so bad that schools have installed filters in classrooms as part of a settlement in an environmental suit over port expansion.

The Port of Los Angeles, which is overseen by Los Angeles' Board of Harbor Commissioners, has been in the forefront of both the pollution and (when prodded) the cleanup effort. And after residents protested plans for a high wall to cut them off from the waterfront -- and keep the refinery fumes in but shut the cleansing sea breezes out -- the port instead built a park that buffers the community from the harbor while still embracing it. The park opened last year.

But Wilmington residents say they still get too little in return from the shipping and freight companies that make the area their backyard, and the refineries that make it their furnace. Community activists say San Pedro gets the attention. As far as Wilmington has come, a glance at voting and political fundraising stats show that it has a long way to go before being able to demand the attention from an elected official that San Pedro now gets.

Writing on the Los Angeles Times' Mapping L.A. comments page for Wilmington, commenter Carol said:

I grew up in Wilmington. I still have two sons living there but I really can't say it is beautiful. It looked better when I was growing up. Once you have moved outside the area you see what is Beautiful.

Click on the map above to get a closer view and to be connected to Wilmington demographics, crime and school data.


Watts and Not-Watts

Harbor Gateway, the city on a shoestring

Harbor City, the city not on the harbor

-- Robert Greene

Photos: Top, the ConocoPhillips refinery looms over Wilmington homes. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times. Center, a parking lot mural. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times. Bottom, a No-on-23 demonstration in Wilmington in October 2010. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times.

Council District 15: How uncoordinated are the candidates?

Buscaino versus Furutani; LAPD officers versus DWP workers
The Los Angeles Police Protective League put big bucks behind Joe Buscaino in the Nov. 8 City Council primary, but in the runoff it's got company: The union leaders of rank-and-file Department of Water and Power employees are behind an organization that has spent $44,987 on mailers and polling to elect Buscaino, according to numbers filed with the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission. The grass-roots candidate, the neighborhood cop, is now the DWP union's guy.

Say it ain't so, Joe!

By rights, though, Joe should be completely unable to say whether it's so. A donor to a City Council candidate may give only $500 per election, but the league and DWP union payments all come in the form of independent expenditures. There is no limit on IEs, as they are known, as long as the spending isn't coordinated with the candidate's campaign.

That means the candidate and his representatives are not supposed to be able to incorporate the IE into their own fundraising and spending decision-making. For example, the candidate is not allowed to contact the independent group and say, "You know, I've got the door-to-door thing nailed down, but I don't want to spend unnecessary time on the phone raising money for mailers. So it would really help me out if you guys took care of the mail campaign for me." That's coordination. It nullifies the "independent" part of the independent expenditure. Except for the first $500 worth, it would be illegal.

So how do observers tell if there is coordination? Let's be honest: They don't. There's no way to know whether a union guy working on an IE says, over a beer with a guy from the candidate's campaign, "If I were you, I'd spend money on cable ads because just between you and me, you can assume that the mail will be taken care of." There is no public record of the Ethics Commission charging a candidate, committee or independent expenditure group with improperly coordinating.

The arrangement keeps individual campaign donation limits in place, so that supposedly no single contributor can buy a candidate; but it still allows wealthy groups and individuals to exercise their 1st Amendment rights to speak out, with money, in support of the candidate they like. Then, if they later demand favors in return for their largesse, an elected official would in theory still be able to say, "I never knew you."

But that doesn't really mean the independent group gets nothing for its money but the satisfaction of electing a good person.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 18 -– the DWP union -– no doubt saw the Police Protective League's independent expenditure in the first round. IBEW leaders got into the game with the Local 18 Water and Power Defense League Committee, which in turn is providing the bulk of funding to Working Californians to Support Buscaino for City Council 2012. Working Californians also includes funding from United Firefighters of Los Angeles City.

The DWP union leaders and the firefighters union went to bat for the firefighters' former president, Pat McOsker, in the primary. He came in fourth.

DWP workers may have worried that if elected, Buscaino would reserve all his council clout to satisfy the league's demands for better police pay at budget and union contract time, leaving little left for DWP raises. With the IE, the electrical workers and firefighters could say (without actually saying it), "Hey, Joe. Remember that you're up for reelection in only 18 months. Remember what we did for you, and think about what we could do for you again. Or what we could instead do for an opponent, if you don't see the world our way."

