Monday, September 14, 2009

The Showdown in Sherman Oaks

The ten candidates for the open seat on Los Angeles City Council (in District 2) converged at the Sherman Oaks Neighborhood Council meeting at Sherman Oaks Elementary School on Monday night. The evening started out with a humorous note when SONC President Jill Banks Barad was talking about the forum and how the election was being held to replace Wendy Gruel. A man near the front row started applauding aggressively at the mention of Wendys name. Jill paused and asked the man, jokingly.."Oh, are you Wendys brother?" The man responded loudly and very matter-of-factly "I'm glad she's out of the office!" This drew some solid laughs from the crowd and a few nervous giggles from some of the candidates.

The forum was moderated by former Assemblyman Richard Katz. Katz was tough, but fair to the candidates. He brought home a poignant moment when he introduced Ben and Jean Fury, a family that had been burned out of their homes by the Station Fire as it swept through Big Tujunga Canyon. The moment was nearly ruined by Paul Krekorian, who leaped to his feet and started applauding the family... making the other candidates appear almost uncaring or uninterested by their slower reactions. It was a real Drama Queen moment from the professional politician. I hope the voters saw through it.

I won't bother to discuss the candidate intros...all of them gave standard campaign statements as they had at past forums... no new news here. I will break things down by candidate.

MARY BENSON - Mary had some good moments at the forum. When the discussion turned to Neighborhood Councils and how much all the candidates said they cared...Mary said "It's nice to see everyone being so supportive of Neighborhood Councils...but where were they when the Mayor was threatening them with budget cuts?" Mary also talked about the Station Fire tonight and added "If it wasn't for Twitter, hundreds of animals would have burned to death." Mary was at her best during closing statements when she implored the voters "Support me! Don't think a grassroots candidate can't win!"

AUGUSTO BISANI - Augusto had a much better time tonight, as he focused on more local issues. He went on to discuss issues with the Westfield Mall. He said it would be a "big problem" and that he didn't like uncontrolled growth. "It needs to be directed by the community," he said. Augusto also had a funny line about himself as he talked about putting together his campaign flier "at 3 in the morning".
JOE ESSAVI - When Katz asked the candidates about how they would save money in these tough financial times, Joe Essavi unloaded one of the best shots of the night. "We need to ask these job-hopping politicians to pay for all the special elections they create!", he said. The line got a lot of applause. Some of the loudest applause, as you can see, came from Chris Essel, who loved the shot Joe took at Essels main rivals Tamar Galatzan and Paul Krekorian. Tamar seemed to take it well, showing a little embarrassed laughter.

CHRISTINE ESSEL - Chris Essel did reasonably well tonight and didn't make any major missteps. However, she had two young women supporters with her and I sat near them in the back of the room. After Chris would answer questions, those two would be the only two people in the room applauding her. The silence from the others was eerie and unsettling. I don't think Sherman Oaks likes Chris very much. Or maybe they just liked the other candidates better.
TAMAR GALATZAN - Tamar was well-prepared, confident, and aggressive as usual. I liked many of Tamars answers, including one about working together with the Neighborhood Councils. "I can only control my own actions, " she said. I thought it was great and very human to hear a candidate say that she couldn't promise to solve all the worlds problems. I think of all the candidates, Tamar is the one who makes it very clear that she wants to win the most. But will it be enough to overcome Krekorians name-recognition advantage and Chris Essels' carpet-bombing of CD 2 with her glossy campaign literature? Who knows? We will soon find out.

PAUL KREKORIAN - Paul showed his true nature as a professional politician at the forum. He did some world-class butt kissing when talking about moderator Katz and some of the Sherman Oaks neighborhood council members. He also bragged about how much he had done... to change schools... and even to stop speeders! (That last line got a sarcastic laugh from Frank Sheftels manager David Hernandez, who asked "How does he do that?") Paul may have made a misstep and offended some neighborhood council members with his closing statements where he said "This is not the time for amateur politicians! "
(Of course not. As one of the pros... he's been doing such a great job in Sacramento.....)
MICHAEL MCCUE - Michael had used his energy and passion to trounce his opponents in a few of the earlier forums, but tonight he seemed very average. He did have one of the evenings biggest laughs from the voters when he criticized the Mayor and City Council for using outdated methods. "It would behoove us to use 21st Century technology... because we live in the 21st century!," he said. McCue might be given a pass for tonight , because he told me he was saving some of his best ammunition for the SOHA forum on Wednesday.

