In May of 2013, it will be time to say goodbye to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is termed out, and a warm hello to the next chief executive of the City of Angeles. But just how much does it cost to become mayor of Los Angeles? Answer: a lot.
Kicking off what will prove to be a marathon of a campaign, candidates for Los Angeles Mayor recently filed their first campaign fundraising reports. The reporting period ends on June 30, and therefore reporter numbers do not include money raised in July or the beginning of August. Thus far, four declared candidates have raised almost $1.5 million. Former deputy mayor Austin Beutner, City Councilwoman Jan Perry, and City Controller Wendy Greuel all raised between a little over $400,000 and a bit over $500,000, with Greuel leading the pack. The fourth candidate, radio host Kevin James raised over $90,000.
This will be an expensive race in part because it will be competitive. Races for open seats are almost by definition more competitive than challenges to sitting incumbents. The race for mayor of Los Angeles is no exception.
The last time mayoral candidates ran for an open seat was 2001. In that race six candidates spent slightly over $20 million. Even in a bad economy, we could easily see similar, if not higher, spending for the 2013 election.
One of the hurdles in this year plus march towards May 2013 will be the March 2013. A successful candidate will likely need to raise at least a couple million dollars to make it onto the next round, the general election.
One of the problems with our current system is that fundraising prowess is used as a proxy for popularity. There is, of course, some correlation. However, fundraising ability, at most, demonstrates popularity with a certain segment of society, those who can and want to give campaign contributions.
So let's try to hear from all the candidates, and not make the balance of their bank accounts the only thing by which we measure their ability to lead the city. The best fundraiser may make the best mayor. But in the words of the Gershwins, "It ain't necessarily so."
Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government in Los Angeles every week. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School.