Of course, the cops' union (and a business group that's spent $16,098.34 on phone-banking, a mailer and a print ad to elect Buscaino) might be saying the same kind of thing. For the runoff, the league has put in another $89,118 -– for cable ads and a mailer -– to help elect Buscaino. That's on top of the $72,285 the league spent during the primary to get Buscaino into the final round. One private person's measly $500 contribution counts for little when measured against that kind of clout, unless the successful candidate has some integrity and backbone.

The Times' editorial page is counting on that integrity and backbone in Buscaino. We endorsed him over state Assemblyman Warren Furutani. And we meant it. And all we offered him is the same thing we offer everyone else who comes to see us -– a glass of water or a cup of coffee, and half an hour to an hour of our undivided attention. And maybe a cookie.

Although apparently we're doing more. We didn't intend to, but it goes with the endorsement territory: Working Californians (that's the electricians' and firefighters' union committee) printed portions of our endorsement in its latest mailer, even though in backing Buscaino we were straightforward about our reservations. See it here. Talk about uncoordinated; we didn't know about this until we saw it Tuesday on the Ethics Commission's website.

The business group backing Buscaino is BizFed PAC, A Project of Los Angeles County Business Federation; it is funded by chambers of commerce.

The numbers are still rolling in. The filing deadline for the period beginning Dec. 3 is Thursday.

Furutani's campaign got $6,202 in independent support in the primary from a group called Golden State Leadership Fund, which sent out four mailers referencing themes of special interest to Asian Americans, including the World War II-era forced internment of Japanese Americans. See one of the mailers here. Another mailer reads, "There is no one on the L.A. City Council who looks like us."

Although Golden State is independent, its strategy of targeting Asian American voters is very much in line with the Furutani campaign's approach, as discussed in this earlier post.

An independent group called the Korean American Democratic Committee also produced communications to elect Furutani but has not yet reported how much it spent.

Furutani has been backed by independent expenditures from the Los Angeles County Democratic Party: $4,704 for the primary and $10,000 so far for the runoff. The party has also spent $31,917 to communicate with its members in support of Furutani. The Los Angeles County Federation of Labor has spent $24,540 to urge its members to support Furutani.

To see all the spending reports and to view all the mailers, go here and click on the dollar amounts.


Who's donating to Buscaino, Furutani?

The Capitol contingent

Buscaino and the council cop bloc

--Robert Greene

Photos: Three bastions, three labor contracts, three ways to say "thank you": the Department of Water and Power, City Hall and LAPD headquarters. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times

Council District 15: Who's donating to Buscaino, Furutani?


Most of City Council candidate Joe Buscaino's campaign donations have come from within the 15th District, where he's running, and of those, the vast majority have come from San Pedro. His opponent, Warren Furutani, has raised only a tiny fraction of his funds from within the district. A large segment of his money comes from Asian American donors elsewhere in Los Angeles, California and around the nation.

Of Buscaino's 980 contributions from individuals, businesses and organizations, 613, or 62.6%, come from the 15th District, according to an analysis of records filed with the City Ethics Commission for the election that took place Nov. 8, plus additional donations through Dec. 3 for the Jan. 17 runoff.

Those donations accounted for $162,031.60, or 56.8% of Buscaino's total $285,271.60. San Pedro accounted for 95% of the in-district money.That comes to $153,356.60, or 53.8% of Buscaino's total, from San Pedro.

The analysis classified donations by Zip Code. Some donors may have given twice: once, up to the $500 limit for the primary, followed by a second contribution up to the same amount for the runoff (more properly known as the general election). The reported value of in-kind donations was considered along with monetary contributions.

The next contribution report, covering most of December, is due Thursday.

The 15th District includes San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, Wattsand an adjacent portion of South Los Angeles. But for Buscaino, San Pedro is where the money is. Only 2.7% of his contributors, accounting for $8,675 or 3% of money raised, come from non-San Pedro portions of the district.

