Four candidates vying to be Los Angeles’ next mayor participated in a mayoral candidate forum in Boyle Heights on Aug. 16. The event, presented by Ya Basta and the East Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, included the participation of City Hall veteran Councilwoman Jan Perry, radio broadcaster and lawyer Kevin James, former Villaraigosa aide Emanuel Pleitez and activist Deacon Alexander.
About 100 people attended the forum that took place early in the campaign/election cycle, the filing period for which is still some time away, and the primary race not until March 5, 2013.
Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel and Councilmember Eric Garcetti (CD-13), who have also announced they are running for mayor, and widely considered to be among the front runners, did not attend the forum.
Forum moderator, Art Camarillo of Glassell Park, asked the participants for their views on a variety of issues, from pension reform to the Mayor’s Partnership for Los Angeles School, and the Gang Reduction Youth Development program, among other issues.
All agreed that some form of pension reform is need.
James, a former Asst. U.S. Attorney and former television and radio broadcaster, said Los Angeles is on the verge of bankruptcy and givebacks from current pension recipients, for example, need to be negotiated in order to avoid fiscal insolvency.
“My opponents don’t have the guts to take the issue to court, like it happened in San Diego and San Jose. I can guarantee you, there isn’t a judge in California who will say we have to pay our pensions before police and fire employees [salaries] in the City of Los Angeles,” he said.
Perry, who has represented Council District 9 for 11 years, said it is “easy to talk about pension reform with people who have not been hired yet.” Beside reducing pension benefits and amounts for new city hires, she said the age to qualify for pensions also needs to be increased, and the total amount individuals can qualify needs to be reduced as well.
“We will have to continue to negotiate with all unions—and all the unions must be treated the same. Some unions are treated differently than others and that creates an imbalance,” Perry said.
Pleitez, who is Chief Strategy Officer at technology company Spokeo, said city employees need to contribute more to their retirement and “all options are on the table.”
“If we do have to declare bankruptcy… someone’s got to do it,” Pleitez said, noting he was not interested in being a popular politician.
Alexander, who also identified himself as a Skid Row resident and former member of the Black Panthers, said he is a retired union carpenter and supports labor unions. He said a better alternative to closing the city’s deficit would be for the city to stop giving away millions of dollars to developers.
“Union jobs is how we make it out of the ghetto, that’s how we get into the so-called ‘working class.’ It’s through union work,” Alexander said.
Responding to a question regarding the Gang Reduction Youth Development (GRYD) program that provides gang intervention and prevention services, Pleitez said he supports it and disclosed that he is chair of a non-profit that receives some GRYD funds. James and Perry also said they support the program, while Alexander said it is “a way for a few of our friends to get paid” and he said he would terminate it.
Perry and James said they support the Partnership for Los Angeles School, a non-profit created by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to turn around the worse performing schools in LAUSD. Alexander, however, was more neutral explaining the program has helped schools in Watts but he doesn’t support schools being “put into private hands.” Pleitez was the only candidate who said the Partnership was “not necessary,” his response elicited applause from members of Ya Basta, which has been working to remove Roosevelt High School from the Partnership’s management.
Ya Basta was formed roughly a year ago, the group’s name is not an acronym. “It means ‘we had enough,’ of all this stuff the politicians do to us,” Art Pulido, president of Ya Basta told EGP. The group wants government accountability in order to improve conditions in East and Northeast Los Angeles communities.
Ya Basta is planning a city attorney candidate forum; current City Attorney Carmen A. Trutanich who made an unsuccessful bid for the County D.A. nomination, attended the candidates forum held at La Casa del Mexicano.
To learn more about the candidates, visit their websites: http://kevinjamesformayor.com/; http://www.janperry.com/; http://www.pleitezforla.com/; Alexander does not have a website.