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Kevin James anchors his outsider narrative

Opinion: The pitchfork people across the City already like Kevin James. His initiative to make part timers of City Councilmembers appeals to his constituency--but as of yet few others. Now he needs to hammer away on specific civic fiascoes--like the recent Sunset Junction Malfunction--as tangible exemplars of failure in civic government, and to give his initiative legs.

There are a lot of folks across the City who naturally cotton to Kevin James and his "throw the bums out" message that also resonates with various reactionary LA subsets. But James' initiative to make part-timers of City Councilmembers may yet, as presented by James, be a little too rich for ordinary voters to swallow. He doesn't need statistics so much as he needs memorable civic events to make his narrative stick in the minds of the public as a real reform measure.

If the public were outraged by mere fiscal statistics, we would have already brought Charter-level change to Los Angeles. It is indeed occasionally outraged by salaries, but I believe Council has excellent counter-arguments to James: for instance, to suggest that Council offices don't work full days when we see them taking meetings at nights and doing events on weekends doesn't help James' position. Nor does the fact that each Councilmember represents a district that's nearly the size of St. Louis or Pittsburg, without sub-councils of its own from which to draw.

James, who can run a little long at the tooth (which is OK in a politician--Clinton famously could as well) would be well served by lasering in on specific Council fiascoes that are part of recent collective memory.

A longstanding AIDS Project LA vet, James is a natural, for instance, to go toe-to-toe against Garcetti and City Hall over the recent Sunset Junction Malfunction. The way Garcetti staffers and several City Hall voices have whitewashed the history of the Street Fair itself is easy to demonstrate and inspires anger and outrage in many communities outside of the two-mile zone of the Junction.

Far from a blissful, harmonious community event through the eighties, SJ erred on the ACT UP style of activism in the 1980s and 1990's--and the real legacy of the fair should not be abandoned out of political expedience. One community resident told me yesterday that when she took her kids to the Street Fair, she was mocked as a "breeder," for instance. She told me that indeed, even in the early days, most parents decided to keep their kids away, which is consistent with my own memories of SJ's nascent years. It was only privatization of the Fair--which brought greater crowd control, but also entry fees--that made it more family-oriented.

Nobody in the Mayor's race is better positioned to tell this story better than Kevin James. And if James crusades against the City on this issue and Sunset Junction indeed comes back last year--it would only look like a win for Kevin James.

The James initiative may or may not collect steam, but it will certainly tie his candidacy to an outsider narrative going forward. His effort needs fewer statistics and more specifics: more instances of civic failure that are tied not to figures, but to civic memory.