What to Make of Last Night’s Election Results

Apparently, Los Angeles’ voters think everything is going pretty well in Los Angeles right now.  How else to explain the “clean sweep” that incumbent Councilmen, and in one case a hand-picked successor, enjoyed.  Not even one of the races went to a runoff, meaning that even in crowded fields incumbents garnered over 50% of the vote.  You can read the election results, here.

Tom LaBonge celebrates at last week's Bike Plan signing. Photo: Carter Rubin

As a matter of fact the only “bad news” of the night for denizens of City Hall was that Proposition O, which would have placed a $1.44 tax on every barrel of oil extracted from the ground in Los Angeles, was narrowly defeated.  The rest of the city-wide ballot measures passed overwhelmingly.

So what to take from this election?

The first is that even though it’s apparent that Americans need to figure out a way to reduce oil dependence, the majority of people are desperate to keep gas prices as low as possible.  Nevermind that Prop. O would have had no impact on gas prices.  Just read the arguments against Prop O. at Smart Vote and consider these were hand mailed through out the district.  Personally, my household received Prop. O misinformation pieces three times.  In a time when gas prices are climbing towards historic highs, it was smart politics to falsely portray this ballot measure as an attempt to raise gas prices.

Much will also be made about the results in Council District Four where Tom LaBonge cruised to victory over Tomas O’Grady and Stephen Box.  While the favorite of many livable streets advocates, reformers and The Daily News and L.A. Weekly, Box finished a distant third garnering just under 14% of the vote.  Lacking good polling data, it’s hard to say whether or not some of the dirty tricks in the last days of the campaign put LaBonge over the top or dampened Box’s support.

But what we do know is that the CD4 results shouldn’t be viewed as a repudiation of the gains that cyclists and Livable Streets advocates have made in City Hall in recent years.  While Box was repeatedly referred to in the press as a “bike advocate” and he’s been decorated by the Eastside Bike Club and Streetsblog for his advocacy, unseating an incumbent Councilman is a nigh impossible task and his electoral loss doesn’t diminish the popularity of the work Box has done.  When you consider that LaBonge hasn’t faced true opposition in a decade and hasn’t been the poster child for any disastrous vote or project, the task became even taller.  Despite his celebrity within transportation and Neighborhood Council circles, Box was a fresh face to too many voters.

Ron Kaye, noted political commenter and former editor at the Daily News, noted that the move to fight incumbency at City Hall is actually relatively new.

Four years ago, incumbents ran unopposed in (Greuel now Krekorian) District 2, (LaBonge) District 4, (Parks) District 8, and (Wesson) District 10. This time they all faced challengers and their portions of the vote fell from 100 percent to 76 percent, 55 percent, 51 percent, and 74 percent respectively.

Turnout in those races jumped by 30 percent, 80 percent, 70 percent and 25 percent respectively.

In other words, our non-incumbents did have a major impact yesterday, Box included, even if they didn’t make it to the winners circle.

On top of that, LaBonge has a reputation for bike friendliness and progressive views on transportation that make his re-election anything but a repudiation of Livability.  It was just a week ago that LaBonge held court at the Bike Plan signing ceremony wearing a German cycling jersey and already talking about the 2011 Tour LaBonge.

  • LAMosca

    I know Streetsblog was really advocating for Stephen Box…but let’s be real, he was not going to win. I guess there’s some education that needs to happen about how LA City politics works…

  • LAofAnaheim

    The incumbents up for re-election last night were not bad, like Tea Party bad that the rest of the country is experiencing. Sure, Box would have been nice, but LaBonge is not that bad either. But imagine if people like Rudy Martinez (who I feel would have really shafted downtown LA’s revival for the benefit of few in the eastside) or Bernard Park’s competitor (who used the Expo Line as criticism for Bernard Parks and would rather see more buses) would have been horrible for Los Angeles. So for liveable streets, it wasn’t that bad actually.

  • Beverly hills gets more free parking……Maybe metro should try to put more stops in BH on the subway to almost the sea to leverage all that free parking.

  • @LAMosca – Winning isn’t the sole point of politics and elections.

  • Jerard

    @LA of Anahiem

    You hit the nail on the head, it also helps that most of the ballot measures in addition to the City Council races had a fiscal conservative bent on keeping the City Budget in good shape and protecting the Libraries helped propel the incumbents to victory.

