And Now, The Long Shot

Among the three leading contenders in the race to be L.A.’s next mayor, differences can be subtle. Then there’s attorney and former radio host Kevin James
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If you were trying to explain L.A. politics to an alien, who would you say runs the city?
Aside from [AEG president] Tim Leiweke? Leiweke is symbolic of the special interests that run city hall.

AEG is, of course, the company that built L.A. Live downtown and now wants to bring an NFL team to Los Angeles. But who else is on that list?
Unions like the IBEW, the SEIU, the Coalition of L.A. City Unions, and some major developers. Those are the primary interests. You’ve got labor on one side and the developers on the other. What’s been lost are two other groups: private business and the people.

How did you decide that you wanted to run the city?
It was my radio listeners. They’d tell me, “You understand this. You have solutions. Why don’t you do more than talk about it?” But it never really crossed my mind until I started moderating candidate forums and sitting across the table from some of these candidates and looking at the, shall we say, expertise of the people running city hall. That made me think I was sitting on the wrong side of the table.

It’s a given that you think you’re the best person for the job. But what do you think of the other candidates?
Status quo. No incentive for change. None of these candidates—not one of them—has any incentive to do anything different because they will have been given a promotion with this record of failure. Why do anything different? They are owned by the public sector unions. They will continue to do what they’re told by them.

Going against the unions isn’t that easy. Even Mayor Villaraigosa, who presumably had a lot of goodwill with the unions because he once represented them, had trouble getting concessions. What would you say is the highlight of eight years of Villaraigosa?
It has to be one word: bankruptcy. It is nationally known that L.A. is on the verge of bankruptcy. Villaraigosa is rarely here. It’s a running joke with pundits. He’s always out of town. He’s looking for his next professional step, whatever that may be.

Having cash is important for a city and for a campaign. There is a Republican super PAC out there now trying to shake the tree for you. But you’re being seriously outraised by your opponents. You didn’t exactly arrive here with a motorcade. What kind of campaign operation do you have?
I’ve got a great operation, considering our size. It’s leaner than my opponents’ but much more budget hawkish. John Weaver is my chief strategist. I’ve got a professional fund-raiser, a campaign assistant, a communications guy. I’ve got a treasurer from Long Beach. That’s because I needed a treasurer who wasn’t under indictment. Our office is on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks.

Let’s be frank. In addition to the fund-raising disadvantage, you’ve also got low name recognition. This is a moon shot at best. How do you not get depressed by the odds?
Here’s how I see it: I’ll be outraised three to one after matching funds kick in. But we’ve got bankruptcy looming, and that’s only going to get worse. You talked about my party registration. We have a lot of party faithful and foot soldiers coming our way. Then there’s my radio audience. It’s very bipartisan. There’s also the Walter Moore bloc.

Right, the independent candidate who received a chunk of the vote against Villaraigosa in 2009. You think they’ll be out there again in 2013?
They are the pitchfork-and-torch voters, the ones who are not going to vote for any city hall insiders under any circumstances. Then you look at what I consider to be the concerned voters, maybe voters who voted for one of my opponents before but see the threat of looming bankruptcy. In a low-turnout race, that’s enough votes to get to a runoff.

So you’re banking on voter disgust?
Have you found any satisfied voters in the city of L.A.? When I say in a debate that one of the first things I’m going to do as mayor is find the city engineer in Beverly Hills or Burbank who knows how to make a manhole cover level with the street, the crowd bursts into laughter. The reason that’s funny is because they know how crappy our roads are. I tell them, “If you are happy with the way L.A. has been run, you’ve got three good choices. But if there’s anything you don’t like about the way the city has been run, I’m the only candidate with the independence to do something about it.”

RELATED: See Speak Easy Q&As with mayoral candidates Jan Perry, Wendy Greuel, and Eric Garcetti here.