I want to apologize to TJR readers for a post a while back where I said something that turned out to be incorrect.
In analyzing the City Council race in District 4, I didn't like what I saw. A goateed, hipster doofus who liked to ride his bicycle everywhere and attend meeting after meeting to complain to those who didn't give a damn about him or his bicycle. A tree-hugging Irishman who was so far gone ideologically that he sang little love songs to Obama. And then there was me... the only Conservative in the race. I didn't think that these two were going to help me very much in forcing a runoff with Tom La Bonge. Combining these facts with my lack of campaign funds, I decided to drop out of the race and focus on a future Congressional run in 2012.
But then , something very rare and unusual happened.
The race completely changed.
Stephen Box finally got hip to some of the Mayor Sam bloggers and their criticisms of his personal fashion sense. He ditched the goatee and the hipster duds and cleaned himself up. He actually looks like a sensible politician now. And his campaign performances have been stellar. And this compliment comes from a potential opponent who wasn't too keen on Box at the start.
Box has been the most prepared and most eloquent speaker in this contest by far. His years of social activism and his many, many public speaking appearances at Neighborhood Councils have made him quite comfortable in front of crowds holding a microphone. His campaign issues have been thoroughly researched. His answers have not only made sense, they have shown a rare intelligence and insight into City dealings. Stephen Box has done his homework ...and he might get rewarded for it with a job in City Hall.
Tomas O'Grady, for his part, has also seen his stock rise considerably. Tomas got his mojo working, and has become the Rolling Stones version of a Street Fighting Man. His performance at the Los Feliz Improvement Association forum, where he openly mocked and ridiculed Tom La Bonge for being a photo-op politician, was by far the best highlight of this contest. The mocking tone sent La Bonge "on tilt" as they say in the poker world. La Bonge never recovered and has rudely skipped several forums after that night, damaging his chances at re-election. O'Grady also used his door-to-door hustling skills to get the support of large numbers of people in his Greater Griffith Park Neighborhood Council area. He made a campaign video that was by far the most honest and refreshing thing I've seen in City politics. And this political rookie also pulled off the coup of getting endorsed by the L.A. Times. Not bad for a first time candidate.
Tom La Bonge has been a surprising disappointment. After a 35 year career in politics, you would think he would have been better prepared than this. His forum appearances have been big on cheerleading and random City trivia, but have provided few answers as to how things would be any different with him in the City Council seat for four more years. Watching him on stage has been painful. It reminds me of the career-ending melodrama surrounding the demise of Council Member Jack Weiss in 2009. Although La Bonge isn't as desperate as Jack Weiss was, he still isn't doing very well. He is often flailing around on stage, desperately name-dropping and cheerleading to draw sympathy votes. He often completely skips answering a question to talk about city trivia. Blowing off several forums didn't help. And finally, Tom La Bonge has had to deal with the ultimate indignity of the two major newspapers in town dissing him in favor of the new guys. The Daily News endorsed Box. The L.A. Times endorsed O'Grady. Neither of them felt La Bonge was worth another four years.
In addition to the endorsements, Box and O'Grady have both qualified for matching funds, which is unheard of in City races. Usually the hand-picked and union-backed incumbents get huge donations and run against somewhat unknown and underfunded challengers. An incumbent Council Member hasn't been beat in an election in the last 24 years. But La Bonge seems to be doing his best to become the first.
I think Box and O'Grady have enough firepower to force a runoff. The question is after that... what can they do to work together?