“Money is the mother’s milk of politics…”
So sayeth “Tip” O’Neill, long serving Democratic former Speaker of the House of Representatives. Such pronouncements ring loudly for me, having been raised in O’Neill’s hometown, Boston, and having been somewhat engaged on the political trade’s sidelines as an observer. Here are the basic reasons that drive people into that often shady business: The need for food, desire for money, sex or a better place in line — just like every other member of our primate family. It is inherent in our genes to be want to be heard, to have a few minutes at center stage voicing our thoughts, to hope for rewards that we might never have in the ordinary way of our lives.
Unfortunately, we are not like the other great apes who can barter for some rewards. We must pony up some real hard cash – the “mother’s milk” of O’Neil. Where the bulk of it comes from and how it is spent was once one of life’s darker mysteries. Now there are campaign finance rules regarding the handling of election funds and we can see the results of not exactly following them in our daily newspapers and TV news. The temptations to mess with the system are great and very few actually get away with it. On these pages, February 7th, a review of campaign donations up to the 24th of January was shown. Not surprisingly, the two Johns, Heilman and Duran had garnered the lion’s share, with 22 and 44% respectively (and another 16% donated to committees that support them). As far as could be determined, just about all of that money came from real estate investors, billboard owners and city vendors – all non-residents. So, we citizens simply accept that the path to any elected office is a hazardous journey for which one must be properly armed. Or, do we really accept that as a rationale for “politics as usual”?
The other candidates received more donations from residents. It makes me wonder whether the city actually needs residents – except for one function: They vote.
Or, do they? A comment posted under an op-ed I wrote last year said that when citizens are happy with their government they see little reason to vote. Another comment stated that many of the residents do not stay in WeHo very long and have little interest in its local politics. I believe that is a wrong approach in our exceptional (so far) democracy, especially at the most local level, where our elected officials’ feet must be kept to the fire, lest they forget why they were elected in the first place.
When only a minor percentage of the population takes time to become familiar with the community’s issues and make their voices heard, democracy fails. As Jane Jacobs, famed chronicler of the life of cities, has warned “democracy is fragile” and requires tending as a gardener would his plot.
The oversized postcards are coming now, more every day. Smiling faces reciting the same old platitudes, telling of past glories, promising that they can control the future and the pie in the sky will be available in many more flavors. Or, could we have to listen to the old hands (incumbents) tell us (again) how wonderful they have been for the city – and incidentally, even for us, the residents?
The viability of a city – and of any democratic government – depends upon a diverse citizenry exercising its democratic privileges and duties. How else will the inhabitants of City Hall know what their constituents are thinking. (Louis XIV had no idea, and remember what happened to him!) Think more about the recent presidential election wherein Trump was elected (by the electoral college, to be sure) by only about 27% of those who were eligible to vote. US citizens eligible to vote numbered 231 million; 135 million registered; 90 million who were registered did not vote. The numbers cannot allow Trump to claim a mandate – but who can argue when so many simply did not step up to vote.
Elected officials should never be allowed to rest on their laurels. They should be called, emailed, petitioned, confronted at council meetings and provoked to act in the best interests of those the represent. The term “public servant” comes to mind.
The noise that 25% of our eligible voters can make is but a murmur compared to the roar of 75% or more in concert. Incumbents must prove their worth in order to retain their seats. Find the differences between candidates and question them mercilessly. They must earn the position they seek. How does our City Council stack up in tis regard?
All you combat (and other) vets out there – do you recall the countless times you were told that you were being asked to sacrifice to “make the world safe for democracy”? You should be especially vocal, reminding the city fathers to listen up and heed. If you are anything like me and can recall the echoes of promises that colonels and politicians made when you were ass deep in a horrible place — well, you should be making things “right” for democracy by voting and pressuring City Hall.
Here’s something to keep in mind when considering your voting duty: Our little city is no different than many larger cities in our approach to housing. The term “affordable housing” is a throw-away, a one dollar bet in a high stakes poker game for developers and their pals at City Hall. The term has become nearly meaningless. The lower economic class and the poverty-stricken are being forced out of the inner cities by “gentrification,” a fictitious word for “greed.” Another term, “market price,” indicates another apartment or condo out of reach for most of us in West Hollywood.
For years financial planners have said that we should spend no more then 25% or total income on housing. I am aware of people who spend close to 50% since that is the cost of living in WeHo. Like the rest of the west side of Los Angles County, only the white upper middle class can afford to live here. The city has a large daily working population who travel to and from their jobs on long commutes. Perhaps we enjoy being amongst the elite…? As diversity in democracy is required, to have it function, so is it required to maintain the vitality of a city.
What’s your thought or idea for a continuing vibrant city (I’m not speaking of the visitors to the Sunset Strip, I’m speaking of us, the residents.) Think of what you like and what you don’t like; think of what you believe is missing. Turn your complaints into action. If not registered, do so – even if you won’t stay for more than a few years.
Learn about the issues facing us, or make up your own. Then, vote. You’ll be surprised at how much control you actually have. You’ll also be a responsible citizen in the greatest democracy ever — and you’ll have the chance to keep it so. I still remember the night of a City Council meeting in the old meeting hall/gymnasium when John D’Amico called out the council for its “elitist views and actions” and for dismissing the reasons for the city’s inception. His words should echo constantly in the new City Council Chambers with a reverberating taunt. Learn and vote wisely.