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Out of the Box

Stephen Box commences run for Council District 4

When the Mayor fell off a bicycle on Venice Boulevard on Sunday and broke his elbow, nearly everyone in the City of Los Angeles who follows politics thought immediately of calling one man in particular for reaction.

"When I'm tagged as 'the bike guy,' I think it's bigger than that," Stephen Box, newly-declared candidate for Council District 4--and recently minted citizen of the USA--told me hours before the incident in which Box was widely sourced and quoted.

Box is an unusual outsider candidate by nearly every measure. Unlike many grassroots candidates, he knows how the city works as well as some elected officials do, and he has worked with as many in it as we might expect a Councilmember to have worked.

He's undaunted by the usual path to Councilmember, the path that either goes through another Council office or through the State Assembly.

"We're electing people who are known for filling potholes," Box says. "If that was working, we wouldn't have the worst streets in the country."

He doesn't discuss issues so much as attack them with rapid-fire multi-paragraph responses that are peppered with excellent sound bites. Get him going on the DWP and they'll come thick and fast: "The DWP should be partners in a community, not occupiers," is one. "Griffith Park is like a DWP backlot," comes another. "Thanks for the glass of water, but..." &c.

It was through his devotion to cycling that Box became interested in both transportation and planning issues. "I was at the conference in which Gail Goldberg and Gloria Jeff pledge that planning and transportation would work together," he says. "They pledged to be joined at the hip. It didn't happen at all. It never even began to happen."

Even so, does Box think there are any Councilmembers or general managers in the City who are doing a good job?

"I think Paul Krekorian is on a steady course. Chief Beck is a good man, true to his word," Box says. Box's work on the cyclist's bill of rights and bringing the spirit of it to law enforcement was conducted on the 20th floor of the Police building downtown. He also likes Bill Robertson of the Bureau of Street Services.

The son of two Church of the Nazarene preachers, Box first came to America when he was seven years old. "I'm probably a registered Nazarene," he says, although he is a devotee of no organized religion nor adherent to any of the local quasi-religious organizations that take root in Los Angeles.

Box, an expert in many arcane elements of State Code and City Ordinance himself, visualizes a Council staff not of obsequious career administrators but of experts.

He has a tiny gold earring in his right earlobe and a USA-Australia pin on the lapel of his blue blazer. That goatee--true billy goat gruff--is he going to keep it?

"I don't know," he says. It is, perhaps, the one thing on which he is indecisive. His steering committee is composed of about twenty people; they are meeting on Sundays; it may come up for discussion.

His own transportation mode of choice is a 27-gear Surly touring bike. He needs a good bike and has two: "I'm cracking frames," he says of the tough miles he puts on his vehicles. He doesn't own a car or even have a license.

Isn't it tough at age fifty-two to huff it through the City, even from his home in Hollywood to City Hall?

"LA on the whole is flat," he says with a laugh.