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Absolutely Sincere

Time to get moving...blogdowntown's Eric Richardson

Eric Richardson takes blogdowntown to print, bigtime

It's hard to imagine getting in touch with a public relations firm to reach editors like Jerry Sullivan, Drex Heikes or Deborah Vankin. But the best way to get through to Eric Richardson these days is through his pr guy.

"I think what we're doing is really interesting," Richardson, editor and publisher of blogdowntown Weekly, says. "I'm doing a million things right now. The pr firm is not that big a deal."

Nor do you find Richardson in the kind of offices you usually encounter when a publicist sets things up. In a spartan dead-zone space up a too-steep staircase above a print shop's composing room in downtown's old Portsmouth Hotel--now a mixed-use apartment building with security cameras--Richardson sits contently with an industrial relic of a desk, a Powerbook, cabinets in a corner, and no frills at all.

"Yeah. This is it. It's temporary," he says.

For five-and-a-half years, Richardson's labor of love blogdowntown has fairly run his life. Richardson and his wife, a teacher at an LA Green Dot charter school, recently returned from a vacation in London with fresh ideas for his coming venture. Now she's asked to indulge a little more as Richardson, still only 27, prepares for the ride of his life, entering the cutthroat and high-stakes world of print journalism. His startup paper, called blogdowntown Weekly arrives downtown August 4.

blogdowntown as a website has achieved a sturdy critical mass of readers, but it isn't known for rocking too many boats downtown. In the print world, however, blogdowntown Weekly will compete with some weeklies such as Brand X, Downtown News, L.A. Weekly that often offer sharp critiques of city government, commercial enterprises, and even on occasion each other.

"We've thought a lot about this," Richardson says. "We're mostly calendar and lifestyle, but of course there's news and opinion. I've always tried to open a forum for discussion and then let people decide. In print, there are no follow-up discussion in blog comments. We're going to have to take harder editorial lines. We will be a bit more opinionated."

Planning's impact on housing and especially affordable housing is a leading issue downtown, and Richardson doesn't part company from downtown Councilmembers Jan Perry and Jose Huizar on these issues very much. "You know, it's so hard for developers to build anything, you really need some subsidies, otherwise you're just going to get a bunch of luxury buildings," he says. But he also thinks that local government has devoted too much time to rehabilitating Skid Row.

It's noted that the venture's initial press release featured a quote from Carol Schatz, whose Central City Association is a de facto chamber of commerce for the Central City, even above a quote from the editor himself. Do they have a special relationship?

"Uh, no. I mean, I've known her for four or five years," Richardson says. "We agree sometimes and we disagree too. She doesn't hesitate to tell me when she disagrees with something. Often I come down on their [the CCA's] side but certainly not always."

Richardson negotiated some "key advertising" deals in the runup to his launch, including with LA Live's residential side and the projects Regal Cinemas, but denies the new venture has any backers per se. He says he did not take on either backers or a loan out to launch the business at this level: three staffers on current payroll and one anticipated, and a launch of 25,000, guaranteeing a minimum of 16 pages a week.

25,000? It's noted that downtown's Garment & Citizen launched with 3,000 and never printed more than 10,000 in ten years.

"You have to come in big enough to give value to the advertising," he says.

Lately the single greatest issue that has occupied Richardson's mind, however, is how to distribute without either newsracks or a distributor on board. He began a conversation with CD4 candidate Stephen Box on Facebook (both are big on social media) exploring the possibility of distributing blogdowntown Weekly by bicycle. A week later, he's still doing the math and...

Wait. Are you sincere about this, Eric?

"Oh, we're absolutely sincere," he says enthusiastically. He offers a rundown on the bikes ('big Dutch-style bikes") and talks about five sub-distribution points. He is sincere. He has to be, because without newsstands he's obliged to drop issues at merchants during office and store hours.

