The March 2011 election is now history. And boy is it history. We seem to have moved on. Election stories have entirely slipped off the homepage. Incumbents are back in their well-stuffed Lay-Z-Boy loungers. Challengers lick their wounds. For voters, the easy work of simply pulling a lever is also behind us…for the barely 12% of registered voters (in City of LA) who even bothered with the polls. Could popular interest sink any lower?
In a cycle marked by a meltdown in Bell and mismanagement, waste, and potential fraud upon the taxpayers by the Los Angeles Community College District Trustees (as alleged in a devastating series in The LA Times), voters were remarkably sanguine. How is a challenger supposed to make an inroad when people tune out?
This was the challenge faced by Stephen Box (left) in Los Angeles City Council district 4 in this incumbent-favored cycle. Going up against Tom LaBonge (below right), the larger-than-life pol seemingly immunized against the details of policy-making, meant that Box – cycling activist extraordinaire and master of policy detail – had to battle sizzle without the stake.
Box and his grassroots team of city government veterans, cyclists, and good-government liberals gave it a good try, though. He bravely stumped from his home base in Hollywood Rent-a-Car, taking his message to neighborhood councils and any media outlet that would listen. He gamely worked the citywide candidate forums, where his policy message could find some air, but in the end found the mountain a bit too steep to climb. He polled only 12%. Together with Tomas O’Grady (30%) the combined take for challengers was 42% to LaBonge’s 55%. The incumbents’ cycle indeed.
Box in many respects was a model candidate: driven to connect, laser-focused on problems, and passionate about solutions. He’s ready for the prime-time political arena; he’s proven himself a valuable and formidable voice for our community by pushing for safety standards and overall demanding a higher level of performance from public agencies.
These are qualities that make for a great activist but the candidate might not be a good fit for politics and the requisite baby-kissing. How would hey play at the horseshoe Downtown? We won’t know…yet. Now that he’s off the stump, we can say that the advocacy community needs him more. Our cycling community is still in need of forward motive power and on that count we’re lucky to still call him our own.
Beverly Hills Election
Beverly Hills shows another side of the problem. Our City Council race was a relative breeze: two seats were open and three challengers took that bait. That left one candidate standing after the music stopped. Not much drama here when not much more than two thousand secures a seat on our august body. (You ran in the wrong city, Box!)
Yet we flubbed the initiatives. Voters overwhelmingly said YES! to two hours of free parking. Had they tuned in to City Council, they’d have learned that we need to plug the already-widening >$1 million parking ops budget hole, not add another several million bucks….all to encourage motorists to drive more, not less. That’s lose-lose. We voters also said NO! to an oil tax, making we the petit bourgeois zero-for-two in popular, progressive, ballot-box policy-making.*
The participation question raises another issue: City Hall fails to connect with residents. Our leaders do a less-than-satisfactory job connecting with us. Even today, after the election, polling data isn’t even listed on or linked from the City Clerk’s page. Forget Gov 2.0! Gov 1.0 is still a challenge here – and our City Clerk just got a performance-for-pay raise!