By ELLEN ENDO
“I offer my opponents a bargain: if they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them.”
—Adlai Stevenson, campaign speech, 1952
Candidates in the recent Los Angeles municipal election spent a combined $26.6 million total toward their campaigns, according to the City Clerk’s Office. Of that amount, City Councilmember Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel expended about $10 million.
Unfortunately for the candidates, L.A. is a media town not easily swayed by cheesy television ads. Despite the massive expenditure, only 21 percent, or one in five registered voters, actually went to the polls on Election Day, March 5. That pencils out at around $93 per vote.
The office-seekers might have won more votes if they handed out gift cards from Costco. Who couldn’t use a year’s supply of toilet paper? (Note: insert your own joke here — something about politics and bulls—.)
Comedian W.C. Fields once said, “I never vote for anyone. I always vote against.” Sadly, Fields, who died in 1946, may have been speaking for voters today. Are we voting because we believe a candidate is the best person for the job or because we want to stop the other guy from getting into office?
Television ads ranged from shrill to juvenile. I cringed every time Wendy Greuel put air quotes around the word “missing” when referring to city gasoline expenditures. Was the gasoline stolen, piped into personal yachts, handed out in gallon containers as gifts at lavish parties? Furthermore, how do we know that she was telling the “truth”?
I shuddered when Garcetti touted his office’s record of returning constituents’ calls as one of his proudest achievements. Really? Do you actually believe voters are more concerned about phone etiquette than, say, fire and police response times?
Just as annoying were Kevin James’ broad-brush attacks on Garcetti, Greuel, and his closest competitor, City Councilmember Jan Perry, for their presumed roles in creating the city’s “loss of services, crumbling streets.” However, James gets some credit for being candid about his sexual orientation. Gay Republicans are as rare as vegans at McDonald’s.
In an interview with Adam Nagourney of The New York Times, James said, “Depending on what room you’re in here, sometimes it’s easier coming out gay to Republicans than it is coming out Republican to gays.”
Endorsed by former Mayor Richard Riordan and backed by outside groups, James seemed to be on a forward trajectory. Then, one of those groups released an anti-Garcetti-Greuel-Perry ad, laying the responsibility for the city’s problems squarely and solely at their feet. The positive response to James rose from 30 to 47 percent, but unfortunately, the negative response soared from 18 to 53 percent.
Similarly, Greuel, in what can only be perceived as an act of desperation, released two mean-spirited ads as Election Day approached. Suddenly, Greuel’s record as audit queen just wasn’t enough. She mocked Garcetti as he sang a Christmas song, then dredged up information about Perry that was two decades old. Gee, I hope no one finds footage of Greuel eating French chocolates or washing her car or doing something else that might be used against her.
Anyone who remembers Little Tokyo in the mid-to-late1990s knows that it was depressed. Business was slow, shops were closing, and the resident population was a fraction of what it is today.
When Jan Perry was elected to the City Council in 2001, she immediately went to work to turn things around and help the area become vibrant again. She did the same with Bunker Hill, South Los Angeles and the area now known as “L.A. Live.” If she had been able to raise enough money to campaign on TV, more voters might have known what she accomplished.
In any case, she didn’t deserve Greuel’s venomous assault.
It was mid-afternoon when I went to my polling place. Earnest poll workers perked up. It had been a slow day for them. They swarmed towards me like hungry koi, and I felt like a scoop of fish flakes.
At best, negative ads can undermine one’s faith in the democratic process. At worst, they keep voters from going to the polls. Now, both Garcetti and Greuel are hoping for endorsements from Perry and/or James. A mere 10,600 votes separated Garcetti and Greuel on March 5, with Garcetti slightly ahead.
James and Perry received 46,700 and 45,500, respectively, so an endorsement from either of them could mean the difference between winning and losing. To say that a conversation between Greuel and Perry would be awkward is an understatement. If you were Jan Perry, what would you do?
As award-winning novelist David Foster Wallace once wrote: “By all means, stay home if you want, but don’t bulls— yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some diehard’s vote.”
“A low voter turnout is an indication of fewer people going to the polls.”
—Dan Quayle, 44th Vice President of the United States
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