  • LaBonge has no good reason to listen to the bike community now, since he’s not up for re-election and so many of us jumped on board Box’s campaign. Since we didn’t have that great of a showing, it sort of makes the bike community look feckless.

    It will take a lot more money and coordination to get a bike candidate in office in LA. The push Box’s campaign did over the weekend was great, but it should have been happening like that for at least a month before hand. That takes a lot of money and coordination, and we’re just not there yet.

    Hopefully, with groups like Bikeside, we can get our PAC money flowing to issues and candidates and not get spanked so badly the next time we want to run against an establishment candidate.

    LaBonge knows his district, and he is, in his own half-assed way, a pro-bike vote on the council. Now? Well, we’ll see.

  • @evan

    “Winning isn’t the sole point of politics and elections”

    Sure those ideals and a buck fifty will get you a ride on the metro, but that is about it.

  • I actually think Box’s loss is a good thing for the cycling community (except mtn bikers). Surely he would get bogged down in the politics of being on the council, but now he can continue to fight the good fight and expose the councils fraudulent ways.

  • dude, I heard they’re raising them bus fares! Buck fiddy ain’t what it used to be.

  • LAofAnaheim

    @Josef……….source?

  • Josef,

    I think LaBonge is serious about being a likable bike-friendly Council Member, he just doesn’t completely know how to do that. You can’t fake the kind of boyish enthusiasm he gets when he talks about riding around the city.

    I guess we’ll get a good idea of whether or not he’s serious in a couple of minutes.

    Oh, and we’re not raising bus fares at the moment…we’re cutting service. Keep it straight :)

  • we’re cutting service Service Enhancements…..fixed

  • Marcus

    I like to bike. It’s my main means of transportation. Let’s be real. Bikes aren’t the only thing that matters to voters. The fact that LaBonge is presumably pro-bike and a booster for this city is much more appealing than a candidate, like Box, who focuses monomaniacally on bikes, bikes, bikes. Box comes across as a terribly one-dimensional individual with a poor sense of politics and community who cares more about himself and his personal agenda than actually helping to improve our city. And what “dirty tricks” do you refer to. If Box even had a chance I might be interested in hearing what sort of skullduggery to which you refer, but given the clear results of the election, and Box’s distant third finish, it just comes across as reflexive, unfounded paranoia. Facts please!

  • <12% of Los Angelenos can't be wrong!

  • An article in the L.A. Times that basically says Box is a tax cheat, based on some liens that were paid off when I was in high school, that appears the day of the election? That’s a dirty trick.

    How about robo calls calling Box and O’Grady Tea Party candidates that are “on behalf of Jerry Brown and the LA Democrats” both of whom denied being involved with the calls?

    The last couple of days of the campaign in CD4 were ugly and the challengers were on the receiving end. Who knows if those tricks swung 5% of the vote towards the incumbent?

  • I guess the majority of LA residents remain comfortable enough in their living conditions that they will not elect new leadership. Give it some time, this will change.

  • It is up to the candidate running for office to advertise themselves to the electorate, so I don’t think blaming the people for this is the right attitude to take.

  • LAofAnaheim

    @angle….compared to some of the nuts being elected or running for office in the last 2 years across the country (Sharon Angle, Palin, Scott Walker, Rick Scott, Rand Paul, etc..), LA has some good incumbents. We could have had two crazies enter our political realm in Rudy Martinez and Forescee Hogan-Rowles. They were the closest people to Teabaggers LA would have had. Not on the extreme, but they were not going to help the liveable streets initiative. So what if Box didn’t get elected, it’s not like LaBonge is bad. Actually, I find him to be one of the good politicians in LA (better than Zev!). Remember, pushing a cycling agenda in a city that’s historically given more to the personal automobile than public is not easy. Not much would have changed with Box except a big friend to the cycling community.

    We either lose a little and stay with LaBonge. It reminds me of ’00 when people wanted to vote for Nader, but in the end cost Gore the election to W Bush. Sometimes you may not get 100% of your agenda with your favorite politican, but you’d prefer 75% of it than somebody with 10% who sneaks in because you were a “die hard” Nader fan.

