When is a choice not a choice? In the chambers of LA City Council on Tuesday, the assembled councilmembers were given two options by the charter in the wake of former colleague Mark Ridley-Thomas’s felony conviction: they could vote to hold an election to fill the newly vacant CD10 seat or they could vote to appoint someone to fill the seat with immediate effect. By a vote of 11-1, they chose wrong.
City Council has, for years now, been a boiling cauldron of scandal. Corruption and racism. Homophobia and greed. Fraud and disenfranchisement. The councilmembers have practiced on their constituents with a malignancy that takes the breath away, with a contempt so rarefied that the sky turns from blue to black and the stars wink into view… They have lied vociferously; they have kept silence conspicuously. They have denounced public outrage with alternate glee and thunder. All the while and every day, they have been gathering desperately the mothy frock of their authority up about their knees like it were a rampart.
Really, if they were honest with themselves, they should have been able to admit that this was no choice at all. To reappoint Heather Hutt — to appoint anyone — must necessarily require the Council to draw heavily from that depleted reservoir of its own legitimacy, must necessarily subside the ground on which they stand just a little bit more. Council is in a crisis of its own making, and one that shows no signs of near-term resolution.
Council President Paul Krekorian, elevated to his high seat by the collapse of Martinez’s career in October, worked in a grating mode of false populism on Tuesday. Basking in the cheers of Hutt supporters in the audience, like a furious Prometheus bringing the gift of fire to the tenth district, the Council President likened the holding of a special election to disenfranchisement. And here we see stars again. Holding an election as disenfranchisement!
Frankness is in order: CD10 voters have been disenfranchised. They have been disenfranchised by the representative whom they trusted to carry forward their interests, in whom they invested their power at the ballot box. They have been disenfranchised by Mark Ridley-Thomas. To blame democracy itself for disenfranchising voters is an act of reptile perversity.
But let us also ask them in return: How did they, as individuals, arrive at their decision to reappoint Hutt? How would they arrive at their decision to appoint anyone in particular? Do we think that their motives are aligned with the motives of CD10 voters, who do not, by the way, ever have to justify their choices in these terms? Or are they voting to appoint Hutt for reasons that benefit themselves, the councilmembers, in their individual relationships with other offices, with the Council President, with their own consituents? In short, have any of the appointing councilmembers convinced you that they are representing CD10 by their actions? If not, how can this possibly be an act of “enfranchisement?” How can this appointment — itself an election in which there were only 12 votes and 0% turnout from CD10 — have a better claim to establishing a voting representative for the district than a free election of whatever turnout within the district?
We have also heard of the cost of holding an election. Some 8 million dollars in city funds — I leave it to you, the reader, to Google “lapd settlement” at your leisure — and more in the fundraising required for individual candidates. The money is meaningless. Money only exists to the city when the city wants an excuse not to do something. The number is cherry-picked as a likely weapon to cut democracy itself. Are we, Angelenos, meant to say, “Oh, I didn’t realize voting was expensive. I suppose autocracy would be cheaper and more convenient,”?
Detractors speak of fairness. It is unfair that voters should be forced to the ballot box again, and at an odd interval, due to the actions of Ridley-Thomas. There is no fairness. They were abused by the system. This is not, at any rate, a new experience for most of them. To remind: Ridley-Thomas is convicted of taking money donated in faith to him by his supporters to continue to aid them, the public, and funneling it through USC in order to serve as a private bailout for his son, who needed a soft landing after (eventually substantiated) allegations of sexual harassment by multiple state employees. That is not fair. Fairness is not increased by council seizing for itself the rights of CD10 residents to select their representation, and we should not be minutely persuaded otherwise.
On the left, we hear that Hutt has been voting with progressives and that special elections usually elevate more conservative voices. CD6 is given in evidence of this belief. It is all irrelevant. Hutt herself is irrelevant, except in the instance that one needs a refresher in how byzantine City Council’s efforts to manipulate power against their constituents may be. In the Fed Tapes, three councilmembers discuss handpicking an ally to replace the then not-yet-suspended Ridley-Thomas, in order to boost the futures of what I refer to as the Nury Caucus, a non-ideological grouping of sycophantic frenemies that vanished along with Martinez. The name upon which they settled was Heather Hutt.
How odd, then, that when Herb Wesson, another Nury Caucus honcho, was appointed unconstitutionally to take over for Ridley-Thomas, he immediately cleared house of Ridley-Thomas’s executives and put in place as his lieutenant Heather Hutt. How odd that she was perfectly primed to be elevated when Wesson was booted from the seat by a judge. It is spit in the face to be told that any of this should be taken as coincidence. We all heard the same conversation; we all know.
Hutt’s performance in the job matters not a whit. I am personally quite pleased she is voting to the left. What matters – the only thing that matters – is the restoration of legitimacy in council. That means a Council that is competent enough to know when it should show deference, for once, to the voting public. That Council has declined this opportunity yet again is evidence that no lessons are being learned here. It is not Nury Martinez or Mark Ridley-Thomas or José Huizar or Kevin De León or Gil Cedillo or Mitch Englander or John Lee. It is the institution itself that is faltering. The Council are stewards of this institution, even as they are stewards of the public trust. It is the most basic thing, then, that we are entitled to ask of you: Act like you’ve got some goddam sense.