It's obvious that Richardson is a blog-oriented guy, but he professes to enjoy the print-side efforts of Cara Di Massi and David Zahniser. On the blog side, he says he has a great online relationship with Zach Behrens and likes what he's done at LAist.

What about Tony Pierce?

"When Tony was at LAist, it would be all TV and bands," Richardson laughs. "I mean, he was good at getting traffic to the site, but it wasn't what I connected to."

Stepping Out

Eyeing a road less traveled on Traction.

Jerry Sullivan wraps the
Garment & Citizen, explores another road

"Wow--just right up there, huh?" Jerry Sullivan says, sitting outside at the Novel Cafe on Traction, after the smoke from a medical marijuana cigarette wafts from a nearby table to our own.

Everyone laughs, the toker at the next table too.

To Sullivan, the man almost always seen sporting a straw-colored reporter's fedora, taking an interest in the guy at the next table is part of his natural bonhomie and and part of his journalistic survival kit. For over ten years, as the hat became one of downtown's best-known landmarks, Sullivan made it a point to pay attention to what others on his periphery were up to.

One of the strategies of his Los Angeles Garment & Citizen, which said farewell to its devoted readers just last week, was to hone in not only politicians and civic figures, but also workers, immigrants, delivery people, people who brought sandwiches to offices, and even the dispossessed.

The special esteem for the lives of workers was tempered as early in Sullivan's own life. He is the son of a Chicago steelworker who came to the Inland Empire to work in a steel plant when Sullivan was fourteen. After high school in California, Sullivan returned to the midwest, attending Marquette University, a Jesuit college in blue-collar Milwaukee, to study journalism ("and history and a minor in philosophy" he adds).

The Jesuits refined his concern for social justice matters, and some of Sullivan's first jobs in journalism anticipated his later days as a publisher. A gig at AdWeek ("An eye-opener," Sullivan says, noting how impressed he was with the way the publication competed with Advertising Age) was complemented by one at the National Catholic Reporter, where Sullivan fell under the spell of legendary journalist Arthur Jones. But it was a late-nineties general-interest magazine piece that gave Sullivan the impetus to start his own publication--and he knew right where to do it.

"I read this old New Yorker story on the success of The Jewish Forward," says the Catholic-schooled Sullivan. "It had a circulation of 100,000. I was thinking of it the whole time I was at California Apparel News. I thought of how the garment district is ground zero for demographic trends, immigration communities, labor communities, the kind of people who shaped The Jewish Forward's success in the early twentieth century."

Sullivan founded the Garment & Citizen in 2000 with no investors and an initial run of 3,000 on 8 1/2 x 11 paper. He decided to call his paper the Garment & Citizen because he believed that the paper would quickly become either garment-district oriented or community oriented, and his readers would dictate which. It became the latter.

The paper went to newsprint and crept up in distribution through the early part of the decade, reaching 10,000 in 2006, maintaining that level when it ceased publication last week. Along the way, the free community paper acquired 50 newsstands and 150 distribution points. And while the paper serviced the downtown community at large, its editor also remained constantly aware of the business and labor trends of the industry that originally captivated his imagination.

Blue Skies & Sunshine--Sullivan in front of a rolldown mural.

"The industry hasn't been vertical for a long time," Sullivan says of the garment business. He says that he's admired the way American Apparel has brought verticality back to the business, and that's now the exception rather than the rule. "Now they're even manufacturing their own fabric," he says.

Noting the changing landscape of downtown journalism, he's not quick to speculate on where it will be even in the short term. He's not especially impressed with blogdowntown's jump into the fire of the print world, and wonders if the publication can maintain an appropriate journalistic distance from downtown's power brokers when noted downtown figures like Carol Schatz, Jan Perry and Jose Huizar all are quoted in the startup's first press release. "Who's backing them might become interesting," Sullivan says. Conversely, he thinks the LA Weekly has a great business model and does a decent journalistic job. "They raise doubt just enough," he says.

