GELFAND’S WORLD - As of this week, Curren Price is now the fourth Los Angeles City Councilman to be charged with a serious felony over the past three years. The city's leaders remarked that it saddened them.
I would have preferred a different reaction. How about angry or outraged? I also came up with another emotion that our elected government ought to be feeling: embarrassed.
But a colleague of mine hit the nail on the head when he suggested that the members of the City Council ought to be ashamed.
Let's cut to the chase. If even I am becoming convinced that there is a culture of corruption within the L.A. City Council, then there is a pretty high likelihood that there is a culture of corruption. This does not mean that every single City Council representative is on the take, but it does mean that they have to be aware that there is a problem. And being aware, they are morally and ethically obligated to put a stop to the criminal behavior. And of course the way to do so is to start looking carefully at big developments and being willing to vote No on the council floor.
Yes, the mayor said she was saddened by the news, and city council representative Nithya Raman also claimed to be saddened.
Imagine the police chief of Casablanca saying to Humphrey Bogart, "I am saddened! Saddened to see that gambling is going on in this establishment!"
Most victims of home invasion robberies don't tell television reporters that they are saddened by the moral failings of the thieves. Do victims of beatings remark on how sad it makes them feel?
The public have every right to be feeling a bit cynical towards the City Council right now.
How could the members of the City Council not know that favors were for sale? Everything about these past four years has indicated the culture of corruption. Was it also a culture of denial? Were the rest of the City Council members blissfully unaware of what Huizar and Englander and Price were doing? Were they wholly unaware of the favors accepted by Mark Ridley-Thomas for his son?
How could they not know?
Perhaps they were somewhat aware but doing their best to look the other way. We grasp for a word to describe such thinking, and the best we can come up with is denial. It couldn't have been a complete denial, considering the criminal charges that worked their way through the courts against Englander and Huizar, but somehow the City Council continued to meet and pass zoning changes out of committee and into law.
And if they honestly don't know, then aren't they also culpable for their own negligence? There's been plenty of discussion, evidence, and criminal court verdicts about favors being for sale. Why didn't they demand that the whole system be gone over with the proverbial fine-toothed comb?
And even suspecting such things, they were morally obligated to say something. They were also ethically obligated to do whatever they could to halt the bad stuff. And if nothing else, that means voting No on corrupt ordinances.
At a slightly higher level, it involves redesigning the system within the City Council so that corrupt dealing is less likely.
By the way, the city might think about the current quandary when it takes up the argument over reforming the city Charter. This might be a time to bring elected neighborhood councils into a process which could put the brakes on uncontrolled favors to developers.
Let's take stock of who's been indicted and who's left.
Indicted: Englander, Huizar, Ridley-Thomas, Price
Embroiled in scandal: Martinez, DeLeon, Cedillo (only DeLeon remaining on Council)
Of the total, five are gone from the City Council, with DeLeon still around. Of the indicted, 3 pled guilty or were convicted, with Price just starting the program.
These are the same people who insist that the rest of us get training in their preferred doctrines.
So let me add one remark about the continuing poor relationship between neighborhood councils and the City Council members: Not to be too sarcastic about it, but these are the same people who have been voting to require me to take training in how to think better thoughts (but without paying me for my time). They want me to take training in implicit bias, a pseudo-scientific approach to behavioral modification. As of this week, I would say that I have a very explicit bias, and it is towards members of the Los Angeles City Council. It doesn't take the workings of some theoretical unconscious mind to recognize group untrustworthiness. Just look at the people sitting along the horseshoe in City Hall.
So here's my next suggestion: Leave my inner thoughts to me, and take care of your own actions. We neighborhood council members are not the ones doing the shake downs of developers or taking their bribes. But the members of the city government ought rightfully to be feeling ashamed of their institution, and they ought to be devoting their efforts to fixing their own self-made problems. And they ought to be leaving the rest of us alone.
Innocent, he claims.
Here's a suggestion to law enforcement and the District Attorney: Price is doing the standard defense strategy by resigning his committee assignments and swearing up and down that he will defend himself against the charges, of which he is more innocent than Donald Trump (I'm paraphrasing here). How about the D.A. offering Price a deal right now: Plead guilty and take a year in prison; otherwise, if you go through the process of showing no remorse (what you are doing right now) we will go for a 5-year sentence.
By the way, I am a classical civil libertarian. Price has every right to defend himself to the full extent that the law sets forth. But I'm not entirely naive. Price has the right to defend himself, but the people have the right to be heard. There should be some significance in the amount of time between the recognition that a crime has occurred and the time when justice is done.
What is frustrating to the public is the way that elected criminals play the innocence tune for three years of dragging things out and then, on the very last day, plead guilty and claim remorse. It seems to me that if they had remorse for their deeds (rather than just for getting caught), they might show some at an earlier time. How about if remorse counts more, the earlier it is expressed?
And likewise, judges shouldn't take too much interest in all that professed remorse when it comes at the time of sentencing.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected])