OVER THE PAST year we’ve been printing interviews with candidates for mayor of Los Angeles. This month we spotlight Kevin James. Don’t confuse him with the actor of the same name who starred in The King of Queens, though I’m sure that come the March primary, he’d be happy if you did; after all, the state was meshuga enough to elect Arnold Schwarzenegger—twice. This Kevin James, a gay Republican, is a lawyer and former radio talk-show host whose platform boils down to: “The other candidates—all veteran City Hall seat warmers—have gotten us into a financial mess. I am the only one you can trust to get us out.”
That sort of pitch won’t guarantee victory (at least it didn’t for Mitt Romney). Yes, the city is severely broke, and a looming 25 percent pay increase for municipal employees won’t make us more solvent. But we’ve got momentum. A plethora of civic projects, from increased public transit to significant new green spaces to an enhanced airport, puts us smack-dab in phase four of the city’s growth. The next leader of Los Angeles needs to be more than a self-styled Mr. or Ms. Fiscal Fix-it. What we need is vision. Someone who will recognize this as a transformative era for L.A. Someone who can harness the energy of the Occupy generation yet also inspire their grandparents to invest in the city. Someone who will focus on the job at hand, not on what their next job will be.
I’m not looking for a superhero (like Newark mayor Cory Booker, who ran into a burning building to save a neighbor); I’m looking for a legacy builder. Say what you will about Michael Bloomberg’s heavy-handed regulations (no public smoking! no sodas!), but when he leaves office the man will have left his mark on New York City. I was disappointed when Rick Caruso opted out of our mayoral race because I’m confident that the developer of shopping centers like the Grove and the Americana at Brand would have spiced up the race and advanced the conversation. Even if you disagree with Caruso’s politics or aren’t a fan of malls, you can’t deny that he knows how to frame a vision and how to execute it, too.
At the moment the three front-runners in the race are Wendy Greuel, Eric Garcetti, and Jan Perry—each of whom came up through the city council. I don’t doubt their passion for the city, but all three have been criticized for doing a less-than-exemplary job of distinguishing their agendas. It is the council, of course, that has to approve any appointments and proposals made by the mayor. I hope their campaigns don’t reflect a council-person’s view of the office’s limitations. Forgive the cliché, but this is a city of dreamers. Our next mayor needs to think big. Those who want the seat have got just two more months to knock us out. We’re all ears.