Consider if you will the plight of the conservative living in Los Angeles. Today, most of you anticipate Christmas and the new year having recovered, more or less, from an emotionally trying but ultimately satisfying presidential election. But out here on the left coast, in this blue city in one of the bluest of states, no sooner will the holidays have ended than the March mayoral primary and all its accompanying silliness will be upon us. And for the conservative Angeleno the very best outcome imaginable in this contest is to be only mildly disappointed when the votes are counted. Municipal elections in Los Angeles are “non-partisan,” but such is the state of local politics that this term has come to mean that the incumbent and all four men vying to unseat him are Democrats. Thus the voters are presented with a slate of candidates whose ideologies cover the broad spectrum, from liberal to…very liberal.
The incumbent is James Hahn, a man few would describe as charismatic, but one who over the course of his political career has calmly if soporifically projected an air of competence. But today he is beset by scandal, with federal and local authorities investigating allegations that businesses were expected to fork over campaign donations in exchange for contracts with the city’s airport, harbor, and water-and-power departments. Hahn’s challengers throw up their hands and pretend to be shocked, shocked! by these allegations.
The mayor is the son of the late Kenneth Hahn, who for 40 years represented portions of south Los Angeles on the county board of supervisors. It was largely on the strength of his father’s popularity among blacks in south L.A. that Hahn defeated former California assembly speaker Antonio Villaraigosa in the mayoral runoff four years ago. But in the coming election blacks are unlikely to turn out so reliably for Hahn, for among his challengers is Bernard Parks, the former police chief whom Hahn and the police commission humiliatingly sacked in April 2002. Today Parks is a city councilman, and from his chair in the council chamber he has been relentless in his criticism of both Hahn and William Bratton, the former New York police commissioner appointed to succeed Parks as chief of the LAPD.
Longtime Dunphy readers will recall that I am no fan of Parks. The news of his ouster could not have been more joyously received by the rank-and-file members of the LAPD, and nowhere was this more true than here in the Dunphy house. The list of grievances against him was long and colorful, but it took a dismayingly long time before Hahn and the police commission, no doubt fearing a racial backlash, came to acknowledge the sad state of affairs in the department. Crime was rising, employee morale was plummeting, and officers were fleeing the city far more quickly than their replacements could be hired. These trends have been reversed under Bratton, but the damage done to the department under Parks’s stewardship has yet to be completely repaired. (For a look back on the troubles in the LAPD during the Parks years, click here, here, and here.)
And Parks’s feigned outrage over Hahn’s alleged ethical violations rings particularly hollow given the former chief’s association with his close friend and one-time second-in-command, Maurice Moore. In December 1999, while still chief of the LAPD, Parks was informed by the FBI that Moore, at that time a deputy chief for the department, was suspected of involvement in a large-scale cocaine distribution ring. Moore’s son, a convicted drug dealer, continued operating his enterprise from inside prison, and Moore was suspected of laundering money for him through sham real estate deals and other such chicanery. Despite this revelation, Parks allowed Moore to continue in his duties with the department and retire quietly in January 2002. Say what you will about Hahn’s strong-arm tactics with businessmen, but at least no one has seen him hanging out with dope dealers.
Though he was hailed by the troops as a savior when he arrived, William Bratton has now been in office long enough to have aroused grumbling in the ranks. He has at times been more politician than cop, swaying like a willow in the political winds when his officers were looking hopefully for a sturdy oak. He owes his job to Mayor Hahn, and many of his decisions seem calculated so as to further Hahn’s reelection chances. Typical has been the department’s handling of the June arrest of career criminal Stanley Miller, who stole a car and led police on a high-speed chase through south Los Angeles before abandoning the car and fleeing on foot. Under the cameras of hovering news helicopters, Miller received a bit of rough handling from the officers who caught up with him, and one officer was shown striking him several times with a flashlight. In the end Miller was uninjured, but the videotape, broadcast ad nauseam as it was, stirred up resentment against the LAPD in the usual quarters. The involved officers have since been treated like criminals, with three of them forced into administrative duties and six others under what amounts to house arrest as they await a decision from the district attorney’s office on whether charges will be filed against them. The incident took place in the LAPD’s Southeast Division, which as of last week was second in homicides among the city’s eighteen patrol divisions with 72 for the year. Reflecting the misplaced priorities in the department and city government, the internal affairs probe against these officers has consumed far more investigative time and resources than any ten of these homicides.
Still and all, when my colleagues express their disappointment with Bratton I always ask them if they would rather be serving under Bernard Parks. The consistent answer is no, they wouldn’t, and any fair assessment of the two chiefs’ performance should begin and end with a look at the bottom line: Violent crime in Los Angeles is down 18 percent from two years ago, with homicides down 21 percent. Whatever our quibbles might be with Bratton, such numbers would be unthinkable had Parks not been replaced.
Clearly there is no love lost between the current and former chiefs. At a July city-council meeting addressing the Miller arrest, Parks upbraided Bratton for being racially insensitive in his remarks about street crime. “My record on the issues of race, ethnicity, gay issues is clear,” Bratton answered, scarcely concealing his contempt for his inquisitor. “If you’ve got a problem with it, well, that’s your problem.” For a moment I thought the two of them would step outside and settle things, like Hamilton and Burr, with pistols at 20 paces.
Though Parks won his council seat last year with nearly 80 percent of the vote in his district, few observers think he can win a citywide election. He is smart enough to know this, but he is also vindictive enough and vain enough to revel the role of spoiler to the man who forced him out. He is in a position to deliver the black vote to whichever candidate Hahn faces in the eventual runoff, and with five candidates in the primary it is all but certain that none of them will bring in the majority needed to avoid one. Bob Hertzberg, who, like Villaraigosa, once served as speaker of the California assembly, has a base of support in the suburban San Fernando Valley, which voted for Hahn over Villaraigosa in 2001. Villaraigosa, now a city councilman, is running again and will likely split the growing Hispanic vote with fellow councilman Richard Alarcon.
But no matter who wins, Los Angeles conservatives–all nine of us–will lose.
–Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.