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Box, O'Grady put LaBonge on the run in Silver Lake

One of them is all head and the other is all heart. One has a polite soundbite for every civic situation, the other wags his finger and gets his Irish up. One is the outsider candidate on the inside, and the other can't stand bullshit, lays less than politic statements on the line, and says, "OK?" Together, as they demonstrated again tonight at a candidate forum in Silver Lake, challengers Stephen Box and Tomas O'Grady have found a way to hold Councilman Tom LaBonge's feet to the fire, and often make him sound like a waffling equivocator even before people he has known for decades.

The past--and monstrous City deficits, with a spending record to match--is catching up with Tom LaBonge, and it's harder for him to divorce himself from it. Meanwhile, the Neighborhood Council system has been producing progressively more talented candidates, more familiar with the plurality of civic issues that encompass a Council District.

O'Grady is one of these. He also has had successes at King Middle School that he thinks can translate into success as a Councilman. He's not a politician, he's more of a fighter, and shows no signs of becoming the former. He'll remind the audience that one of every five kids in LA uses an inhaler, or that the Councilman may make $180K a year but with 70K homeless here he'll only accept half of that. He is the candidate most tapped into our civic shames.

Box has been a one-man lobbyist for the City's cyclists, traffic mitigation, Neighborhood Councils, and LA's outsider on the inside. He'll remind the audience that a phalanx of City administrators missed the omission of a Department of Neighborhood Council operating budget, until it got to Stephen Box.

Eliminate the CRA? Box and O'Grady say sure, let's do it. They both have dozens of anecdotes about its failures around town. LaBonge won't commit: "Everything is on the table" and talks of CRA successes in Hollywood, how the CRA paid for a light on Hillhurst and how Jerry Brown lived on Lucile.

Support Neighborhood Councils? Box and O'Grady say they're too vital, they deserve even more funding. LaBonge says "Everything is on the table."

How about development in Griffith Park? "No way, I love the Park," says LaBonge. O'Grady reminds him that somehow a hotel appeared in the Master Plan.

Those homophobic signs that say "No Cruising" on Griffith Park Boulevard? Tear them down, Box and O'Grady say. Tom LaBonge makes some jokes about how the people looking for love are from out of town, and how we need to talk to the neighbors about what to do.

Illegal billboards? Tom LaBonge thinks the problem is fixed with the new City Attorney. Box and O'Grady think the problem is that the City doesn't fix things on its own, and needs to be coerced to do so.

Reel in the DWP? O'Grady wants a greater effort on home-generated solar, Box has confidence in the new chief, and Tom LaBonge ducks the question.

For years and years, incumbents in Los Angeles have reaped benefits from their intimate knowledge of how City departments work. Thanks especially to the Neighborhood Council system, there are now people who know how the City works nearly as well as Councilmembers. The advantages of incumbency are eroding, and they may even soon disappear. If not this election cycle, next.