An LA Style Election

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

In a corner of the San Fernando Valley section of L.A., the voters in one city council district this week put another election to bed.

It wasn't exactly an all-consuming event – only about 15 percent of the eligible voters bothered to cast a ballot. Except for a few excited activist bloggers, the media mostly passed on the race, declining to offer much in the way of in-depth reporting.

And why not? The winner becomes just one of the 15 men and women on the Los Angeles City Council, the body that decides a lot of quality of life issues in L.A.

The race in the 2nd district, though, will be remembered for more just than who won.

For the record, the winner was state Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, who used to be a city official in neighboring Burbank, but who crossed into LA to run for the more lucrative position.

LA city council members, if you haven't heard, are the highest paid in the country.

Krekorian might have been something of an outsider, but he was viewed by the voters as less of an interloper than the losing candidate, a former studio executive named Christine Essel.

Krekorian at least represented a slice of the Valley in the state Assembly. Essel had lived over the hill and held a succession of appointed and volunteer posts in preparation for some day running for office. Somewhere.

She rode into the Valley apparently thinking that hiring a successful local campaign manager and making hollow talk about reform would be enough to win over the natives.

It was enough to get her into the runoff, with endorsements from most of the City Council downtown and from the district's former council member, the City Controller Wendy Greuel.

But Essel in the end was probably hurt by the record amount of money spent on her behalf – supposedly outside her control – by the unions representing Department of Water and Power workers, construction workers and police officers.

These three big City Hall interests barraged the voters in the district with so much mail that even the barely interested had to feel in their gut that someone was trying to buy an election.

And buy it for a politician that even long-time players in the district had never heard of until a few months ago.

Essel likely damaged her own reputation with a mailer that invoked Holocaust imagery and drew a rebuke from a rabbi at the Simon Weisenthal Center, who as far as we know was not a Krekorian partisan.

It all made for a pretty sleazy campaign, as editorials pointed out. That it failed should be the lesson that gets taken to heart by the consultants and funders who design these offensive political campaigns in L.A.

Essel and her supporters spent almost $156 a vote in a losing cause, much of that union members' money that was essentially thrown away.

Krekorian and his supporters – yes, he too benefitted from so-called independent expenditures – ended up paying about $28 for each voter who elected him.

He'll take his seat around the horseshoe at City Hall in a few weeks, and unless he proves to be a big surprise, he'll begin the long, inevitable process of disappointing the voters who elected him.

The LA City Council, remember, is the group that looked away while the city filled up with bogus medical marijuana clinics that voters never said they wanted. And with new billboards that no one seems to like.

The city also faces deep financial troubles that the council didn't foresee or do anything to head off. Now big layoffs and deep cuts in valuable services are required.

But hey, at least the council has done something about the traffic mess, right?

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.