Here’s my favorite line from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s “State of the City” speech Tuesday: “When challenges seem daunting, it’s always helpful to recall the old Japanese proverb: ‘Adversity is the foundation of virtue.’ ”
My personal favorite proverb comes from my mother: “Actions speak louder than words.”
I’ve been struggling since last night to put those proverbs together and make sense of what I feel about the mayor’s speech and my own beliefs about what LA needs to turn around its decline into a city of haves and have-nots, a city where special interests prevail over the public interest, a city where 50.5 percent of the voters showed last month just how alienated they are from the political leadership by voting against solar energy.
In its own small-time way, the mayor’s State of the City speech had all the theater of a presidential State of the Union address. Even the themes echoed: Hard times, sacrifice, green energy…
The Times was oddly fascinated with the larger political context, headlining “Villaraigosa strikes gubernatorial tone,” and largely ignored the actual content of what the mayor had to say, putting the story on page three.
The Daily News made it the front page centerpiece and Rick Orlov captured the heart of the speech in his lead quote: “This is reason for urgency,” Villaraigosa said. “A reason to come to the table with new ideas. To recognize there is not a moment to spare.”
Personally, I’m willing to wait for his budget plan next week before judging what he appears to be proposing. And I’m choosing to overlook the fact he was using the speech to launch his campaign for governor, and that he deflected all responsibility for the city’s 12 percent unemployment rate and the $530 million and rising budget deficit.
Secure in the belief he couldn’t possibly mean the majority of voters who said “No” to Measure B, I’ll even overlook his attack on “the politics of no. Of saying what we can’t do. No to investment in the long-term. No to what we can do together as parents and neighbors in communities, small towns and big cities across our state.”
Instead, I want to focus on the foundation of virtue in our adversity, the recognition in his speech that he knows the truth that there is only one way out of the calamity we face.
“It’s going to take a bold reassertion of our belief in community as a value – here in LA and across America.”
That is what it will take: Community. The dictionary offers these definitions: “a unified body of individuals; an interacting population of various kinds of individuals …in a common location; a group of people with a common characteristic or interest living together within a larger society; a group linked by a common policy.”
We are all in this together, our lives, fortunes and sacred honor at stake, as the Declaration of Independence puts it.
I don’t see why it so hard to see that and put action behind the words. In my 30 years of fighting City Hall as a journalist, it’s always seemed to me the problem was always the lack of openness, inclusiveness and honesty in our government.
The mass of people have been treated like the enemy, seen at best as cash cows that feed a system that fails to provide the basics like good schools, public safety, paved streets and sidewalks, livable neighborhoods, good jobs and a healthy business climate.
The mayor talks to some but not all of those issues, too often putting worthy social welfare goals ahead of the fundamental duties of the city.
We do need to put failing schools in the hands of the people who can help them succeed. We do need energy and water conservation, a clean technology industry and many other goals the mayor has set.
But we also need the costs of city government brought into line with what we can afford and focused on the primary goals of making this a city that works, in all senses of the word.
It doesn’t take a butcher with a “meat cleaver” to achieve this as the mayor described it. It takes a surgeon carefully eliminating what is not working or unaffordable.
And it requires depolicizing the bureaucracy and the commission system so that policies come forth that provide for the common good with common sense.
Most of all, it takes a commitment to make the people of the city true partners involved in the process, respected for their differences in values and needs and empowered and informed to fully participate in finding solutions.
If the mayor wants to be governor, he needs to be a great mayor first. That’s his job.
Ron Kaye is the former editor of the Los Angeles Daily News where he spent 23 years helping to make the newspaper the voice of the San Fernando Valley and fighting for a city government that serves the people and not special interests. Twice in recent years, Los Angeles Magazine listed Kaye among the city’s most influential people, specifically in the area of politics. Kaye has been variously described in the media as the “accidental anarchist,” “the Patrick Henry of the San Fernando Valley” and a “passionate populist.” He is now committed to carrying on his crusade for a greater Los Angeles as an ordinary citizen.
Republished with permission from Ron Kaye L.A.
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