Angeleños might wish there was more drama - or even spectacle - in the making of their next mayor. But the cast of characters seeking - or half-seeking - the job don't inspire much.
City Controller Wendy Greuel and Council member Jan Perry have turned in the necessary paperwork to begin fundraising for a run. So has radio personality Kevin James. Retail developer Rick Caruso, City Council President Eric Garcetti, state Senator Alex Padilla, and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky have been carrying on the fan dance that potential candidates do to keep their options open.
Last week, First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner dropped the fan he'd been chastely waving. He's now the most interesting actual candidate. (Yaroslavsky is considered the almost candidate who would be most likely to win, a position he's held every time he's almost run.)
Beutner is interesting because he's an anomaly. He's not well connected to what passes for civic culture in Los Angeles. Rick Caruso is. He has no political past, unlike Greuel, Perry, Garcetti, Padilla, or Yaroslavsky. Beutner became rich by moving other people's money around, but wealth hasn't given him the blustery charm of a Richard Rriordan. He is said to be soft spoken to the point of inaudibility. He's even a "decline to state" voter.
Unfortunately for Beutner, who is a man of considerable skill, he has an air of vagueness about him, like all the pleasant businessmen put up for mayor in the 1930s and 1940s by the city's old political machine. Beutner's boss may be the reason. Mayor Villaraigosa hired Beutner when Villaraigosa was the "jobs mayor" and then made Beutner interim head of the DWP and put him nominally in charge of a dozen other departments. The mayor also gave him oversight of projects to speed up new development and told him to make a downtown football stadium happen.
At this stage in his campaign, Beutner can't help seeming as unfocused as the mayor.
Beutner is trying to put a good a face on his 15 months as Mr. Fix-It, but two years from now voters may wonder what he actually accomplished. And if he tries to run as an outsider, his opponents will tie him to all of the mayor's half-begun enthusiasms.
Beutner also leaves behind resentful department managers and cranky city council members who feel Beutner didn't know how to get along. Mayor Villaraigosa has reasons to be resentful, too. So much had been put on Beutner's agenda that his decision to leave puts the mayor's shaky legacy at risk.
Little known outside city hall and perhaps not much liked in it, candidate Beutner has joined a game with harsh rules, pitiless opponents, and a goal that is ambiguous at best. What makes Beutner the most interesting candidate now is why he chose to become one.
To learn more:
The Battle for LA's Mayor Begins
So much for making L.A. more business-friendly
First Deputy Mayor to Leave Villaraigosa's Office for Campaign
Los Angeles' First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner files to explore mayoral run
D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles every Monday and Friday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.