Fail

05.19.13

Los Angeles Politics Needs More Women

For such a diverse city, the Los Angeles City Council is a depressing bastion of likeminded men. John Phillips on the city's political glass ceiling.

Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the country and arguably its most diverse.  We have beaches and mountains. The superrich and the desperately poor. Beautiful people from all over the planet trying to make it in Hollywood and ugly people here to take 10 percent from them. You name it, we have it.

Except for women on the Los Angeles City Council. 

All signs point to a May 21 city election where all 15 of the L.A. City Council's seats could be filled by men. Who would have thought the only person with binders full of women in Los Angeles would be Heidi Fleiss?

To add insult to injury for Angelino women, the one-time favorite for mayor, City Controller Wendy Greuel, was trailing Councilman Eric Garcetti by 10 points in a Los Angeles Times/USC poll taken just a few weeks ago (though she's since pulled even).

The only other elected positions in the City of Angels are controller and city attorney. Both of these contests feature man-vs.-man matchups. For controller, it will be longtime Valley councilman Dennis Zine or political neophyte Ron Galperin. The contest for city attorney will feature the incumbent, Carmen Trutanich, against assemblyman and former councilman Mike Feuer.

City Hall is not only full of men, it's full of very likeminded men. Of the 15 members of the Council, only one is a registered Republican, and according to a recent study conducted by LA Weekly, in the 5,223 Council votes in 2011, members voted unanimously a whopping 97.5 percent of the time. 

The Weekly did the math and found that of the 75,000 chances members of the Council had to disagree (15 elected officials multiplied by 5,233 votes), they did so only 133 times.

It gets worse. In 2010, the Center for Governmental Studies found that in the 1,854 votes in 2009, the City Council voted unanimously 99.3 percent of the time. 

For a liberal city that endlessly congratulates itself on its rich diversity, the numbers tell a different story. In reality, this council displays all the diversity of the Augusta National Golf Club. 

The result of all of this likemindedness has not been good government. Los Angeles' finances are such a hot mess that former mayor Dick Riordan wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal saying the city could join Stockton, Mammoth Lakes, and San Bernardino in bankruptcy court. L.A.'s taxes and regulations are among the highest and most prohibitive in the nation. And for God's sake, it's the only place on the planet where the river is paved and the roads aren't.

But if an outsider wants to throw her hat in the ring to tackle the city's problems, she'd better be 18 or older, live in the Council district where she's running, and have the ability to pee out a campfire. All others need not apply.

The jury is still out on why women aren't getting elected to city office. But Tammy Bruce, former president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women, believes there is plenty of blame to go around. “It's outrageous there are no women on the City Council and yet not entirely surprising. At least with a City Council devoid of women, it's even more apparent that the city has become a boys’ club. It also illustrates the continuing failure of the city's feminist movement. I left the feminist establishment because it had stopped being about women and was about simply pushing the liberal agenda. Now we see what happens when they get their agenda—women become even more irrelevant to liberal leadership.”

L.A. political consultant John Thomas speculates that the guys on the Council will try to hide the disparity with heaping helpings of TLC for Angelino women. “I'm not sure what specifically will change in terms of policy-making with no women on the Council, but I would not be surprised to see more pandering to women in an attempt to become the darling of that voter bloc. Issues pertaining to women such as domestic violence, rape, etc. may garner more attention for a few councilmen. The next mayor will likely work to appoint women to public commissions to mask the perception that City Hall is largely male-dominated.”

If L.A. voters want to know what can happen when a large organization doesn't have women in the room when big decisions are being made, all they have to do is look at the building sitting in the shadows of City Hall—the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

The Los Angeles archdiocese paid out $660 million in 2007 to the victims of priest sex abuse—because nobody in the organization was able prevent the systematic rape of children. Having a woman in the room would have been good for the archdiocese and could have changed history.

Having a woman in the room would be good for City Hall too. 

L.A. voters will have a chance to put one there on May 21, as city staffer Ana Cubas takes on California State Senator Curren Price in Council District 9 and Valley voters will pick from a crowded field of six in the CD 6 special election. 

We'll see if they let a girl into the boys' club.