Paul Krekorian Wins City Council Presidency Then Promises to Diminish Its Power

Cityside Column: With the city still reeling, we will have to wait and see if the new council president will end the ”era of unilateral decision-making”
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It took just a few days from the discovery of the secretly recorded conversation featuring racist language from the now-former Los Angeles City Council President for Nury Martinez to see her career completely torched. With her permanently canceled, on Tuesday afternoon the council took a big step toward repairing a shattered public trust by unanimously electing Councilmember Paul Krekorian as its next leader.

In a curious way, that step came in a manner that was almost as secretive as what caused L.A.’s City Council to fall apart in the first place. Yes, the two scenarios are completely different and this move is about healing. But once again, the result of a vote dropped on the public with very little hint of what was happening behind the scenes at City Hall.

At around 2:15 on Tuesday, in a session that took place virtually because of a COVID-19 outbreak, the council voted 10-0 to install Krekorian, a veteran District 2 representative, as the panel president, replacing Martinez and taking over the chair that Mitch O’Farrell had held on an interim basis for a week. This is probably the best move the group could have made. Krekorian is one of the smarter and more mature people in City Hall. Although like all elected officials he fields criticism, including from an increasingly vocal progressive wing, the guy is balanced and knows how government works. His deep understanding of the city’s fiscal state—he has long chaired the panel’s Budget and Finance Committee—will be crucial as Los Angeles prepares for a new mayor.

But how precisely did he secure the unanimous vote? Great question.

If on Monday morning you’d said you were 100% certain Krekorian would claim the throne, then you are either part of a very small circle of Los Angeles power players or a bald-faced liar. His name had been floated since it became clear that Nury was done, which was six seconds, give or take, after the Los Angeles Times broke the story and Knock-LA posted parts of the audio recorded in the L.A. County Federation of Labor headquarters. Still, others were initially angling for the council leadership post, including District 8 officeholder Marqueece Harris-Dawson and District 9 Councilmember Curren Price.

On Monday, one person with knowledge of what goes on in City Hall told me that Harris-Dawson had fallen out of the running and that Price appeared to be ahead of Krekorian, though no one yet had the eight votes needed to win the job.

There’s an art to building the support required to be council president and the process can hold plenty of drama. Back in 2001, 28-year-old first-term councilmember Alex Padilla stunned City Hall watchers by outmaneuvering a 14-year veteran to be elected panel president. Yes, that’s the same Padilla who sits in the U.S. Senate.

I have no idea what magic words Krekorian used to build unanimous support but it was not lost on anyone that Price was absent from the council vote. That vote, by the way, was quick, easy and devoid of division. Harris-Dawson formally nominated Krekorian and Bob Blumenfield dropped the second. In a swift voice tally, everyone chimed in with an “aye,” including Krekorian.

Only with the departure of Martinez have many Angelenos begun to understand the true importance of the council president. This is essentially the second-most powerful elected official in the city, who has the power and position to bully and chest-thump with an outsized influence. Herb Wesson operated that way and his ally Martinez followed suit. This contrasted with Eric Garcetti, who during his years as council leader favored a consensus-building tack.

Not only have council presidents traditionally played a dominant role in the redistricting process—something finally on the path to changing—they appoint members to various committees. Their friends have historically gotten juicy assignments on panels that oversee real estate and energy concerns; foes get the less desirable committee gigs.

The council president also wields influence over what matters and even what will be heard. District 4 representative Nithya Raman pointed to that on Tuesday when she reflected on how, a year ago, she sought to get a discussion of her motion to make the redistricting process more independent.

“Even after this motion was introduced, it sat in Rules Committee for close to a year before it was heard,” she lamented, and no one will be surprised to learn that Martinez chaired that committee. “As a result, we lost the opportunity to have this on the ballot this year.”

With the votes counted, Krekorian delivered a 12-minute speech. He made it clear that he understood the gravity of the moment.

“Those who have been here before in times of transition will recall it is typically a time for celebration. But this is not one of those times,” he stated. “The city is not celebrating now. The city is still reeling.”

He promised to make the presidency a “collective enterprise,” and in a seeming effort to put a Band-Aid on any wound before it festers, professed to want Price to “play a key role in helping to bridge the divisions that have been revealed.”

The coming weeks could be disruptive and it won’t still be fallout from that hate-filled recording. In the wake of the June primary, an exasperated Krekorian didn’t bother to hide his displeasure with results that saw some veteran pols bounced or put in a precarious position by left-wing candidates: “Trust professionals. Trust people who know what the hell they’re doing,” he said at a Downtown luncheon.

On Tuesday, he was more conciliatory, asking anyone running for office on Nov. 8 to keep in mind what happens after the voting ends. He also made clear that he wants the resignations of council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León, who were in the meeting with Martinez and now-former labor leader Ron Herrera. Neither of the two pols has spoken in depth to the media since the scandal erupted.

Then there was perhaps the least expected comment of all. After ascending to one of the most prominent positions in local government, Krekorian made clear that one of his first moves will involve dismantling tradition.

“I will advance tangible steps to ensure that the power of the council president is reduced, not increased,” he stated. “The era of unilateral decision making on this council, and consolidating power, that ends today.”

It’s an intriguing and necessary statement. Now, Los Angeles has to see what tomorrow actually brings.

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