76. Muttering retreats

I met Robin Kramer only once, more than a year ago. When she resigned as Chief of Staff to Mayor Villaraigosa in August, Ms. Kramer was memorably called the city's chief grown up and the levelest head in Los Angeles politics in the Los Angeles Times. Before she left the mayor's office, she had a distinguished career serving men with demanding personalities "? Councilmember Richard Alatorre, Mayor Riordan, Eli Broad, and Mayor Villaraigosa.

She had called and invited me to City Hall, I suppose because I had written occasionally about Mayor Villaraigosa, sometimes hopefully and sometimes skeptically. I had hoped that the city's first Latino mayor since the 1870s would be a sign of something. I had feared that Villaraigosa's short tenure in the state Legislature was exactly the wrong experience to lead Los Angeles.

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Still, I'm pretty naïve. I took a bus, a train, and the subway to City Hall because I was flattered to be asked by Ms. Kramer. If she had an agenda, I was oblivious to it. It turned out that she wanted to show me the mayor's office.

The rooms the mayor has are grand and a little worn, like a great hotel that has had negligent owners. The conference room where the media gather for press meetings is large but crowded. The oversize furniture didn't seem to fit. The mayor's ceremonial office has a brave and optimistic mural on the far wall, but it's dully colored, indistinct. I could see why Mayor Villaraigosa rarely uses this high, ornate room. It's imposing but pointless "? designed to impress the little men who were elected to serve in it and his visitors from the sticks.

Kramer showed me the room where Tom Bradley kept his exercise equipment. I thought of the two-bit chiselers who had sat there in the 1930s and 1940s "? political hacks who had run the mayor's extortion and bribery operations from that little room where Bradley's stationary bike rested.

Ms. Kramer wished me well after our brief tour. She went to a meeting. I went down through City Hall's cool marble loggias, triumphantly in the style of 1920s democratic totalitarianism.

I wondered then "? have always wondered "? how place matters in the shaping of a mind. I should have asked if the muttering of the building "? its dozens of incised mottoes "? had suggested anything of interest to the mayors Ms. Kramer served. If the white, middle-class, Protestant, and Republican future imagined in the fabric of City Hall in 1928 still touched anyone in passing.

The image on this page was made by Flickr user calwest. It was used under a Creative Commons license.

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