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Politics in Paradise: the 41st Assembly District Democratic Primary, Part 2

By Frank J. Gruber

Kelly Hayes-Raitt has positioned herself as the heir to the left-wing political tradition of the 41st. She calls herself "the Progressive Democrat." She has based much of her campaign on her trips to Iraq and opposition to Pres. Bush, as well as an extensive resume of involvement in environmental, feminist, consumer and similar campaigns.

Ms. Hayes-Raitt also has endorsements from a long list of "progressives," as well as one from the local cell of the Sierra Club that she features prominently in her campaign.

Readers of this column know that I roll my eyes at Westside lefties who worry more about the impacts of American Imperialism than they do about creating jobs and housing for working and middle-class residents locally. I have also never confused the local, NIMBY-dominated Sierra Club with the national organization. So it's no surprise that I am skeptical of Ms. Hayes-Raitt's progressivism.

Take, for instance, Ms. Hayes-Raitt's position paper on traffic, "Kelly's Solutions to Reduce Traffic." What's the first item on her list? Something radically "progressive" like taxing driving as Ken Livingstone's done in London? Or what about bringing back the diamond lane on the 10 that Westside drivers so despised, so that buses could beat the traffic and get commuters out of their cars?

No, Ms. Hayes-Raitt's number one idea to fix traffic is campaign finance reform. Huh? She says that if we take "developers' money out of campaigns" politicians will have "less incentive" to approve "developments that are likely to snarl traffic." If that seems to you like a rather indirect way to "reduce traffic," you're right. It would also be ineffective.

Only by the eighth and ninth items of her ten-point traffic plan does Ms. Hayes-Raitt mention improving public transportation. Far from "progressive," Ms. Hayes-Raitt has completely missed the past 20 years of thinking about urbanism and environmentalism, not to mention transit. Trapped in a NIMBY time-warp, she's looking for villains -- greedy unscrupulous developers and venal politicians -- not solutions.

But her plan suits the 41st's comfortable radicals -- we've got our place in the sun, so let's not anyone else in, and who cares about people on the bus? And who cares about where they are going to live?

Nonetheless, I would agree with most of Ms. Hayes-Raitt's votes in the Assembly. The issue with Ms. Hayes-Raitt is whether she can get along with other politicians, something that's crucial in Sacramento.

I read recently in the L.A. Weekly that Fran Pavley said that "Kelly burns bridges" and that "[p]eople who have known her for a long time have problems with her." Intrigued, I decided to try to find out what Assembly Member Pavley was talking about.

I contacted Jodie Evans, of CODEPINK: Women for Peace, the organization that sponsored the pre-war trip to Baghdad that Ms. Hayes-Raitt joined and which has defined her campaign. In the account of the trip that The Lookout published, Ms. Hayes-Raitt recounted how she distanced herself from CODEPINK's antiwar demonstrations, saying that she had "no interest in protesting my government's war anywhere than in [her] own country." (see account)

That's a feeling I can understand; however, the CODEPINK people feel differently. In a letter Ms. Evans wrote to people who were considering endorsing Ms. Hayes-Raitt, Ms. Evans said that when Ms. Hayes-Raitt had heard about CODEPINK's planned trip to Iraq before the war, she badgered Ms. Evans to let her join up. Ms. Evans said that she only accepted Ms. Hayes-Raitt after she had explained the CODEPINK goals, "to make sure she was on board with us."

But then, once they were on their way to Iraq, Ms. Evans said that Ms. Hayes-Raitt "had a fit that we were anti-war and that we were going to Iraq with that tone." A struggle began "that lasted the entire trip, her bitterness and lack of group cooperation poisoning each day."

Ms. Evans' view is that Ms. Hayes-Raitt used the trip to promote herself and build for the Assembly race. It may be hard to believe that anyone would be nuts enough to go to Baghdad just before the war in a calculated attempt to give oneself more visibility in an Assembly race, but that's what Ms. Evans now believes. She told me that at the time it appeared to her that the trip "was calculated to get [Hayes-Raitt] into a speaking tour, as that is what happened immediately." But in hindsight, Ms. Evans told me that she believes Ms. Hayes-Raitt, a long-time political consultant, was "trying to be who her clients were, instead of their staff."