  • @josef

    Well you can blame the 88% of register voters that didn’t even bother to show up and vote.

  • It’s difficult to argue with an old sod whose moniker is commensurate with a mindset that is compelled by a mere Hollywood movie catch phrase (set in Hollywood to boot), but I will attempt so.

    Brady: The ballot box is a game that only a fool will imagine possess power. The real power is in the dollar. One can spend all day to make sure that the paper ballot is properly cast, but then inadvertently negate that vote by purchasing products by companies that actively work to usurp any such vote.

    Then again, I am certainly wasting my time. It has long been noted how easily swayed is the typical Angilino. To wit: “Los Angeles, it should be understood, is not a mere city. On the contrary, it is, and has been since 1888, a commodity; something to be advertised and sold to the people of the United States like automobiles, cigarettes and mouth wash.”

    That is from Morrow Mayo, circa 1933. His sole book, “Los Angeles” was the source material for the film Chinatown. His journalism preceded Carey McWilliams, provoked General Otis and the subsequent L.A. Times dynasty, is a source well-respected by Mike Davis, Dr. Kevin Starr and Sam Hall Kaplan and remains a rare title that, if one can find it with an intact dust jacket, will set one back more than $1,000. Nevertheless, what Mayo wrote nearly a century ago remains relevant today.

    The best advice is to know as best as one can where every cent goes when one spends it, and stop wasting time with all the empty rhetoric regarding “Don’t blame me, I voted for…” crap.

    However, my best advice is for Mr. Box. In a mere few months there was some significant visibility obtained for the recent elections. In the forthcoming mayoral election, Tony will be ineligible (and he ain’t no Mayor Mike, so a third term is right out!), Jan Perry is sure to run for mayor, and downtown is far more amenable to a council member with bikey ambitions than the entrenched old Hollywood guard that lives north of the boulevard (Los Feliz, that is). Get a residence in downtown, get good with the emergent constituency, and get going immediately. Perry’s seat will be open; don’t let it get warmed by someone else.

  • @Josef, et al.:

    I am not “blaming” the people for anything, I’m saying that major political changes occur when there’s enough discomfort and dissatisfaction amongst the populace that they are willing to show up at the polls to take a chance on someone or something that’s new & different. If you are, for the most part, satisfied with how your life is, what you have and where you fit into the status quo, why would you jeopardize that by electing someone that could, conceivably, alter your lifestyle in some way?

    I’m not disagreeing that candidates have an obligation to communicate their positions effectively to the electorate, or that there are many factors that go into elections. It’s also likely that LA residents simply don’t think the LA city council is influential enough to make a difference in their lives.

    However, when union jobs are threatened, people will show up en masse at city hall. When food is scarce and living conditions for many are poor, people will rise up against an oppressive government, no matter what the consequences. In a less radical way, I would say that the election of Obama and the rise of the Tea Party are both evidence of dissatisfaction amongst a huge segment of the American public.

    My point being that the majority of LA residents are not yet to the tipping point where they will actively overcome their inertia and seek out something different and unknown.

    Oh, and for the people praising Tom LaBonge, I would like to know (and this is not a facetious question) what exactly has made Tom LaBonge a “good” member of the city council? What positive things has he done for the city that you are aware of?

  • spokker

    The 88% that didn’t vote would have probably voted for incumbents anyway.

  • juan

    @Spiller oh so wrong. It’s usually those who have taken the time to develop productive relationships with the incumbent (I.e. receiving spoils) and those who are politically involved or unhappy that show up. The 88% that didn’t show are the fraction that showed up to vote for Obama and pass measure r

  • Spokker

    The voter turnout in 2008 wasn’t much higher than in 2004. It’s still lower than it was in the 60s.

    Voter turnout is just over 50% in national elections and gets lower in local races.

  • Bee Stevens

    Biking on Los Angles streets, you have got to be joking- I just saw a fellow
    get knocked off his bike on Sunset Bl. Lucky nothing was broken. But gee, the
    streets are congested w/ angy and miserable driver day in and day out. To ride a bike w/ that mix !! Good luck.

