LA's Era in DC

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Because Los Angeles is a city that mainly elects Democrats, the Bush years have not been especially good ones for LA's clout.

But with the election of Barack Obama, and the added strength of the Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, the city's political fortunes should be on the rise.

This is no minor vanity thing.

The Metro Rail subway from downtown to Hollywood and the Valley, for instance, could not have been built without a big infusion of federal dollars.

The only LA mayor who ever truly made mass transit a priority, Tom Bradley, lobbied Washington relentlessly in the 1980's and 90's to obtain that money.

He had to overcome competition from other urban areas, but got help from some key members of Congress from Los Angeles, such as the late Julian Dixon.

Eventually, enough money flowed west to get a start on a regional transit system.

If Obama gets behind LA's plans -- and the city can push the right buttons in Congress -- there could be enough funding from the feds to actually build a new leg of the subway over the next couple of decades.

It might get as far the museum district on Wilshire. Or further, through Beverly Hills to Westwood.

Maybe even the mythical Subway to the Sea that some voters dreamed of when they approved a half-cent sales tax increase earlier this month.

LA's potential clout got a big boost this week when 69-year-old congressman Henry Waxman defeated the 82-year-old John Dingell to become chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee.

Waxman was a big reason that the Wilshire subway stopped at Western Avenue in the 90's. It was his ban on tunneling near the La Brea Tar Pits that ended the first era of subway construction.

Waxman recently renounced his opposition to the subway coming west through his district. Now, his new post makes him an important ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which has to help.

Environmentalists hail Waxman's ascent because it makes him a key player on global warming, and signals that more progressive views on the environment will set the agenda for the Democrats in Washington.

The Obama era also begins with another LA congressman, Howard Berman, chairing the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. And with Dianne Feinstein in charge of the Senate Rules Committee, California's political advantage is well in hand.

Perhaps that's why we're seeing LA politicians angle for the ear of the Obama transition team. City Controller Laura Chick publicly volunteered to be considered for appointment as Treasurer of the United States, and let it be known she'd happily take another job too if offered.

It's all part of the shakeout that occurs when power transfers between parties, along with stories about which players and little-known insiders qualify as friends of the new president.

Politico's Jeffrey Ressner compiled a list of the Angelenos that should be regarded as Obama's closest friends in Hollywood. If you're thinking George Clooney or Barbra Streisand, think again.

It tends to be people who know Obama from Harvard Law School, like the actor Hill Harper, who plays crime-scene investigator Sheldon Hawkes on CSI: NY. Michael Lawson, a lawyer who sits on the Los Angeles Airport Commission, is another, along with major Democratic Party fundraiser Nicole Avant.

By the way, if you were hoping to attend the inauguration parties in Washington, the best advice I've heard is to cozy up to a Republican official.

They get free tickets just like the Democrats, but their campaign contributors aren't as interested in partying with a bunch of Obama supporters.

The official Obama inauguration committee also has a deal for you. You can get four VIP seats at the swearing-in ceremony, plus four tickets to the ball and the parade.

It will only cost you $50,000.

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