Musical Chairs in Local Politics

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

This must be an especially hard time to be an ambitious politician. City Hall is paralyzed by talk of mass layoffs and the collapse of entire departments.

Even municipal bankruptcy has been spoken of – now that would turn a serious mess into a real, perhaps even historic financial catastrophe.

Self-inflicted, of course. City Hall has been handing out generous pensions and union contracts for years, while expanding programs and paying for it all by tapping a booming economy.

Now that the boom is bust, raising parking and traffic fines to absurd levels hasn't been able to pay the bills.

There's no help coming from Sacramento because the state's reeling in even worse fiscal shape. The mood of the voters who let all this happen is turning more foul every day. And yet look at what's going on.

There's no shortage of politicians who are trying to move up in this year's elections. In turmoil, they see opportunity.

It helps, of course, when somebody gets out of the way. That was the case this week when Representative Diane Watson decided that nine years in Congress was enough. The former L.A. school board member and state senator – she's now 76 – said she won't run for reelection.

She's coming home from Washington to take care of her mother, who's 100 years old.

An open seat in Congress in a safe district is the kind of treasure that career politicians of both parties lust for. The Watson seat is plenty safe for Democrats – it went 87% for Obama two years ago – so the main mystery is who will inherit it.

The early betting is on the former Speaker of the state Assembly, Karen Bass. She's losing her seat due to term limits.

Bass has been working behind the scenes to line up supporters before filing opens on Tuesday. Some reports have Watson endorsing Bass next week, which would probably scare away some challengers.

After Assemblyman Kevin de Leon lost out on his bid to replace Bass as speaker, he made plans to run for the state Senate seat held by Gilbert Cedillo. It's a swap – Cedillo also faces term limits and wants to return to the Assembly to get a few more years on his state pension.

Election seasons are often used by pols to see if they have the stuff to succeed on a bigger stage. And their colleagues will be watching, eyeing the prospect of even more openings.

With Jerry Brown vacating his spot as state attorney general to seek a reprise of his previous life as governor, District Attorney Steve Cooley has decided to go for it.

He's running for the AG nomination on the Republican side. In case he makes it, there already are local officials having quiet conversations about running for DA. Or City Attorney, should the falling dominoes entice Carmen Trutanich into a race.

L.A. City Council member Janice Hahn is busy running for Lieutenant Governor, which explains why she's been sending out news releases on everything from police deployment in San Pedro to flooded streets.

She has little to no identity outside L.A., so her team of consultants is working to change that.

And who knows what they're doing to try to keep San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom out of the race.

If you can believe it, the current activity isn't limited to 2010 races. City Council member Jan Perry is giving interviews about her ambitions to run for mayor in 2013, when Antonio Villaraigosa is termed out.

In case Villaraigosa doesn't last that long, there's also been a flurry of Rick Caruso items on the politics blogs. Just to keep everyone on their toes.

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