DAVID SALTSBURG/ZUMA DOGG - David had been sitting at the forum with an upset look on his face for much of the event. He looked especially unhappy with some of the statements made by Chris Essel, Tamar Galatzan and Paul Krekorian... as if he couldn't believe the audacity of the comments. I guess his anger built up until he exploded during the closing comments. He went off on a tirade against Essel, Krekorian and Galatzan that brought cheers from the crowd and squeals of laughter from some. "CHRIS ESSEL IS THE QUEEN OF SPECIAL INTERESTS!!", he erupted. He made another passing mention about Tamar getting in the Mayors 2 million dollar "getaway car" to get on the LAUSD board. He attacked Krekorian and his time in the State Legislature by saying "Krekorian bankrupted the State! He took us there!!". It was , by far, the most interesting part of the evening. David captured the quote of the evening, when, talking about Krekorian, Essel, and Galatzan, he said "talk to them tonight, because once they get an office in City Hall, they will never talk to you again!!"
PETE SANCHEZ - Pete was at his best tonight when we waved his finger at the other candidates and said very calmly "I know more about Neighborhood Councils than all these candidates!" He trumpeted his experience at the grassroots level and said he was ready to take his achievements to the next level at City Council. I really didn't like how Pete refused to answer a question from Katz, but he gave me an explanation later...and we'll get to that in a minute.
FRANK SHEFTEL - Frank didn't say too much different from what he had said at other forums. He ended with his signature line "We recycle trash, not politicians!". In a rather clever move, Frank had brought samples from his candy store...small bags of jellybeans...that were given away. The candy was a big hit...all the bags had been emptied by the end of the forum. Now maybe if Frank can bring about 400 boxes of chocolates to the final SOHA showdown on Wednesday, he just might be calling himself "Councilman Sheftel" in the near future. Voters tend to remember generosity.
Overall, the night was very good, and one can see the race is getting more and more heated as we only have one week left until the election. After Tuesday night, there are clearly going to be some hurt feelings and some disappointed candidates.

A few other items about the night...

I really intensely disliked some candidate behavior in a segment in the middle. Moderator Katz was trying to get the candidates to explain where they would make budgetary cuts. He started naming off commissions and asking candidates to raise their hands if they were willing to cut these specific commissions. It was a logical question due to the City Budget crisis.

Amazingly, Katz rattled off name after name and NONE of the candidates raised their hands. It really killed me to see the only Conservative in this race, Joe Essavi, not raising his hand. (I'll have to talk to him about this.) It was a pure horror show for those of us who do not agree with the concept of an ever-expanding government. I knew Krekorian wouldn't be raising his hand, because he likes that type of thing. Eventually Pete Sanchez interrupted Katz and said "I'm not willing to answer any of these questions."
That answer really enraged me, because as I said to David Hernandez "I would be raising my hand on every commission he mentioned." I sought out Pete Sanchez after the forum and asked for an explanation. He told me he doesn't deal in theoreticals in his line of work, and he would have wanted more information before making those types of decisions. He said he would have wanted to know exactly what he was getting for the publics money in each individual case. I have to was a brilliant answer. Too bad he didn't mention that part when the voters were listening. There are things I don't like about Pete Sanchez --( I think he's a liberal ) -- but I have to admit...sometimes the guy is very impressive.

Mary Benson told me she didn't like some information that was circulating on Mayor Sam about her having been born in Iowa. She stated for the record that she was born in Glendale. She added that her name is a somewhat common name and someone must have made a research error.

Frank Sheftel told me that his campaign staff has personally contacted over 5,000 voters. If this is accurate, I think it puts him far ahead of the other grassroots candidates. Like Michael Higby always says, without a real get-out-the-vote effort, you can't win an election.


David had been somewhat low-key until his explosive tirade at the end. But his outburst showed his true passion and his willingness to cross boundaries to make his point. I think David is getting frustrated with his years of activism at City Hall and his inability to stop bitter rivals like Richard Alarcon. He wants the button in his hand. But simply wanting it badly is not always enough to win.