  • Tom Labonge only got about 5% more votes this election compared to four years ago. Factoring in about 2,000 write-in votes that were not counted in the election four years ago, there were about 10,000 votes then. This election there was over 16,000. That’s approximately a 60% increase in voting. To me LaBonge didn’t reach much past the constituents that would automatically vote for him under most circumstances.

    It’s not about just advertising yourself using a lot of money to get the votes. It also requires an exciting message to get people off the couch and down to the voting booth. There just was not much of a compelling reason for most people to vote. The two major newspaper endorsements were a big help but bland, plain vanilla mailings or door hangers with a unclear message do not create a rush of people to go vote. The Daily News flatly stated as much in their editorial endorsement of Stephen Box.

    I never believed that there were going to be many people swayed by Twitter, YouTube or Facebook. That simply was a minor element for voter turnout due mainly to the age of the voters. You can see that by the vote count for Stephen Box. I don’t believe that most people had much of anything against Stephen from my conversations with dozens of them.

    Had Stephen Box tried to swing for the fences with exciting mailings similar to his YouTube Forum closing argument that involves comparisons to the Titanic it would be much more likely that there would be a runoff with Tom LaBonge. Although the La Times endorsement of O’Grady may have been to big of a hill for Stephen to climb to qualify for a runoff.

  • >I actually think Box’s loss is a good thing for the cycling community

    I agree. We do gain. The problem is not the candidates but the electorate. When 12% of registered voters turns out in City of LA, the passion for change – indeed the passion for *anything* – is in short supply. So Mr. Box was left to argue passionately with a select few for remedies to our problems while most simply tuned out. Read my own post-mortem here: http://tinyurl.com/4hckqvu

  • Spokker

    Do you want those 88% to turn out in local elections because you think it would have changed the results? They are likely to be the most uninformed and the least likely to want to get informed. No loss if they don’t vote.

  • Gib

    A vote for Tom LaBonge was not necessarily a vote against cyclist rights. I and my partner are longtime residents, bike commuters and volunteers for the “cause.” We voted for LaBonge and I am sure we are not the only ones. Though Box is passionate, he alienates others. His ego and unruly temper makes him unfit to serve in my opinion. I think he would be a destructive force in office. That is why he did not get this cyclist’s vote.

  • Voting for LaBonge was a notification to continue doing things as usual. The bulk of the voters were quite satisfied with the way things are evidently from the votes. There were two alternatives on the ballot and they stuck with the do things as usual choice.

    Usually when a private business is heading towards bankruptcy they look for new leadership to get them heading in a new direction. In Los Angeles voters don’t seem to be aware of the fiscal crisis we are heading towards with basic services likely to be cut drastically in the next year. Meanwhile Los Angeles gives out millions of dollars in incentives to developers and the added real estate value from CRA development does not go to help fund basic services in the city.

    The current city council votes yes over 99% of the time on items on their agenda. Just yesterday there were 15 items on their agenda and only one no vote was cast. That’s hardly some deep thinking on the part of the city council with everyone in lock step with each other.

    Would a informed and determined person such as Stephen Box have been a person who would have tried to change the way things are going in city council? He probably would have taken a strong effort to try and change things. There is no indication that Tom LaBonge would make much of an effort judging from his track record.

    You have to see Tom LaBonge in public meetings downtown to grasp how much knowledge he has on issues. Usually he gets unintended laughter from people in the room when he frequently states things that are not on the subject matter at hand. He obviously has not done his homework. In a classroom he would not get a passing grade, but many voters seem to be unaware of his behaviour downtown and simply rubber stamp him back into office.

  • Oh and Tom LaBonge has stated publicly in a Transportation Committee meeting that it is his policy to limit public comments by people to one minute, rather than two minutes. How’s that for someone supposedly wanting to listen to his constituents. You trek all the way downtown with having to wait perhaps hours to speak and your limited to one minute to make a comment on record. It’s a sight to behold.

    There were approximately 30,000 people in council district four that voted recently. So getting another 1,000 or so to vote in addition to the 16,000 would not have been a impossible task.

    Most of the people who voted are not what I would call informed voters. Motivated to vote out of tradition…yes. You have to motivate some of the other people to vote to turn the tide. It would have taken less than 1,000 votes to get this to a runoff. Perfectly in the realm of a possibility.