His last issue of the Garment & Citizen featured some intimate writing, even about Sullivan's family, that didn't ordinarily appear in the paper. "I'm not sentimental as a newspaper editor or columnist, but I am a sentimental person," he says. Even as we sit and talk, Sullivan fields a call from a well-wisher; moments later another one, this one an artist, passes on the street and gives him a warm embrace.

The future is an open road for Sullivan, who at 48 has spent over twenty years in the trade. He has a couple of consulting arrangements already underway. And he'll apply the same personal dictum to his new life that he did to the nascent days of the Garment & Citizen.

"Don't dream too specifically," Sullivan laughs.

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.

Swept Away

Moore points north...

"You're from Wayist? I love Wayist!" good-natured pasty-white-guy Kevin James told yours truly between innings at Clean Sweep, a town-hall-styled meeting dedicated to removing Councilmembers from office in 2011 and replacing them with grassroots candidates.

Over a hundred citizens including media types, one former Mayor, and many hyperlocal political organizers crowded the Mayflower Club on Victory Saturday afternoon to attend in knockout Valley heat that frazzled the wispy blond raggmop atop sportcoat-sporting Doug McIntyre's heat-flushed head.

Mayor Dick Riordan warmed the crowd with an old joke that flaunted his own senility.

Just before the Valley meeting, political consultant Mike Trujillo issued a denunciation of Walter Moore that event organizer Ron Kaye termed "an apparent try at a pre-emptive strike that only indicated they're worried." He countered Trujillo's charge that Moore is anti-Latino by pointing out how well Latinos were represented at the event.

Moore himself told the audience that "It will be important not to run any kooks" and also confessed to being nonplussed by the heat in the crowded hall.

John Thomas, a surprise on the program, who easily sported the best suit in the room possibly by a factor of ten, asked that the crowd not hold the fact that he's a political consultant against him. He will lend assistance to the nascent movement.

But the biggest story of the afternoon was the enthusiasm of the folks in the seats, some from neighborhood councils, some from blogs and newsletters, some from community organizations, who came and gladly contributed $20 in hope that the same kind of effort that led to the defeat of Measure B two years ago might make LA's City Council a different place next March.

"It felt different than one of those neighborhood council congresses," one noted to me after the event. "It had far more of a pulse. People really believe now that there's a chance something can be done about the corruption in City Hall."

Mayoral Aide Lashes out at Moore

Political consultant and longtime Villaraigosa aide Mike Trujillo has released to select media a stunning letter regarding Walter Moore's involvement with Clean Sweep L.A.

The Villaraigosa team has long fretted about Moore's popularity in the Valley, but never before has anyone associated with it so directly engaged in a political attack of Moore.

The text of the letter follows.
Does “Clean Sweep” mean no more Latinos in Los Angeles?

At 1pm today Ron Kaye and his supporters will be launching what they describe as a big grassroots effort that will work to serve the residents of Los Angeles better – and he should be applauded for that.

But underneath the surface appears a more menacing agenda which should be noted by all who follow Los Angeles politics.

If you have been following Ron Kaye’s efforts to organize groups and organizations across the city you will notice its consistently the same players who are angry or upset at something the City has done, but today at their unveiling he will have several speakers from organizations that don’t usually attend the SLAP meetings that Ron Kaye has been organizing. In fact, most of the speakers today weren’t even in attendance at their kick-off organizing meeting in April (see video).

Yet, one person who was in attendance was Walter Moore – also one of the main speakers at today’s event. Walter was not only in attendance but sort of leading the class by taking down their ideas and giving them tips on how best to organize themselves. (Again see video clip above)

Who is Walter Moore?

Walter Moore is an attorney and a former two-time Mayoral candidate in the city of Los Angeles – neither of which are bad things.

However, when one looks at the positions and stances that Walter has taken, one has to begin to ask if this is a consistent view held by a majority of the Clean Sweep supporters and Ron Kaye himself.

