Boy what a difference one weekend and an email makes! Lights, camera, action and a standing room only crowd greeted folks at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts on February 8th, to hear the third debate between incumbent Jose Huizar and challenger Rudy Martinez for LA City Council District 14.
Co-hosted by The Eagle Rock Association (TERA) and the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council (and a special thanks to them both for providing this service to the community), the debate was moderated by attorney Brian Heckman, who is currently the Treasurer for the Neighborhood Council, and is also a former candidate for this very Council seat.
Both candidates started out strong on the Quality of Life issues, with Mr. Huizar emphasizing a “30% decrease” in crime under his watch, the revitalization of Colorado Blvd and Eagle Rock Blvd, along with a strong commitment to education, not to mention his outstanding constituent services. Mr. Martinez keyed in on job creation, public safety, and eliminating blight in the community. I think the answers to this first question were indicative of the balance of the debate — Mr Huizar was polished and plausible in his explanations of ‘what he has done’, and Mr. Martinez was passionate and engaged in really wanting to ‘fix things’.
Underneath the answers, a slightly different reality emerges for those of us who actually live in these communities. For example, I suspect that Caroline Aguirre of our own Carolines Corner, is going to have a major dispute with the proposition that crime in CD14 is down. Just read her blog posts, and note the Councilman’s total avoidance of the fact that the Gang Unit in Northeast LA is gone, gone gone. And if the current state of affairs on Eagle Rock Blvd and Colorado Blvd constitute ‘revitalization’, then the Councilman is not driving on the same streets that I do every day. But the biggest whopper Mr. Huizar tried out for size here was the one about outstanding constituent services. If the Councilman was referring to the fact that he gives Eagle Rock (the Music Festival, Center for the Arts etc.) a nice chunk of money each year, probably a lot more than the other parts of his Council District, and that qualifies as constituent services, then he may have a case. But if he is referring to staff, give me a break. He DID have well respected staff here but it was years ago. Paul Habib, who he trotted out as an example, has been off doing the downtown Broadway project for years, and perhaps the best staff person we had in CD14 was Jim Omahen, who quit a long time ago for a better job. But if you don’t live here, he sounded good.
And as for Mr. Martinez, he of course has never been an elected official,. On the other hand, in today’s climate this should not be a negative, and he at least seems to genuinely listen to people. It is very clear that he is a business person who truly believes that improving the business climate in LA City and the District will create local jobs. And it is also true that the business climate in LA City if you are a small business is deplorable. I actually believe that Mr. Martinez will do everything in his power to help small business and that is a good thing. How exactly this will play out in the mind-numbing City Council which defines ‘small business’ as Eli Broad and AEG, I have no idea. And there of course the devil is in the details. His answer that eliminating ‘blight’ is his third goal, may have been an unfortunate choice of words, since his discussion then turned to things such as the proliferation of street vendors and swap meets which detract from the look, feel, and business friendliness of the area. But these days, the word ‘blight’ immediately conjures up images of the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles. It recently received have a 2 1/2 million dollar HUD grant to explore the idea of gobbling up large portions of Northeast LA. After all the CRA/LA can only make us a “Project” by declaring blight and thus allowing them to give us the blessings of eminent domain. Just ask Atwater Village, and the folks at the Adelante Eastside Project of the CRA in Boyle Heights.
I could go into similar detail about the rest of the set questions, but this article would be way too long. So let me cut to the final question, about what specifically each candidate would cut to balance the City budget. And here again, we see the same differences between the candidates that were revealed on the opening question. Mr. Huizar started out by talking about the current budget shortfall and the $350 million deficit that will start next years budget cycle, and how we are indeed in tough times. He then indicated that there are no real exact numbers at the start of the budget cycle to answer the question posed, that he’s a member of the City’s Budget & Finance Committee, and how he’s going to make the ‘tough decisions’. For his part, Mr. Martinez pointed out that unlike Mr. Huizar he is not on the City Budget & Finance Committee, but as a businessman he is his own budget & finance committee, and he makes a profit. His other two key points were that (a) he is funding his own campaign and therefor is not beholden to any special interests come budget time, and (b) reiterated his core proposition that the big issue is to generate jobs through businesses which will result in increased income, increased revenues, and a bigger pie.
I will not go into Mr. Huizar’s proposition that the City balances its budget each year — see my earlier post regarding the last debate. As to the assertion that the City doesn’t have good numbers, I have to wonder if Mr. Huizar is in fact really on the Budget & Finance Committee. Maybe he didn’t attend the meeting recently where the CAO gave the Committee a 27 page report about exactly what cuts (by department) have to be made if the great Parking Lot Sale (which he voted for) doesn’t go through in time, and perhaps he really didn’t vote to take additional Furlough days recommended by the CAO off the table as his own Budget Committee recommended. Maybe he doesn’t know that the 2011/12 budget is going to start off with more like a $400 million plus deficit, and that doesn’t even count how you count the now annual rollover of about $1.2 billion (as in BILLION) dollars in short term notes the City is addicted to. Maybe he should read Jack Humphreville’s excellent article in CityWatch .
But I digress. Mr. Martinez’ difficulty is that he does not have the technical knowledge of the City Budget and its byzantine process, and it’s easy to promise that you will honestly balance the behemoth. On the plus side, his point about funding his own campaign so that he doesn’t owe the big special interests is a valid point. I assume that this is a reference to Mr. Huizar’s special relationship with the Mayor, the Unions, and the democratic campaign machine of Parke Skelton & crew, now minus the services of Mr. Trujillo,. There’s also a question about his use of his taxpayer paid for City staff (who were all copied on the Trujillo email).
So all in all, a very interesting debate, well-moderated, and it seems clear that this race is the most exciting cliffhanger of the City Council elections. The career politician vs the challenger, slick & technical vs enthusiasm and a genuine regard for people. Stay tuned.
Note for those Who Like Completeness - Here’s the Context
Michael Larsen, Chair of the Neighborhood Council, and Bob Gotham from TERA started events by making a plea that the candidates henceforth pledge to concentrate on community issues and solutions, rather than personal attacks — referring, one assumes, to the recent meltdown by Huizar campaign consultant Michael Trujillo first reported by latinopoliticsblog. Everyone in town has jumped all over this story, from the LA Weekly’s Jill Stewart, to our own Ron Kaye. Scott Johnson of Mayor Sam’s Sister City blog has been all over this story (not to mention Mr. Trujillo) for some time, and is clearly enjoying his vindication and Mr. Trujillo’s downfall..
OK, back to the debate itself. After both candidates ‘took the pledge’ to play nice, Councilman Huizar made his obligatory apology for Mr. Trujillo’s actions, and that was about it for the fireworks, one presumes much to the dismay of the television cameras present. As explained by TERA’s Bob Gotham, the format was to have a 3 minute opening, then 6 prepared questions, followed by audience questions handed in on 3×5 cards and selected by the moderator until 8:30 pm.
In an interesting twist, the six set questions asked both candidates were as Eagle Rock specific as the moderator could make them, which makes sense when want to tone down a debate. My notes on the questions are:
- top 3 goals for eagle rock and how you will accomplish them,
- in these hard economic times, how will you improve the business climate in eagle rock,
- What are your strategies to encourage all modes of transportation in our area,
- The 3 major quality of life issues and how to address them,
- About those massage parlors,
and my personal favorite (of course):
-What specific department, employees, and programs would you cut to balance the City Budget?
That’s all for now.