Buscaino has lived his entire life in San Pedro, and until the campaign patrolled that harbor-area community for the Los Angeles Police Department as a senior lead officer -- a sort of community liaison and trouble-shooter. All City Council District 15 representatives going back at least to World War II have been San Pedro residents.

San Pedro in particular and the district in general have been less generous to Furutani, who lives in Harbor Gateway, near Gardena. He took in 29 donations, amounting to $8,525, from the district in which he is running. That's a mere 2.6% of his total money raised so far. San Pedro accounts for 14 donations amounting to $4,325, or just $1.3% of his total.

Ninety-seven percent of Furutani's 1,056 donations, accounting for 97.4% of the money he has raised, comes from outside the 15th District.

Who are these contributors, and why are they giving? A scan of the names hints at one answer -- and serves as a reminder of the startling fact that Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest city and the home of a huge Asian population, has had only one Asian American elected official. And that official, Councilman Mike Woo, left office nearly 19 years ago (Woo was defeated in a 1993 run for mayor; he currently is a member of the city Planning Commission).

Los Angeles, which was home to the nation's largest community of Japanese immigrants and first-generation Japanese Americans before World War II, and which is well known for Little Tokyo and Nisei week and continues to have a large number of residents with Japanese ancestry, has never elected a Japanese American councilman. Small neighboring cities have, but not L.A. itself.

Asian Americans have mobilized to help Furutani become the first.

Of course, it's impossible to know for certain how many contributors are of Japanese descent, or how many are Asian at all. There is no race or ethnicity category for donation records. Scanning a list of contributors and picking out the Asian names is problematic. Are Lee, Young and Kim Asian names or English names? Birth names or married names? And of course, there is no way to know if a contributor gave money mostly because of racial identity or for any of the many other reasons that people donate to candidates. Some may have given because they are Furutani's colleagues in the Legislature or are candidates for other office, part of a phenomenon noted in a previous post.

Some readers might consider it inappropriate to even attempt to tally people by race or name. Yet it's an important part of Furutani's story. So I gave it a shot.

Of the 1,056 donors outside the 15th District, 557 have either Asian-sounding names or are businesses or organizations that directly express an Asian identity. That accounts for $147,119.80, or a huge 44.1% of the money Furutani has raised so far for the primary and the general elections. Of that, Japanese-sounding names account for $84,815.80, or 25.5% of his fundraising total.

Japanese American donors include high-ranking county officials, four Los Angeles Superior Court judges and one Fresno judge.

In addition to money they raise themselves, the candidates can use matching funds provided by the city and get the benefit of independent expenditure campaigns by outside groups. More on those in a future post.


Voting now underway

The Capitol contingent

Buscaino and the council cop bloc

 --Robert Greene

Photos: Joe Buscaino, left, and Warren Furutani. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times

Council District 15: Buscaino and the council cop bloc

Cop bloc Al Seib
If he's elected to the Los Angeles City Council on Jan. 17, Joe Buscaino would expand the current cop bloc to four members. On a council of 15, that's a surprising number of reserve and retired LAPD officers, especially in a liberal city with a long love/hate relationship with its police.

But not all council cops are the same politically, and Buscaino might be even more pro-police than the rest. His campaign spent a lot on mailers in the Nov. 8 primary, but a big Buscaino mail campaign was conducted by the police officers union -– the Los Angeles Police Protective League. Independently of the candidate, the league spent $72,285 on seven campaign mailers and another $75,000 on a cable TV spot.

The league differs from department brass on a number of issues; for example, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has ordered officers to no longer impound the cars of unlicensed drivers, a move supported by illegal immigrants and others ineligible to get licenses. The league is running a petition campaign to "keep dangerous drivers off the road." The league also has sent mixed messages on Beck's and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's plans, currently on hold, to increase the number of officers.

The Times has endorsed Buscaino over state Assemblyman Warren Furutani.

We can't necessarily assume that Buscaino would back Beck's every budget request. And there's no doubt something heady about being able to openly question your ex-boss on policy and budget decisions.

The first member of the current LAPD contingent was Dennis Zine, a retired sergeant and motorcycle officer who was defeated in his first run for the council, then was elected to the city's charter reform commission, and finally was elected to the council in 2001. A former board member for the league, Zine has been supportive of law enforcement but is sometimes skeptical of the LAPD's budget demands.

