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Times tips its hand re candidate coverage

One of several stealth candidates, Tomas O'Grady.

Since the last mayor's race and the cone of media silence descended on those who opposed Antonio Villaraigosa, many political consultants have wondered, sometimes aloud, exactly what criteria the Times uses for determining which races and which candidates receive coverage and which ones don't.

Some consultants and candidates have begged the former fishwrap of record for a formula. "Just tell us what the criteria is, and I'll meet it!" one frustrated candidate complained to me in 2009.

In today's otherwise pablum piece on the coming civic elections, the Times may have let the formula out of the chest. The criteria appears to be a measure of fundraising, and fundraising alone. And it appears to be a very high bar to pass: namely, a third of the amount of the leading candidate.
By contrast, the only fireworks so far in the City Council races have been in the 14th District of Jose Huizar. Self-financed candidate Rudy Martinez has been able to remain competitive with Huizar's fundraising efforts while arguing that he could be a more effective advocate for the district, which includes portions of downtown and stretches through Boyle Heights and north to Eagle Rock.

The only race without an incumbent — the one involving the northwest San Fernando Valley 12th District seat now held by retiring Councilman Greig Smith — might have proved more dramatic, but Smith's top deputy, Mitchell Englander, has netted endorsements from nearly every council member while amassing almost $443,988 in his treasury. His closest opponent has raised $33,915.

So Rudy Martinez, who has raised about 50% of what Huizar has raised, gets a mention, but Brad Smith, who has raised under a 10% of what Englander has raised, does not. Neither, however, does Tomas O'Grady, who has to date raised almost 25% of what Tom LaBonge is spending. Nor does Stephen Box rate a mention at the Times, who has raised less money than O'Grady but who has a fully-staffed campaign headquarters on Hollywood Boulevard.

To suggest that "the only fireworks in the City Council races" have taken place in CD 14 strikes us as limited at best and disingenuous at worst. There have been in CD 14 is to ignore, for starters, two of my own most widely read items this month: Brad Smith's departure and re-emergence within the CD 12 race, which may have been forced by the Englander campaign's bullying of Smith through actions taken at Smith's workplace. Smith is now on a Leave of Absence from his employer to address his campaign exclusively. And O'Grady took the battle for Barnsdall Art Park to the south lawn of City Hall, where he received extensive media coverage, as he did on Veteran's Day when promoting a veteran's issue in his district.

Maeve Reston's ballot synopsis, while fairly accurate even if titled towards big money candidates, will otherwise make your headache. It suggests ballot measures rather than candidates will be top on the minds of voters March 8, and talks more about what Councilmembers have stakes in the measures than about the measures themselves. I don't see it that way; I don't think Council races, School Board races, or ballot measures will drive the voters out, making it every man and woman for themselves, and leaving the ballot measures a tremendous crap-shoot, ultimately determined by the bluehaired homeowners, neighborhood watch people, and union members that work for their own local candidates.

But more pointedly, if you wonder why there is always under 20% turnout for stand-alone civic elections not involving a Mayoral race, coverage like this is certainly one reason.

Each one of these Council Districts is populated by about as many people as live in Pittsburgh. The races deserve more than the usual cone of media silence in which the Times envelops challenger candidates.