Moses left, Goldberg right.
I haven't sorted everything out yet, either. But the question I've put to a dozen or so people in the past week---the one that seems most vital to the political life of the City--- is, How did this happen? How is it that the Mayor is not running for Governor, after arcing his whole Mayoralty towards doing so?
Last year, when street-hassle began, the Mayor was not only poised to run for Governor, he was the leading Democratic candidate for the office. This week, we learned that not only had he fallen precipitously behind Jerry Brown in public opinion, he was no longer even in a position to run.
When you press people on the question, they find it hard to explain without citing a few obvious and yet incongruent names: Jill Stewart, Ron Kaye, Jon Regardie, Michael Higby, Greg Nelson, Joe Barrett, Abby Diamond, all the candidates who ran against him for Mayor, and perchance yours truly; an unlikely mix, but one which crossed the political spectrum from far right to far left and with lots of representation especially in the middle. (And the fact that all the more obvious names belong to Anglos is also telling, as over half of these voted for the Mayor in 2005; a recent poll indicated that it is among Anglos that the Mayor's approval rating has most precipitously declined.) Beyond these names, other people in print and broadcast media alike, most notably at our daily newspapers, failed to give the Mayor anything other than a free pass; and their organizations witnessed a parallel decline throughout this time.
The short and best answer to the question How did this happen? is, of course, the Mayor did this to himself. Not only do we see the result of four years of his vision for Los Angeles daily in the way congestion has increased and yet rents have stayed far too high for longtime residents even while the Mayor has continued to promise to deliver more "affordable housing." Not only has the Mayor's touting of better crime statistics been successfully dismissed as "stepping on an escalator and taking credit for the movement." In addition to all this, two extramarital affairs with telegenic broadcasters have proven one too many for the public to stomach.
I hear now that the Mayor is a student of LaGuardia, the popular people's Mayor of New York for many years. I am told he has read LaGuardia biographies. If so, he must have necessarily encountered the name of Robert Moses many, many times, usually in the role of enabler of one vast civic project or another.
Moses may have been a recreation chief by title, but he was really New York's burser. Given as much, the book for the Mayor to read is not a breezy LaGuardia biography, but Robert A. Caro's Pulitzer Prize winning The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York. And he should read it as a cautionary tale.
Caro's book, which everyone was reading when I arrived in New York City in 1975, paints Moses consistently as an all-powerful villain, the man who would, say, would tear down the Victorian-era Casino in Central Park and also turn the Tavern on the Green's park into a parking lot out of pure political spite. Long Island's hopeless congestion is certainly the product of Moses.
None of these things are good, but they look frighteningly like Villaraigosa's vision for Los Angeles, especially as implemented by his amateur planning chief, Gail Goldberg. To the Mayor, Goldberg, and City Council President Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles is a place they insist should keep growing "smart" even as it grows increasingly kleptocratic and increasingly less affordable for its longtime poor and middle class citizens.
If the Villaraigosa mayoralty has a tragic flaw, it is this: people from elsewhere are always shown favor over people who are already here. This fact is something the Mayor himself needs to contemplate as he approaches his second swearing in.
Does our present Mayor, now faced with a do-over term, having accomplished so little in his first, have a reverse-Moses in pocket, someone who can lead the City not to the brink of economic ruin (which it faced all through the 1970's) but to less congestion, more affordability, and a better life for its longtime loyal citizens?
Not with the likes of Gail Goldberg in the Moses slot.
An amateur dabbler in planning from the vast retirement community of San Diego who took up planning in mid-life and whose task was to please any and every developer who found herself at a planning counter, Goldberg has no political backbone, nor even a good grasp of human needs. Recently, she even had to capitulate on an edict she issued to her own Department, in which she ordered Planning to arrive at work at the same time and take lunch at the same time. Imagine---the City's planning chief, forgetting about the needs of families, of daycare, of the needs of ordinary workers and commuters!
I have long documented the problem of Villaraigosa's choice of a cheap-beer-swilling, know-nothing political tool rather than a real political power player at the Planning Department's top seat. But as there is no LaGuardia without a coffer-stuffer like Moses, who could alienate rich and poor alike, there will never be, say, a Port Villaraigosa with the likes of Goldberg---an amateur Moses, one of three out-of-towners the Mayor's team brought in to say yes to developers rather than to execute real power. (The failures of the other two, Boks of NYC and Jeff of Detroit, have already been duly noted and they have already been dispatched).
As the Mayor enters his second term, he must change many courses, including in his own personal life. But most of all, he must change the course of the City's Planning Department as developer's doormat. He must make it a place from which LA serves would-be builders not as a grateful and obliging handmaiden but with a firm and rational sense of real civitas. Thus far, his vision for LA has emphatically failed, and the City's planning department, which has made LA far too much of an absentee-owner town in every sense, is the greatest expression of this failure.
° ° ° ° °
As I stated earlier this week: the work here is done. With the announcement that the Mayor will not be running for Governor, street-hassle's raison d'etre has all but evaporated.
In recent weeks, as this result became obvious, the site has gravitated towards something less civic and more bookchatty.
A writer possessed of even the most modest of political agency should enjoy hassling politicans from time to time, but less so bookchatterers, whose lives are harder and sins less egregious. So I've launched another site, a quieter one called minor arcana, which will focus on my own interests in life as a contemporary reader of books, reviews, and some bookchatty periodicals.
I hope to take street-hassle offline sooner rather than later, as soon as I am convinced that all who read this site have a chance to learn of the other one. It may be a matter of days. Debbie and I both thank you for reading this site over the past year.