  • LAofAnaheim

    @Dennis: Have you ever been to those council meetings where people keep rambling nonsense (public speakers)? I commend LaBonge and his limitation. Sometimes people don’t provide any value to the meeting and just criticize with little value.

    In all honestly, LaBonge is not bad. He’s only criticized b/c the cyclists on this board have a hard-on for Box. I like Box as much as the next guy, please I promoted him on my Twitter account. However, he lost. LaBonge is not a Tea Party member, so chill out. He is a bike advocate, though not nearly as voiceful as Box.

    By the way, EVERY MAJOR CITY in the USA is going through a budget problem. You think EVERY PERSON needs to be removed? You think Antonio or Bloomberg are soley to blame? Every single council member? The budget problems in every city is not an incumbent problem, it’s been carried over for years and we’re in a recession. Be reasonable. It’s not LaBonge’s fault. Nobody who comes into office will miraculously change things. By the way, I don’t want the status quo to change, look at Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida were people demanded the status quo to change and now have some of the biggest Tea Party members ever and look at what’s happening to liveable streets or common sense there. Did LA really need to change politicians? No. Otherwise we would have had crazy Tea Party members.

  • Yeah, I think you can’t blame people for not voting when political discussions are a foreign thing on commercial mass media. It is hard to fight sports news and celebrity gossip to get people to:
    (1) PRE-register to vote (a stupid requirement)
    (2) Vote on a work day during business hours

    We vote on Tuesday and have our voter registration requirements to intentionally keep people from voting. The political fight that ensued over providing voter registration application at the DMV and other state-owned buildings was enormous, and led by a dedicated Republican opposition to expanded voter engagement.

    Make registration possible on the day-of (not impossible to do, ink on the figertip is an effective fraud deterrent, etc.); make voting a holiday weekend holiday-style event and you’ve got a recipe for mass voter engagement. Or we could fine people for not voting, as they do in Australia. Either way, it isn’t impossible to do and it isn’t the fault of the general public that they are distracted and disengaged. Our system is meant to keep things that way.

  • Gib

    @Dennis I admit I have not seen LaBonge downtown, however I have seen him in public meetings (ie after Griffith Park fire) and was very impressed. I agree with LAof Anaheim, he really isn’t that bad. I have also seen Box in action at public meetings and one on one and seen him red faced, unyeilding, unreasonable and looking as if he could become violent. Definitely not my cup of tea. It is a shame too, as I agree with him on many things and new blood can be a good thing, but I just can’t get behind someone that has such a lack of basic human respect for other people. I feel that were he to take office, he would be unable to see anyone else’s point of view and no issue would be resolved. I understand that you and others are excited by Box, but well, not me. Color me informed!

  • I have to wonder: Why aren’t we just staging our shallow, popularity-contest elections as an “American Idol”-type reality show?

  • Los Angeles county government is not going through a fiscal crisis due to managing their finances. Los Angeles city however is in a fiscal bind mainly from giving away a guaranteed annual raise to employees along with pension and health benefit increases.

    Tom LaBonge voted yes to building a 52 million dollar garage for a museum that will display billionaire Eli Broad’s personal art collection. That will be money well spent wouldn’t you say? I certain that Eli Broad could not afford to build the garage himself.

    Tom LaBonge is against abolishing the LA Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) which has about a 400 million dollar surplus. That puts Los Angeles in a needless bind for money with CRA financed developments increased value not going to the general fund. The projects look good but the burdon of increased basic services to support them helps drain the finances of the city.

    It’s simple economics. You have to increase revenue and or decrease spending to eliminate a defecit. Giving money to developers and the increase in value of the property does not go to the city general fund is not a way to increase revenue or decrease the deficit. Tom LaBonge supports this and he definitely is part of the problem since this is happening on his watch and he has done very little to stem the tide of red ink so far.

  • I supported Stephen Box because I wanted someone intelligent that could study the issues in depth and not superficially. Now if Tom LaBonge was running against Daffy Duck….well let me think about which one I would support on that one.

    Another example of Tom LaBonge not paying attention was when the motion came before the city council to put 10% aside for bikes/peds of the 15% local funds from Measure R. He had a question that he posed to a LADOT bikeways engineer during the city council meeting where he wondered what happened to the bike path that was going to be built on Chandler Blvd in his district (he prefaced it by saying Mike I want to see how smart you are). The engineer sat there speechless. The presiding president of the City Council had to inform Mr LaBonge that there was a bike path on Chandler Blvd in his district.

