Well, That Election Cycle Was Ugly

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Finally, we’re beginning to get a little distance from the 2013 Los Angeles election cycle. As attention shifts to what the Eric Garcetti era will be like, we are mentally moving away from all the negativity that the people running for office, along with the deep-pocketed labor and business groups that were backing certain candidates, made the populace endure.

The cycle was ugly. Actually, ugly doesn’t cover it. You can add “mean-spirited.” Occasionally “venomous.” While we’re at it, throw in “unnecessarily personal.” It’s best to stop there.

Unfortunately, this is a time in which fierce negativity is part of the political process. Despite uniform early proclamations that they want to focus on the issues voters care about, candidates and the people they pay to run their campaigns inevitably worry and get desperate. When there’s a downturn in the internal tracking polls or concern arises that a foe is making inroads on a voter bloc, going negative is seen as a reliable move. 

It was that way across the board during the recent cycle, but especially in the mayor’s race. Wendy Greuel delivered the harshest blows against several candidates, with Garcetti taking the brunt of her most personal attacks. Of course, by the time the votes were counted, the now mayor-elect had launched his own daunting offensives.

The attack ads and mailers seemed to give a green light to the Super PACs and independent groups supporting the candidates (the committees are legally barred from coordinating with the campaigns). That’s where some of the nastiest stuff flew. 

Other races were just as fierce. The city attorney’s contest between now incoming officeholder Mike Feuer and outgoing incumbent Carmen Trutanich was dominated in the latter stages by allegations and accusations. Although Gil Cedillo triumphed in the race for the First District City Council seat, it was only after he and his opponent Jose Gardea (and, once again, their independent supporters) overloaded district mailboxes with some vicious stuff.

The biggest question at this point is, do the ends justify the mudslinging means? It is easy for the winners to claim that they only gave what they got, and to seek to distance themselves from the rhetoric that flew during the height of a bitter election. 

Still, we think the situation requires a broader view of both politics and the city. The ugliness seemed to turn off a lot of people, and the harsh mailers and TV ads likely convinced at least some of those who would cast a ballot that no one deserved their vote. It’s hard to get the citizenry excited and eager to participate in the democratic process while they are drowning in poison.

Given the turnout of around 24% on May 21, it’s hard to say that the attacks and negativity work in the best interest of Los Angeles, whether or not you like the particular winners. People were either turned off or they weren’t paying attention or they didn’t care. None of those is good for our representative democracy.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2013