California’s largest city, Los Angeles, is a study of social and economic crises, but politicians are queuing up to become its next mayor.
It’s hard to see why any sane person would want to become mayor of Los Angeles, California’s largest and, in many ways, most troubled city.
As the city’s economic and social problems mount – especially a terrible homelessness crisis – the past eight years’ mayor Eric Garcetti has been trying to get away with becoming an ambassador to India. The abundance of ambitious professional politicians in Los Angeles meanwhile creates a field of would-be successors for the 2022 elections.
Early contenders include City Councilors Joe Buscaino and Kevin de León, and City Attorney Mike Feuer. However, when Congresswoman Karen Bass, who appeared as one of Joe Biden’s potential running mates last year, announced her candidacy, she immediately became the alleged front runner.
How bad are the conditions in the city that they hope to tackle?
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When he supported Bass last week, Garcetti’s predecessor as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said, “I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve never seen this city so dirty, so rudderless. Homeless everywhere, crime is on the rise, and there just seems to be a lack of urgency, any kind of all-man-on-deck approach to these crises. “
As far as possible, this assessment hits the mark. Villaraigosa could have added that Greater Los Angeles has the highest unemployment rate of any major region and is the most poverty-stricken location in California, which itself has the highest poverty rate in the country.
The city’s huge school district is another civic embarrassment. Despite being independent from the city government, Villaraigosa attempted to reform the system’s enormous financial and educational flaws, but only managed to alienate the powerful teachers’ union.
Los Angeles’ misery is compounded by a snake pit political culture. The 15 members of the city council – half of them, like de León, former members of the state parliament – argue incessantly as they plan career steps or get involved in so-called sideline activities.
Just last week, one of them, Mark Ridley-Thomas, was federally charged with taking bribes from a dean of the University of Southern California in exchange for millions of dollars in public funds during Ridley-Thomas’ previous stint in Los Angeles County to receive supervisory board.
The program, prosecutors said, aimed to secure a full scholarship and paid professorship for Ridley-Thomas’ son Sebastian, himself a former state lawmaker.
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However, the charges against Ridley-Thomas are only the latest scandal to hit the city council. Former Alderman Jose Huizar is awaiting trial on extortion, bribery, money laundering and other charges. Former Alderman Mitchell Englander is serving a 14-month sentence for lying to federal authorities about cash and other gifts received at casinos in Las Vegas and near Palm Springs.
Again, why would a sane person aspire to become mayor of this hot mess?
Bass, likely the next Los Angeles mayor, says she can thrive where others have failed, especially with the city’s most visible crisis, the countless homeless people who live on the streets and in the parks.
Bass plans to expand the experimental federal programs called Project Homekey, which is buying up hotels and motels to house the homeless, and Project Roomkey, which is providing temporary housing.
“Homelessness has been developing for decades. It didn’t just fall out of the sky, ”said Bass. “But we can’t wait decades to solve it. It is now up to us to resolve it. If you elect me as mayor, the status quo on homelessness will not last. “
But even if Bass can build a roof over the heads of the homeless – which is unlikely – it won’t solve the underlying socioeconomic diseases pervading the country’s second largest city.