by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
January 13, 2000
Dr. Martin Luther King Day
Secession & The City
LOS ANGELES, Jan. 13, 2001 -- I tried to run for Mayor of Los Angeles today as a "city secession activist," but the City Attorney -- who is also running for Mayor -- said I couldn't do it. He won.
Dressed in basic black (double-breasted suit, that is, with a white shirt and red tie) I headed downtown to the basement of 700 E. Temple Street, where the Asst. Chief of the City Clerk's Elections Division looked at my papers, asked me some questions and quickly decided to call the City Attorney. That's one James Hahn, the scion of a rich and powerful political dynasty headed by his father, who is now seeking to move up from City Hall East to City Hall itself. He's a tall, likeable scarecrow of a guy whose late dad's coattails are unimaginably long.
I explained that I had worked very hard to bring the secession issue that is likely to dominate this election to the fore by organizing a debate between mayoral candidates and the principal leaders of the secession movements in the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood and San Pedro, a community surrounding the Port of Los Angeles about 20 miles south of downtown. I said I had also written extensively about the issue for this paper and others. The debate produced headlines in four local dailies.
The Asst. Chief Clerk, a pale fellow named Ted Moutes, explained that deputy city attorney Claudia Culling had reviewed my claim to being a secession activist and found it wanting, especially since I am also (although frankly, not gainfully) employed as the Editor-in-Chief of this newspaper.
Neither one of these jobs pays me anything, and both cost me rather a lot compared to my modest income, but I feel I am as entitled to one as to the other, and really ought to be able to call myself whatever I like, within reason. I didn't ask to be "world's greatest lover" or "tall handsome male," after all.
But there's a damned good reason I can't call myself a "city secession activist," even though I am one. That is that some 270,000 people -- about 150,000 more than needed to elect a Mayor -- have signed petitions in the three secession areas saying they want to see if breaking up L.A. is feasible. If AT&T can break itself up into four parts to make itself work better, why not this city of 3.5 million people spilled over 462 square miles and running 34 miles from San Pedro to Sylmar?
If Hahn were to let me run as a "city secession activist," and any appreciable number of voters happened to like the idea of a mayor who might let parts of the city go, Hahn's royal goose would be cooked, but good. So, I can't run as a "city secession activist," as least until Tuesday when the city attorney's office will make a final decision, and when four precious days of signature-gathering will have been lost. Tuesday is the last day to file for the race, and 1,000 valid signatures from registered voters have to be gathered over a few short weeks -- that's a back-breaking job even with enough time to do it.
I walked a few feet from the reception desk to the City Ethics Commission and spoke to analyst Barbara Freeman, saying I would like to file a conflict of interest complaint. She offered to give me the name of an investigator, but pointed out that because none of the city's ethics code addresses this question, and investigations take a very long time, it would not be a practical route.
A city council candidate beside me suggested I call a press conference in front of the city attorney's office and bemoan the unfairness of it. That might have worked 65 years ago. My only recourse is to go to court, which is expensive (I admit to being poor). I don't think the ACLU would take this one on.
The fact that the city's election code didn't provide an alternative to the city attorney when his office is asked to rule on a candidate's designation and he himself is a candidate for the same office is probably too labyrinthine a fix for anyone to have imagined in advance.
But my civil rights have been violated, and my campaign has been obstructed. I can be almost absolutely certain that no local news organization will see a story in this lonely fact, either. It's pretty much a one-paper town, and they like L.A. the way it is.
And since all six of the major candidates all oppose secession, my problems ought to make a whole lot of folks very happy. And a whole lot of other folks who might be very mad will be none the wiser.
Joe Shea wouldn't wish the political bug on anyone.