Thu, May

Charters, the City Council, and the 2024 CD14 Election Follies

THE EASTSIDER - We have certainly had Councilmembers more corrupt than Kevin De Leon in CD14 (witness Jose Huizar), but I’ve never seen one more controversial and capable of generating more negative media coverage than Kevin. 

So here we are only halfway through 2023, and the field of wolves looking to take him down is already growing. It is a curious facet of politics that potential rivals can scent blood in the political water faster than a shark finds a wounded fish. It should be a fascinating story to follow.

Sorry for the mixed metaphor, but I don’t get paid :-) 

The Tangled History of the LA City Charter

Unlike many jurisdictions, Los Angeles politicians love to manipulate the City Charter for personal advantage. It makes for a confusing history. So let’s go back to 1991, and a City Council member named Ruth Gallanter.  She was an environmentalist, progressive, and was on the LA City Council from 1987 to 2003. 

Here is a teaser from Ruth’s  article in Citywatch. It’s a great read, and you can find it here. 

“The 1990 campaign for State legislative term limits, led by LA County Supervisor and former Assemblyman Pete Schabarum, a Republican, was primarily to knock Willie Brown, Democrat from San Francisco, out of the Assembly Speakership. Brown was impregnable in regular elections, but a statewide Good Government measure that would oh-so-coincidentally take Willie Brown out of Sacramento offered a tempting alternative.  Sold as “reform,” the ballot measure picked up support from good government organizations as well as groups who just prefer less government over-all.   

Proponents had no trouble painting the opposition as “just those people who want to stay in office forever.” The ballot measure passed.  

At the City of Los Angeles, the 1991 term limits campaign was bought and paid for by a local attorney, Richard Riordan. Riordan, who planned to run for mayor in 1993, was active in insider political circles but unknown to ordinary voters. 

Taking advantage of a peculiarity of city election laws which, thanks to an earlier “reform” measure, limited contributions to campaigns for council candidates but set no limit on contributions to ballot measure campaigns, and with the popularity of “throw the bastards out” firmly established by the statewide vote, Riordan bankrolled a city ballot initiative limiting all city elected officials to two four-year terms.  He also starred in the radio commercials. Voters approved this “reform” measure too, and in the 1993 mayoral election, Riordan touted himself as “the man who brought you term limits.”   

LA City Politics and Charter Changes

The Charter Ruth described has seen significant changes since her article, not always for the better. 

A while ago I revisited the political implications Ruth wrote about in 1991. Of course in the interim there were other Charter Amendments. Her observations, however, were spot on. Here’s an excerpt. from my 2018 post. 

”So, let’s take a look at the 2001 City Council Elections, by which time virtually all the incumbents were termed out. 

In CD1, Mike Hernandez was the old guard (for a decade), and Ed Reyes became the new guy on the block. In CD 14, it was a little more complicated. There, Nick Pacheco was headed into his second term, when along came an outsider named Antonio Villaraigosa, who unseated him in the 2003 election. 

Finally, in our own CD13, Jackie Goldberg termed out in 2001. What we got was our very own Mayor-in-waiting, Eric Garcetti, who won the seat and remained from 2001-2013. He also served as Council President from 2006-2012. After Garcetti became Hiz Honor, he was replaced by a key staff member, Mitch O’Farrell. 

The reason that I don’t get into boundary issues for these three seats is that they fundamentally changed after the City Council adjusted the districts in 2012, subsequent to the 2010 census. For our purposes, however, the global boundaries remained mostly the same, with the exception of God’s Gift to the Eastside Jose Huizar’s power grab for the Downtown LA business corridor; a source of money which may well have contributed to his recent legal troubles. 

Moving to more recent times, the latest set of Councilmembers pretty clearly shows the effects of “professional politicians” in Northeast LA. Witness Jose Huizar, Antonio Villaraigosa, and Gil Cedillo.”  

Of course no politician likes term limits, so  there was another significant Charter Amendment effective 2000.  This one  limited the Mayor, the City Attorney, and the Controller to two terms, but extended the term for a City Councilmember to 3 terms. Of course how to treat incumbents got messy, and in the “New LA City Charter” we have the following definition of term limits: 

Sec. 206. Term Limits.

No person may serve more than two terms of office as Mayor. No person may serve more than two terms of office as City Attorney. No person may serve more than two terms of office as Controller. No person may serve more than three terms of office as member of the City Council. These limitations on the number of terms of office shall apply only to terms of office that began on or after July 1, 1993. These limitations on the number of terms of office shall not apply to any unexpired term to which a person is elected or appointed if the remainder of the term is less than one-half of the full term of office. For purposes of this Section, the term of office of officials elected in 2015 and 2017 as described in Section 205(b) shall count as one term. 

