The Los Angeles Mayor's Race Charisma Gap

Voters phoned it in for the L.A. mayor primary. Would charismatic candidates have made a difference? Will its lack affect turnout on May 21? Photo: Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti

LOS ANGELES, May 1, 2013—Former Los Angeles City Council colleagues Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti are duking it out to become mayor of the second most populous city in our nation. The news coverage has been less than stellar from the city’s papers of record: the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News. When coverage does occur, it generally involves polls, the out-of-control PAC and union spending, the warmed over accusations of malfeasance on both sides, and voter apathy. Now that last one is news. The apathy in L.A. is thicker than the smog.

Only 16 percent of the 1.8 million registered voters in the city bothered to show up at the polls for the March 5 primary election. Three quarters of the voters chose to tune out the decision on who would lead their city. What is up with that?

Los Angeles Times writer Sandy Banks feels it’s a charisma gap. Her latest article lamented the fact that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa cannot run for a third term. According to her, despite many broken promises—and “many” is an understatement—Villaraigosa has left L.A. in better shape than he found it. She makes the case that the two candidates just aren’t up to snuff when it comes to heart, inspiration, or star power.

Sandy Banks is out to lunch save for two points: the candidates’ lack of star power, and the importance of it in getting an electorate on board.

Garcetti’s background is in urban planning, and Greuel’s is as an accountant and comptroller. Nothing sexy in either one of those career choices. Banks says, “When you’re trying to build partnerships, safeguard shrinking resources and stoke a sense of civic pride in a city of dizzying diversity, a Technicolor personality can be mighty valuable currency.”

Villaraigosa gives new meaning to “Technicolor personality.” He has it in spades, and Banks shows this clearly in her article. Unfortunately, Villaraigosa is in short supply on the essentials of leadership. To say the man is an empty suit, is an insult to empty suits. His lack of intelligence and oratorical skills are fodder among the local talking heads.

However, Villaraigosa clearly represents where we have come: the reality televisionization of politics. Substance no longer matters—give us drama, bigger-than-life personalities, and some good fights. Rome may be burning, but if you look good, and spin a good yarn while it happens, who cares? As this is the town that creates all those illusions in the first place, it should come as no surprise that L.A. is the poster child of the celebrity Mayor.

I have no horse in this race. Kevin James, one of the seven candidates in the March 5 primary and the only one that was a Republican, didn’t make it. Thanks to that voter apathy thing, two liberal Democrats, the same ones—mind you—who helped to create many of the city’s problems, are trying to prove to the electorate that they are different from each other. Good luck with that. The most distinction that has been made so far is a puff piece in the Daily Breeze (an L.A. South Bay paper) about how the candidates differ on incorporating their families into the campaign. Really hard hitting stuff there.

L.A. faces many issues, most of its own making. Villaraigosa has proposed a smoke-and-mirrors budget that will fail to balance anything if revenues are not increased. Business and industry is fleeing the city for friendlier municipalities every day. The Department of Water and Power pensions are driving us to the brink of insolvency. Gang violence is on the rise. And did I mention the always expanding potholes?

With all of these problems, what L.A. needs is a sound manager who can make decisions and show some leadership. Villaraigosa was not only sorely lacking, he truly did not care about anything but his vanity projects. Even with that singular focus, he failed to fulfill most of those too.

Candidates Garcetti and Greuel claim they can fill the competency shoes, even though they are about as charismatic as milk and melba toast. Will lack of charisma be the reason behind another stagnant voter turnout? We’ll find out on May 21.

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Jennifer Oliver O'Connell

Jennifer Oliver O’Connell is the "In My Orbit" columnist for Washington Times Communities, writes on Los Angeles Faith and Community for, teaches Yoga, and coaches on careers and reinvention.

You can keep up with what's in Jennifer's orbit through her As the Girl Turns website: (

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