Under the Influence: Money and Power in Politics
Hillel Aron: September 2011 Archives

Who Runs Los Angeles?

Clockwise from top left: Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (srd515); AEG's Tim Leiweke (ericrichardson); Fmr. Mayor Richard Riordan (daveblume); Councilwoman Jan Perry (RobHelfman). All images from flickr.Power in Los Angeles isn't what it used to be. Once, men like Harry and Norman Chandler, former publishers of the L.A. Times and economic oligarchs, wielded enormous political and economic influence across the entire basin. Today, power is diffuse, spread out, parceled out to different players and interest groups- unions, developers and neighborhood groups- who in turn form a perpetually shifting set of alliances. It's the reason why it's so hard to get anything done in L.A.- and perhaps why the city's political outlook seems so uncertain.

On the day after Christmas 1952, Southern California Republican Rep. Norris Poulson received a letter from Norman Chandler, then-publisher of the Los Angeles Times.

"Dear Norrie," the letter began. It went on to explain that Chandler, Asa Call (the president of Pacific Mutual Insurance) and a collection of powerful downtown businessmen had been talking, and they wanted him to run for mayor. They promised to "generously" bankroll the campaign and lobby for a salary bump that would include, as a perk, a Cadillac and chauffer for Poulson to "strut around in."

And so they did. Poulson won the election and served as little more than a puppet of a group that later became known as the Committee of 25, which, depending on your historical interpretation, was either an enormously powerful clique of the city's business elite or a shadow government running the city.

Read more at USC News 21.