There's a small election on Tuesday in the corner of Los Angeles that wraps around the port -- covering San Pedro and Wilmington, and the odd little strip of city that connects the harbor to Watts and South Los Angeles. January seems like an unusual time for a city election. Why now?
It's a runoff election to fill the open seat on the LA City Council created when Janice Hahn was elected to Congress. The candidates are Joe Buscaino, a popular senior lead officer with the LAPD in San Pedro, and Warren Furutani, a state assemblyman and former member of the school board in LA.
This, obviously, only directly affects the people right around the harbor. And most of them won't vote. What makes the race for the 15th Council District interesting to the rest of us?
Well, a few things. One is that the Port of Los Angeles is enormously important to the economy and prosperity of the whole region - and also affects the air and the freeways. If you've ever driven among all the trucks on the Long Beach freeway, you'll know what I mean. But also, city council members in LA tend to stay around while once they are elected. Who ever wins on Tuesday is likely to be an important player in LA city politics for the next decade, maybe longer.
If I go out on Tuesday night, it will be to the Buscaino headquarters. He's the new face, not that well known outside San Pedro -- this is the first time he's run for office. And I want to see who comes to stand beside him on the stage , if he does win, and there are a lot of signs that the momentum is with him. He finished first in the primary election a couple of months ago, despite a very large field -- and despite the LA Times endorsing someone else. The Times editorial board wasn't terribly impressed with Buscaino, and said so, but he came in first. For the runoff, the Times interviewed him again and still wasn't all that impressed. But the paper endorsed him over Furutani.
The more interesting thing to me has been the way City Hall's insiders have been rushing to embrace Buscaino as Tuesday's election gets closer. I may go down Tuesday night just to see how many of his new friends rush to San Pedro to have their picture staken with the new councilman. If the numbers go his way, of course.
So --- what would we get from Buscaino?
It's never wise to predict what a newly hatched politician will be like when he or she comes to power for the first time. Many of them alter their politics from the idealistic rhetoric of campaigning to the practical concerns of being one of 15 and wanting to get things for your district. Some even go through changes of personality -- I used to get email all the time from old friends and colleagues of Antonio Vilaraigosa complaining how he ignored them when he became mayor.
The most telling thing about Buscaino might that he would become the third LAPD cop on the council. There's the former chief, Bernard Parks, who weighs in with an edge on anything related to the police, often to the chagrin of the department's current brass -- and the Police Protective League, the union representing rank and file cops. Parks and the union clashed mightily when he was in charge. They are still clashing.
Dennis Zine, the councilman from the far west Valley, was a longtime motor officer and an official of the union. And the newest member of the council, Mitch Englander -- also from the west valley -- is a reserve officer with the LAPD.
That gives the LAPD culture its own caucus on the City Council -- not that the department is ever at a loss for political power in the city.