Ms. Hayes-Raitt also touts her involvement with the Coalition for Clean Air, but not everyone there has good memories of her stint as executive director. I spoke with environmental attorney Jan Chatten-Brown (who has endorsed Julia Brownley) who was on the CCA board when Ms. Hayes-Raitt was executive director. She told me that Ms. Hayes-Raitt "was a severe disappointment in terms of her performance."

Sabrina Schiller, who was the CCA's long-time project director and a board member for many years, seconded this view. Ms. Schiller (who is supporting Barry Groveman) told me that the CCA at the time "had a tremendous record for growth and accomplishment, and then came Kelly."

In fairness, by no means everyone Ms. Hayes-Raitt worked with over the years has had a bad experience. Ralph Perry, one of the founders and still a board member of the CCA, told me that although there was a disastrous fund-raiser while Ms. Hayes-Raitt was executive director, it wasn't all her fault and that there was no bitterness when her services terminated. And Dorothy Green, the revered founder of Heal the Bay, has endorsed Ms. Hayes-Raitt.

But it seems that Assembly Member Pavley had some basis for her comments.

There are at least two things I like about Jonathan Levey, the newcomer to politics who has snagged endorsements from both the L.A. Times and the L.A. Weekly. The first is the rash courage it took to feature prominently in his bio that he was an executive for Catellus, the huge real estate developer. That's not the kind of street cred candidates in the 41st generally flaunt.

The second is that he wrote a little book about the issues facing the state and the region. I believe that local politics are important all on their own, and his book impresses me a lot more than all the mailers blaming George W. Bush for the price of gasoline and everything else.

But after the chutzpah and the book, things get a little wobbly, although I can understand why the big thinkers at the Times and the Weekly found Mr. Levey attractive.

Consider Mr. Levey's traffic plan. It's another ten-point plan of trivialities and lots of "should happens" (with no ideas how to make them happen) from syncing lights (everyone's favorite that's already been done) to free tow trucks during rush hour (as if broken down cars stay on the freeway because their owners don't have AAA), to flex hours and telecommuting (the technocrats' favorite fixes du millennium).

Some of Mr. Levey's ideas are hilariously naive -- a system to notify transit users when their bus or train is more than fifteen minutes late, or a "complaint and compliment system" whereby citizens "can present their suggestions to a real person." How nice, but solutions to traffic congestion?

Let's get real. The 105/405 interchange was designed for 200,000 cars a day. Now it handles more than 500,000. The reason we have bad traffic, to put it in 41st District terms, is that a lot of people live in Calabasas and Agoura Hills (and elsewhere), and there are a lot of jobs in Santa Monica (and elsewhere).

What we need are politicians honest enough to tell us that traffic is bad everywhere -- in both urban Santa Monica and suburban Calabasas -- and that it can't be "fixed" with a ten-point plan.

Yet, I have to say that his traffic plan is the weakest part of Mr. Levey's book. Most of it is good policy. But that's part of Mr. Levey's problem -- he comes across as someone who wants to represent ideas more than people.

For instance, Mr. Levey lives in Santa Monica; I haven't been to every hearing over the years, but I've been to a lot, and I don't recall ever seeing him speak before the City Council or the Planning Commission or attend a civic event.

One more thing. If Barry Groveman sent the most annoying political mailer, his booklet on parenting, Mr. Levey is responsible for the most annoying campaign tactic -- a recorded phone call from his mother.

I won't spill much ink on Shawn Casey O'Brien, because he doesn't have a big enough campaign to make him a factor in the race. I am pleased to report, however, that Mr. O'Brien, perhaps because he is a disabled community activist, thought to make improving public transportation his first recommendation for how to alleviate bad traffic.

Now that's progressive.

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