Monday, October 08, 2007

Politicians With Vision, And Those Without It

As Steve Springer's tremendous story in the L.A. Times Sports section Sunday, about Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman and Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, the politicians who enticed Walter O'Malley and his Dodgers to come to Los Angeles in the 1950s, shows, some political leaders have vision, and the perseverance to realize it.

But others don't. Unfortunately, at this stage in Los Angeles life, we have a monumental lack of the Hahns and Wymans, who set worthy goals and then let nothing prevent them from achieving them.

I'm particularly thinking of Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Sheriff Lee Baca and state Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez. They are incapable of constructive action and should be replaced as soon as practicable, meaning the next election, if they won't go voluntarily.

Don't let them say we now live in a time when the means are few. Los Angeles is wealthier today than it was in the 1950s, and it does have the means to accomplish great things.

With Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the jury is still out. He has the potential to be a worthy leader, but he needs to pursue admirable goals soon, or he may fall by the wayside.

Let's take these politicians, one by one.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky made a great mistake years ago when he was instrumental in stopping subway construction at a time the funds seemed to be there for it., and when it would have cost less than today. Yaroslavsky is a career politician, so we have the right to ask, what has he accomplished? Unfortunately, damn little, and now, when the need for mass transit is clearer than ever, it is probably too late for him to take the lead in getting it funded and underway. Also, he sat there motionless, with the other supervisors, when the Martin Luther King Hospital failed to give adequate patient care and finally was shut down.

Sheriff Lee Baca possibly never would have reached his present position were it not for the death of Sherman Block, his predecessor. As sheriff, he has not proved capable of mastering control over what is all too often a rogue agency. It would take a literal purge of poor officers, those guilty of deplorable conduct as jail guards, or who are prone to shoot minority kids unnecessarily, or engage in contests, such as reported recently, to see who can make more arrests, regardless whether those arrested are wrongdoers or not.

It is absolutely clear we need sweeping change at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office. But it's also clear we won't get it, until we get a new Sheriff, and one superior to his or her immediate predecessors.

Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez has recently been revealed, in a story by L.A. Times Sacramento writer Nancy Vogel and a column by Steve Lopez, as a world traveler without a purpose other than to enjoy himself with luxury and dissipation.

As Kenny Hahn demonstrated when he went to New York to seek the Dodgers, there is travel by public officials that is appropriate and well worth whatever is spent on it. Faint heart never won fair lady.

But when you travel only to frolic, without any worthy goal in mind, you are worse than useless as an elected officeholder. You could certainly be accomplishing much more at home. To his constituents and all the people of California, Nunez has proven himself useless. He too needs to be replaced.

As for Villaraigosa, he has, so far, proved something of a disappointment as mayor, and his aspirations to become governor will not be successful unless he quickly redeems himself. The issue facing him is rapid transit, and he has to go out to find the money to build it with more skill and determination than he has demonstrated thus far. Most people will not worry too much about the mayor's love life, if he has real accomplishments in the political field, and in his case, it's not too late, if only he will start. Doing something to stem gang warfare in city streets also would be a worthy goal. Playing games with control over the city's system of public education is not.

The Springer story told how Wyman had her eye on the Dodgers, or their equivalent, even before she was elected to the City Council in 1953, at the age of only 22. Getting major league baseball in Los Angeles was one of her campaign planks in that election. Then, when she got to office, it took four years, but she was ultimately successful. She found ways around the obstacles in the way of it, and don't fool yourself, those obstacles were substantial.

Other politicians come to mind who pursued worthy and difficult goals, with perseverance and ultimate success. When Tony Beilenson was elected to the State Assembly as a young man from Beverly Hills in 1962, he set his eyes on the state's first abortion reform in 100 years. It took five years, but ultimately, after a small compromise, Gov. Ronald Reagan signed such a bill. Yet when Beilenson started out, it seemed a vision without any realistic chance of success.

When Tom Bradley vowed to build a subway, he meant it, and worked successfully to get the funds to do it. Later, when he wanted the 1984 Olympics, Bradley went out and got them, and without cost to the taxpayers.

Great governors of California, Hiram Johnson, Earl Warren and Pat Brown, had significant roles in readying California for the future and making it the great prosperous powerhouse it is today. They knew that education was important, and they never would have allowed a situation to develop, as Rick Patterson described in the Times, where the University of California and the state universities were not adequately funded.

These were all politicians worthy of respect. When elected officials show themselves not worthy of respect, it's vital to find new ones who will be. That's the real lesson of the Springer story.

Also, Springer's second story today, about what Brooklyn lost when the Dodgers moved west, and the reaction of various New Yorkers who made the move with the team, was highly entertaining.

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