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Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024

Commentary—Without Strong Leaders, VOTE Faces Separation Anxiety

OK, now with the last political distraction behind us (that being the recently ended mayoral election campaign), are you really ready to secede from the city of Los Angeles? You’ve got a report from LAFCO that, with a little tweaking and horse trading, might make a convincing case that the San Fernando Valley could survive on its own. You’ve got some level of grassroots support, but perhaps not as much as secession advocates think or want. You’ve got a business community that says it supports secession but, off the record and quietly, believes there’s little chance of it happening and are simply hoping for a bigger piece of the L.A. pie. You’ve got a political leadership that is what? Prepared to lead a new Valley boldly into the heart of the next century? There’s a political powerhouse in Councilman Alex Padilla who, far from joining in the latest chorus of “poor us,” has maneuvered himself into the presidency of the L.A. City Council. There’s a new mayor jumping in right about where the old one left off. Now-former Mayor Richard Riordan spent his last night in office receiving an award from the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley. Then two days later, his first full day after being sworn in, new Mayor Jim Hahn made sure the news media understood his schedule would include nothing but stops in the Valley: One symbolic gesture followed by another. And what you also have are surveys indicating that, not only is much of the Valley electorate still truly undecided about secession, they haven’t really thought about it either. According to the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College, more people have no opinion one way or the other about secession than actually support it. Tactically, it gets worse for secession advocates. Assume for the moment that a Valley secession question ends up on the November 2002 ballot. That simple question, yes or no, is not all that will be there. There’ll probably be a question about taxing authority, one about what to name a potential city and some choices on who the first mayor and city council members will be. So, while you’re voting on whether you want to have your own city, you’re voting on who its first elected officials will be, just in case. Valley VOTE officials call this a good thing. They say that if 10 or so candidates run for each of the proposed 15 new council seats, you’ll have 150 secession campaigns going all at once. Using the same kind of quirky math, you might as well add 10 candidates for mayor and you’ve got 160. So, who will these 160 or so political candidates be? Let me tell you something reporters who routinely cover local elections know but never tell readers (and yes, they make their own private assessments of candidates that never get in the paper): There is a single basic storyline to most of these campaigns. In the average city council primary election, for instance, there are usually a couple of candidates who, ideology aside, know what they’re talking about, know how to raise money and run a campaign and give the reporter a feeling they could actually do the job. Then there are a couple who seem pretty bright, have some idea of the public policy issues involved but don’t have the slightest idea of how to run for office. These are the ones that are usually pretty impressive in debates (attended primarily by reporters and campaign managers) but voters never hear of. Then there are usually a couple of candidates who live out the true meaning of the clich & #233; that, in America, anybody can run for president. These are the ones who have the biggest mouths and may know a lot about the effort to remove graffiti on their block or the speeding ticket they got or the property tax bill they don’t understand, but little else. They know even less than the previous group about running a political campaign; the main difference is that they don’t even know what they don’t know. This bunch also runs out of steam well before election day and you never hear from them again. Frankly, the Valley is full of the latter group and woefully deficient in either of the first two. Those 160 campaigns for office will indeed be quite an exercise in democracy, but if there aren’t any competent, respectable candidates, it’s liable to have an impact on those many undecideds that won’t be favorable for secession. Why, people can legitimately ask themselves, would they vote for secession if they’re afraid of who might be in charge afterwards? The time is quickly approaching when secession is no longer just an intellectual exercise or an easy way to rouse a crowd. One day soon, voters are going to get serious, and Valley VOTE needs to be ready. Michael Hart is editor of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal. He can be reached at mhart@sfvbj.com

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