More than merely skeptical was Greig Smith, who retired from the council in June after serving two terms. Smith routinely and vocally criticized the LAPD for its budget management. As a reserve officer, Smith was uniformed and accredited, but unpaid. He was succeeded in office by his former chief of staff, Mitchell Englander, who took office on July 1. Englander became a reserve officer in 2005. He just got to the council, so it remains to be seen how his law enforcement perspective will manifest itself at budget time.

The department's biggest City Council critic is Bernard C. Parks, the former Los Angeles chief of police and 38-year department veteran. Parks was elected to the council after being denied a second term as chief by then-Mayor James Hahn's Board of Police Commissioners. As chairman of the council's budget committee, Parks has been a hawk on all city spending -– and especially on budget requests and reports from the LAPD.

So would Buscaino be a Parks-type critic, a Zine-style supporter of the rank and file against the brass, or something else entirely? Would the officers come first, the LAPD managers, or residents? Would the goal be to keep the current ranks content by spending scarce city money on pay raises, or to devote that money instead to adding more officers? He won't say what city services and programs he'd be prepared to cut or what taxes he would try to raise in order to "put public safety first."

Of course, the most famous police officer ever to serve on the Los Angeles City Council was Tom Bradley, who was elected in 1963. He served 10 years on the council before going on to be L.A.'s mayor for two full decades.

To see the Police Protective League's Buscaino mailers from the Nov. 8 primary (plus other independent mailers and the league's cable TV script), click here to get to the appropriate Los Angeles City Ethics Commission page, then click on each item under "Communications."

To see independent mailers supporting Furutani, funded by the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and other organizations, click here and here.


Voting now underway

When Warren Furutani met Joe Buscaino

The candidates on the Housing Authority

 -- Robert Greene

Photo: Two members of the council's current cop bloc, Dennis Zine and Bernard C. Parks, with a photo of former LAPD Chief Daryl Gates on April 16, 2010, after hearing of Gates' death. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times.

Council District 15: The candidates on the Housing Authority

Joe Buscaino

How does a voter, or an editorial board, judge the quality of a candidate? Raising issues and asking the candidates to talk about them is important, of course. But I've often found it more enlightening to ask candidates about issues they bring up themselves.

It's fine, for example, for a candidate to mention a recent news item, especially one that has the public riled, such as the $1.2-million severance payment to the departing director of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, or  HACLA, and the lavish meals and junkets that the oversight commission took at public expense. That shows the candidate is up on the news. But ask what it is that went wrong, and how common it is, and what he would do to fix it -- then the response may reveal how well he or she really understands. Was the candidate just seeking cheap applause by demonstrating outrage? Or has there been serious thinking about the issue?

When members of The Times' editorial board interviewed City Council candidates Joe Buscaino and Warren Furutani, we didn't bring up the HACLA scandal; they did. So what was their analysis of the problem?

The Times has endorsed Buscaino, but on this issue both candidates were disappointing. It would have been OK if they weren't familiar with the issue and said they had to pass on answering the question. But remember, they brought it up. And it would have been OK if they had opinions that differed from ours; the point was not to see whether they agreed with us but whether they knew what they were talking about.

Or am I being too hard on them? Judge for yourself; Here are audio excerpts of questions from me and from Editorial Page Editor Nicholas Goldberg, and partial transcripts of the candidates' responses. Below that is a summary of the HACLA issue.

Listen: Buscaino on HACLA

Is there a problem? Is there a problem? I think with HACLA I would like to see more representation from property owner's side as well. Not just -- it's very heavy on the tenant. You have the tenants being the voice. I'd like to see more of a balance. It's not happening, and that's something I look forward to addressing or questioning if indeed I become elected.

Listen: Furutani on HACLA

The public perception of it, though. I'm sure legally in the contract everything's there. There's gonna be no lawsuit after this is done. But in terms of public perception; if the public doesn't realize that that's in fact what's happening. And then you add to it dinners and lunches and junkets, going on trips. All of this is a package; we go, uh huh, there it is again. That's what's wrong with it.