    Honestly, people need to pay attention to what their council members do and say.

  • LAofAnaheim

    Dennis..how do you propose we increase revenue and decrease spending? Obama, W, Pelosi, Bohner, Reid, Villairaigosa, Bloomberg, Zev, Antonovich, Pringle, Newsom, Brown, Schwarzenegger, etc..couldn’t do it. We are living in the days of the “Tea Party movement” and the “No increase taxes” pledge. We have to live reasonable, but yet, due to the lack of enthusiasm (or political suicide apparently) on increasing taxes, nobody proposes that. And how do you cut spending when every Tom, Dick and Jane complains to the moon that you don’t care about me waah waah wahh…look at Wisconsin. We can’t even discuss the big White Elephant in the room, which is Prop 13. LaBonge won’t solve the budget, but neither will Obama, W, Pelosi, Bohner, Reid, Villairaigosa, Bloomberg, Zev, Antonovich, Pringle, Newsom, Brown, Schwarzenegger. I think your expectations of LaBonge are a little too much. He’s definitely better than most other LA politicains (Antonovich, I’m looking at you)

  • Just for the record, even though I did everything for Stephen I could in my personal time (Streetsblog did not, and could not endorse) I don’t have anything against Tom LaBonge. He’s never been anything but kind to me and professional towards Streetsblog. Heck, his office sent me an official congratulations certificate when Sammy was born. I backed Stephen because he was a transformational candidate…if he doesn’t run again, I’ll probably never see a City Council candidate that has a chance to make the kind of positive impact that Stephen did.

    But LaBonge is a good vote on issues that we care about. Someone mentioned his penchant for wandering off topic at meetings and asking “what happened to a bike project” that already happened. However, he was a critical vote in committee for the “Measure R bike-ped set aside) because it was heard at joint committee and Smith and Parks were dead set against it.

    Also, he bucked Rosendahl on the Wilshire BOL issue, something that surprised me because of the “go along to get along” style of Council voting and what appears to be a closer personal friendship between the two. I once had Rosendahl’s staff ask me to back off LaBonge when I was all over him for something because he was dealing with a difficult personal issue “for a day or two.” I’ve never had staff ask me to back off a pol they don’t rep before. So LaBonge taking the more progressive stance on Wilshire BOL is a big deal, and we need to make sure he keeps that position when it’s time for a final vote.

  • The city of Los Angeles will have to balance the budget either through bankruptcy or some other means. This cannot continue to be kicked down the road since Los Angeles does not print money like the Feds do to keep going.

    Since there is not enough money to go around then you have to decide to reduce most if not all services or try and protect the core services such as infrastructure, fire dept, police, libraries and parks. You would try to ditch nonessentials such as the zoo, golf courses etc.

    Getting rid of the CRA should be atop the agenda to bring it’s 400+ million financial resources into the general fund. That would also get a larger annual revenue stream coming in to the general fund since the extra added value from the real estate development goes back to the CRA currently.

    Eliminate or combine non-charter departments that compete with each other or overlap such as the department of transportation.

    There is half a billion dollars of uncollected revenue from unpaid fines that needs to be seriously looked at.

    These are a few ideas that were mentioned in the campaign by Stephen Box. Again Tom LaBonge was not for eliminating the CRA. He would rather continue to pay millions to developers while basic services are shrunk.

    To paraphrase council member Bernard Parks from a Los Angeles Times article: All four organs are dying and fellow council members are talking about manicures and pedicures.

    I’d like to know how bad things have to get before council members are thrown out of office. Does it require city bankruptcy, horrendous financial impropriety such as at the city of Bell or what?

    I love it when people say it’s not his fault or it’s out of his control. At least part of what we elect our city council for is to have a basic financial responsibility to ensure that in tough times the city has enough savings to ride us through it. That is what the county board of supervisors did and that is what the LA city council failed to do. The city council members are responsible for getting us in this mess. There were options to ensure stability and they to this day are failing to live up to their responsibility for good sound fiscal policy.

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