In this clip Walter Moore highlights all of the signs and billboards in Spanish (which is ironic since billboard companies are part of Walter’s attorney client list). Walter complains that the billboards not being in English is somehow a sign that the City is deteriorating.

In another clip Walter shows you how many Spanish language radio stations serve the Los Angeles media market and while he doesn’t say anything in the clip – he does post this on the you tube site to describe the video “"If you don't live in L.A., you may not realize how far the Mexican invasion of our country has progressed. This video shows you how many Spanish-language radio stations we have."

So far both videos show Walter having a very anti-Latino view of the world. Many of those radio stations are listened to and enjoyed by many American citizens and even non-Latinos, but don’t tell Walter that.

Next up, Walter then gives a video essay on how he believes we are at war with Mexico.

In this 9-minute gem Walter exposes a hidden plot by the Mexican government to take over the Los Angeles region with people of Mexican descent – now while this totally untrue, you wouldn’t get that impression by listening to Walter.

Now if you read Ron Kaye’s blog you will see that he is a master at researching and uncovering items about people in Los Angeles the average computer user might miss, so I have a question for the main organizer of the Clean Sweep movement.

Did you know these were Walter Moore’s racist views before you asked him to speak today? Or maybe you did but figured his positions were politically acceptable and not akin to David Duke and the KKK so it was ok to have him placed prominently in your group?

Just wondering…

Michael Trujillo – a former Valley resident who doesn’t get why anyone would be in the same room with Walter Moore and legitimize his views?
Stay tuned. More later today.

All Sugar

LA politics guy Mike Trujillo sweet talks yours truly

"I'll go all sugar," Mike Trujillo tells the barista at Cafe Casbah in Silver Lake. The thirty-one-year-old Democratic specialist orders a chocolate chip cookie and a Coke. He's reviving himself from a five-hour poker session the night before.

"I don't know why some people have me figured out a certain way," Trujillo tells me when we sit down. "I'm a nice guy."

Trujillo has been interested in politics since fourth grade, when he told his mother to punch the ballot for Dukakis and not George H. W. Bush. He got his start in politics when he was thinking of doing a special project at Birmingham High School in NoHo. His school went for a political special study project and he ended up not merely contacting Richard Alarcon's then-California Senate office, but working for the office.

Along the way, Trujillo went to work for Antonio Villaraigosa when he ran against Nick Pacheco, and then again when he ran for Mayor successfully. He's also worked for Hillary Clinton's enormous 2008 effort that came up just short, Rob Reiner when the actor/producer backed an education initiative, and Janice Hahn, who he says has among the best political instincts on Council.

"I've been lucky," Trujillo says of his career to date. "I mean, Rob Reiner is one of the funniest people in America, and Hillary is one of the smartest for sure, and I've worked for both of them."

He enjoys reminiscing about the crazy nascent days of the MayorSam blog. He hadn't met Michael Higby before he started contributing himself, but he already knew Brian Hay.

"It was this shiny new thing then," he says of blogging's relationship to politics in 2004 and 2005. "Now it's a part of the mix but then nobody had any idea how it was going to end up." Trujillo knew that Times writers were scouring MayorSam comments for leads on stories, and used that as a tactic himself to point writers to stories he thought served his clients' interest.

Trujillo's grandfather ran one of the oldest Latino-owned businesses in Los Angeles, a gravel and construction company in Pacoima. "Back then, if your family was Latino, your business was in Pacoima. And they would barter," Trujillo tells me. "He might throw up a cinderblock wall and if the client couldn't pay cash, he would accept payment in, say, chickens."

When the topic turns to the politics of Los Angeles today, Trujillo also considers himself lucky. He helped the Valley Vote effort that caused the city fits in the early part of the decade, a position that doesn't jibe well with his current set. But he's obviously a good distance away from Ron Kaye, who was one of the leading secessionist proponents at the time.

"I don't think people know how much of an anarchist Ron is," Trujillo says.