Of course how to handle the terms of office themselves, we wound up wit the following crystal clear language: 

Sec. 205. Term of Office. 

   (a)   The Mayor, City Attorney, Controller and members of the Council shall hold their offices for a term of four years except as provided in subsection (b).

   (b)   Notwithstanding any other provision of the Charter, in order to transition to new election dates starting in 2020, members of the Council elected in 2015 shall be elected for a term expiring in December 2020 and the Mayor, City Attorney, Controller and members of the Council elected in the year 2017 shall be elected for a term expiring in December 2022. 

   (c)   The term of an official elected to City office shall commence on the first day of July next following his or her election until the year 2020. Beginning in the year 2020, the term of an official elected to City office shall commence on the second Monday in December next following his or her election. 

   (d)   Except where a vacancy in office is created pursuant to Section 207 of the elected and appointed offices shall hold office until their successors have qualified.”

 Whew!  If all this is giving you a headache, there is a wonderful article by the Los Angeles Times on the 20th anniversary of the “new” Charter. You can find it here, and it’s well worth the read. 

The Intro to the Times piece:

“In June 1999, Los Angeles voted to remake itself. It replaced its 1925 city charter — which was then reputedly the source of all the city’s civic woes — with a brand new set of rules.

The promised reforms were mighty and conflicting: Put neighborhoods in charge of their own destiny. Make the mayor more powerful and accountable. Put some punch in L.A.’s notoriously low-key politics. Sweep away the peculiarities that have made L.A. a pipsqueak politically compared with New York, Chicago and even tiny San Francisco.” 

It makes political history in the City very confusing,and I have no doubt that the confusion is deliberate. 

And Then There Is the 2024 Version of Kevin

Enough History. Moving forward to 2020, readers of this column know that I have never been a fan of Kevin De Leon, as he represents just another establishment Dem carpetbagger from the Sacramento Legislature. I even wrote a column about two great local women who ran against him without enough money.  You can see a snippet: 

“My point is, we in Northeast LA pretty much have top down democratic establishment candidates foisted on us, already loaded with big donor support/funds. Antonio, Kevin De Leon, Jimmy Gomez, it all starts to blur.” 

Here is the real problem with any of our politicians who get into the California Legislature, and then do their two terms in the Assembly & Senate, and it is not unique to Kevin De Leon. 

For as long as they are in Sacramento, they are beset by those who want something, be it a piece of the huge budget, or some special interest favor and/or legislation. To accomplish this goal, the Capitol is awash in lobbyists, money, and ass-kissing that can be only found here and in Washington DC. 

In short, they enjoy over a decade of being treated as a “very important person’. Then, suddenly, these soon to be termed out legislators must start looking around for their next job. And there aren’t a lot of those jobs available that would confer status equal to that which they have become accustomed. 

So, after losing to Dianne Feinstein, Kevin was faced with the default of running for CD14 on the heels of his old buddy Jose Huizar. The good part is that it pays a lot of money. The bad part is, truth to tell, being a City Council member does not confer the status of doing ‘big things’ like statewide legislation. In fact, it’s boring. Small potatoes. 

But a guy must have a gig. And in this case, the position of Mayor is open in 2022 when Garcetti is termed out. Now there’s a prize. So, the likelihood is that he will do an Antonio and bail out halfway through the term to run for Mayor. Perhaps good for Kevin, but not good for CD14. And I remember that Villaraigosa was more interested in his Mayoral run than he was in the residents he represented for 2 years.  

The Takeaway

What triggered all this history was the entry of an old time LA politician named Nick Pacheco into the 2024 race.  As Wikipedia notes: 

‘Lauro "Nick" Pacheco Jr. (born February 9, 1964) is an American disbarred lawyer, politician, and a member of the Democratic Party.[3] Pacheco served as a member of the Los Angeles City Council (1999–2003). Prior to serving on the Los Angeles City Council, Pacheco served as an Elected Charter Reform Commissioner (1997–1999) for the same district he served as Councilman. He also worked for the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office as a Deputy District Attorney (1995–1999).[4] 

Only in Los Angeles. 

As the 2024 follies open, there’s no indication who will be in a likely runoff. Betting right now is it would be Santiago as the establishment candidate vs. whoever comes in second, but we’re a long ways from March 2024. 

Personally, I would expect a large field. After all, there is no other office in the State of California  that comes with a piggy bank worth $4 million dollars in ‘discretionary funds’.

(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)


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