By Jose Martinez, 2/24/2011
Debate is Hotbed of Contention
The Los Feliz Improvement Association, the oldest neighborhood organization in Los Angeles, held a forum discussion on Feb. 16 with the three candidates seeking election as councilmember to represent the 4th District, which includes the Miracle Mile, Hollywood and Hancock Park, as well as Silver Lake, Los Feliz and North Hollywood.
The 90-minute forum was held at the Autry National Center’s Wells Fargo Theater, and incumbent Councilmember Tom LaBonge and candidates Stephen Box and Tomas O’Grady each declared himself as the answer to improving the current predicament the district finds itself in. With a packed room, the evening’s topics included public safety and security; parking; education; the partnership between public and private sectors; Griffith Park; and the potential for development of Hillhurst and Hyperion Avenues.
Box, a self-described transportation and budget activist, as well as a volunteer firefighter originally born in Queensland, Australia, stressed the area is in crisis while taking a swipe at LaBonge.
“We are in the middle of a crisis, a crisis of leadership,” Box said. “I believe we can and must do better. The era of pothole politics is over.”
O’Grady, a former carpenter who was born on a farm in West Ireland, also took LaBonge to task, stating that the popular councilmember is always surrounded by an entourage and a photographer.
“Leadership is not about potholes and photo ops,” O’Grady said.
To which, LaBonge retorted, “I love immigrants,” before saying directly to O’Grady, “You have to work with people.”
As the discussion heated, each candidate began with broad strokes.
“America has worked for me,” O’Grady said. “But my story is no longer possible for a lot of people in Los Angeles. It only works for a few and I don’t think that’s right.”
Describing himself as no nonsense, direct, impatient, incorruptible, naïve and an idealist, O’Grady, who wants libraries open seven days a week, is willing to cut his salary in half if elected (he noted the 4th District councilmember makes a base salary of approximately $179,000 while a U.S. senator makes approximately $174,000 according to the U.S. Senate website).
Meanwhile, Box denounced LaBonge as an insider of 35 years.
“Service is what I’m about,” LaBonge said.
“Experience counts. I’m in the business of helping people and I will continue to work hard for you.”
As councilmember for the 4th District since 2001, LaBonge tried to make connections with the audience, even quoting a line from the 1944 film “Double Indemnity” about meeting “at the corner of Vermont and Franklin.”
When speaking about Griffith Park, each candidate spoke passionately.
“Leave this park alone!” O’Grady said. “Griffith [J. Griffith] never intended it to be an amusement park.”
O’Grady complained LaBonge received extra time to answer questions, and the audience got into the act too by hissing when they thought their submitted questions would not be asked.
Box received loud applause when he referred to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s plan to lease city owned parking garage as “ill advised and absurd,” an issue LaBonge voted for.
The event marked the third candidate forum Box, LaBonge and O’Grady have participated in to date with at least three more scheduled before the March 8 election. Upcoming forums will be held today, Thursday, Feb. 24 at 7:30 p.m. at the Hollywood Adventist Church at 1711 North Van Ness Ave; Tuesday, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. at John Marshall High School, 3939 Tracy St. in Los Feliz; and Wednesday, March 2 at 7 p.m. at Park La Brea, 6200 W. Third St.