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Marathon Man

I met Kevin James for coffee at Say Cheese last Saturday. The Mayoral candidate ordered a bagel and barely had time in two hours to finish it.

James is an Asst. US Attorney turned talk radio host and community activist, especially noted for his work with AIDS Project LA, and he does like to talk. You can see he much enjoys doing what he's doing. He can talk about the city from morning--which for James is often around 1 p.m., as he sleeps after wrapping his early-morning talk show--until night when he's earning his livelihood doing so, on KRLA.

My wife showed up over an hour into the talk. Nearing home herself, she thought she might pick me up. She left an hour later, still tapping her foot waiting. She first caught James in mid-sentence and she left him in mid-sentence.

What gave a man who's been out of government for a decade the idea to run for Mayor? Was there a transformational moment?

"I hit it in a lot of moments," James says. "I like going to Larchmont Village. Larchmont has a lot of empty storefronts now. It's looking at those places around the city, that kind of moment, that made me decide to go this route. There's been a lot of them."

Fiscally conservative yet a champion of neighborhood councils--"I don't like them being cut--look at what they're doing for the city in so many places"--James is staking his candidacy on his natural intimacy with voters. "Entrenched officeholders have an extra screen," he says. "They're thinking about the next office. I'm thinking about the city. When I say I want to bring some changes, I mean it. My listeners know I'm willing to do it."

There are a couple of natural adversaries for James; listen to his late night radio show and you'll find out who they are soon enough. Would he say these things at a candidate forum on KCET?

"I would point out--politely..." James grins, of a would-be exchange with Councilwoman Jan Perry. I bring up Controller Wendy Greuel and he uses the same lead-in. "I would point out--again, politely..." He's talking about "the media acting as controller"--and he is also quick to point out that the media do have a valid role (he is quick to credit previous Controller Laura Chick for hastening action on the City's notorious rape kit backlog, for instance).

There's a little joking about how being an Assistant US Attorney, working money laundering, forensic accounting and RICO cases, might have prepared him for the Mayor's office. But in idle moments and spare time, James does enthuse to ponder the dark side of state. He's reading Andrew Bridge's Hope's Boy, for instance, the bestselling harrowing narrative of an orphan's institutional fostering in Los Angeles. The last book he finished was Fox News reporter's Chris Blatchford's Black Hand, about the workings of the contemporary Mexican Mafia.

Led on a little bit about whether City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has been a disappointment, James is unwilling to distance himself from his favored City Attorney candidate. He notes that Trutanich has given lots of power to "line" attorneys--career city attorneys who may not have had as much leeway to prosecute under Hahn and Delgadillo.

A marathon runner with an easy laugh, James is actually quite fit and has taken the barbs this blog has sent him about being a "pasty white guy" in complete good-natured stride. He already has a few stock phrases of his own that are meant to perk up voters' ears. He calls the middle class "the silent backbone" of Los Angeles; he talks of "patchwork planning." A couple of times, he notes that the city did not get "a thoughtful process" in various Council debates. His public often "deserves honesty" more than he thinks it's receiving it.

James has been quick to observe the social impact of three strikes on crime rates, and would like to shape a public school policy around removing delinquent children from "ordinary" schools after infractions, and giving them "specialized" schooling. Whether James has in mind modified detention or a public school gulag does not seem fleshed out yet.

An episcopalian, when James attends church he does so at St. Thomas the Apostle. He lives on Paul Koretz's side of Laurel Canyon with a rescued dog. He was raised in Oklahoma. My wife liked him a lot more than she thought she might.