The problem is people have to know, people have to be aware of what goes on in government, and we have to be transparent. Now bringing the best talent to Los Angeles is always difficult in terms of how you attract them. Housing costs are very high; living costs in L.A. are very high; how you bring a superintendent, how you bring a chancellor, how you bring a professor to the University of California, how you bring executives. This is a difficult situation. It's something though we've got to explain better to the community so they know if you want this, if you want government to do this, if you want the best talent, it's going to cost you....

And in terms of that reality, whether you want to bring the top professors to the UC system, we have to explain that to the public so they know what they're paying for, and what in fact they're going to get as a benefit. And some of this other thing, though, in terms of the overall, the public perception: "It was a boondoggle, here they go again." That's what's wrong with it.

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles uses federal money to operate public housing projects and other subsidized housing programs in Los Angeles. Its controversial executive director, Rudy Monteil, was fired as KCET-TV's "SoCal Connected" reported on the spending practices of HACLA staff and commissioners. Monteil then was granted a severance package amounting to $1.2 million. The Times editorialized that the problem was a lack of mayoral oversight. Read The Times' news stories here:

L.A. council members call for more control over housing authority

Mayor's staff was told of housing official's payout

Villaraigosa didn't know about agency chief's payout, aide says

Ousted L.A. Housing Authority chief leaves with $1.2 million

Los Angeles public housing authority fires its CEO

Members of Los Angeles' housing board say they'd welcome a city audit

Dust-up with picketing tenants puts L.A. housing authority chief in spotlight

L.A. housing official sought to evict nine tenants who protested at his home

Warren Furutani


Endorsements and the Jan. 17 runoff

Questions, and frustration

Voting now underway

When Warren Furutani met Joe Buscaino

Watts and Not-Watts

Harbor Gateway, the city on a shoestring

 -- Robert Greene

Photos: Candidate Joe Buscaino (top) and Warren Furutani (bottom) make calls on Nov. 8, the day of the primary election in their race to be elected to represent the 15th District on the L.A. City Council. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times

Council District 15: Harbor City, the city not on the harbor


Harbor CityHarbor City, just like adjoining Harbor Gateway, doesn't touch the harbor; it begins at Sepulveda Boulevard, at the southernmost end of the shoestring strip that links the port districts with the rest of Los Angeles. Like the adjacent South Bay city of Lomita, it gets tonier in the portions that climb into the hills of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Much of the rest is suburban middle and working class, and residents there do their best to fend off the urban challenges that face the gateway area.

It's one of the collections of neighborhoods in Los Angeles' Council District 15, where Police Officer Joe Buscaino and state Assemblyman Warren Furutani are facing each other in a Jan. 17 City Council runoff.

Harbor City makes the news most often on the sports page, in reports on Narbonne High School's football games against rivals in San Pedro and Carson. For three years beginning in 2005, though, the big news was Reggie, an alligator apparently released illegally into Machado Lake at Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park. Reggie was eventually captured and moved to the Los Angeles Zoo.

Christine cotterThe park is the remnant of a swampy area once known as Bixby Slough. Oil derricks once covered the area, which now is both valuable wildlife habitat and a pool of polluted urban runoff. It is the subject of a cleanup effort funded by Los Angeles residents through the landmark 2004 measure Proposition O. Today, the park is anchored on the east by Los Angeles Harbor College and on the west by a large Kaiser Permenente hospital and medical campus.

Heidi W., commenting on The Times' Mapping L.A. project's  Harbor City page, said:

"You really have to live west of Western Ave. in Torrance and use Harbor City as a crime buffer zone. Even the criminals know that Torrance police profile the drivers and their cars."

Click on the map above for a better view, and for statistics and comments from residents.


Endorsements and the Jan. 17 runoff

Questions, and frustration

Voting now underway

When Warren Furutani met Joe Buscaino

Watts and Not-Watts

Harbor Gateway, the city on a shoestring

 -- Robert Greene

Photos: Top, a Harbor City welcome. Credit: Robert Greene / Los Angeles Times. Bottom, then-Councilwoman Janice Hahn greets alligator wrangler Thomas "T-Bone" Quinn before a 2005 attempt to extract Reggie the Alligator from Lake Machado. Credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times.



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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