"Sometimes when you are working with people on the streets, a level of trust needs to be gained before they accept those services. I believe we have done a very successful job"
While John Lee likes to say that he is running as a "disrupter" to the current system, he is well entrenched within the status quo. Before getting ensnarled in a scandal alleging sexual harassment (which cost the taxpayers $75,000), Lee was a long-time staffer in the CD-12 office that he is asking to lead. While he does not mention this fact in public debates, Lee's last position in city government was as the Chief of Staff for Mitch Englander, the politician whose early departure necessitated the costly August 13th special election.
As Lee and his opponent, Dr. Loraine Lundquist, met for a candidate forum hosted by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), it was clear that Lee is feeling the stress of selling himself as something that he is not. While his delivery seemed more confident than it had at his previous appearance, his message was once again lacking cohesion. Even worse, his statements were punctuated with lies, lacked an understanding of the protections provided by the American justice systems, and exposed his lack of respect for district voters.
During the previous debate, Lee had tried to deflect Dr. Lundquist's attacks over his receipt of campaign donations from developers and the fossil-fuel industry by falsely claiming that she was accepting donations from Sempra Energy, the owner of the Southern California Aliso Canyon gas field that Dr. Lundquist has fought to shut down. This accusation was dropped at the ANCA debate and replaced with the equally questionable claim that his opponent had received a $90,000 from a New York hedge-fund manager.
According to the Los Angeles City Ethics website, Lundquist has received a total of $100,717.72 for the general election, with the largest donation being a self-funded loan in the amount of $34,800.00. The next largest donations were $4,531.44 classified as "unitemized" and a series of $800.00 contributions.
The Lee campaign was asked to "provide the name of the donor and any additional comment they may have on the matter" and responded with a link to a page on the Los Angeles City ethics website. However, this did not provide information about a donation to the campaign that the candidate would have had the option of accepting or rejecting. Instead, it gave details about an Independent Expenditure by a group called "I LOVE LA." By law, candidates cannot have any communication with independent expenditure committees and cannot direct their activities in any way.
Since "I LOVE LA" is in fact funded by a hedge-fund manager who currently lives in New York, Lee is correct in stating that Lundquist does have out-of-state support, but this funding is by law independent of his opponent's campaign. To state otherwise was an outright lie.
While Dr. Lundquist has proposed the importance of building bridge housing and transitional supports to solve the homeless problem. In comparison, Lee has promised to keep this type of housing out of City Council District 12. Instead, he has proposed that "we let the police do their jobs" and have them handle the problem. Somehow he feels that prison cells are appropriate alternatives to living on the streets.
At the ANCA debate, Lee made it clear that the Constitution was not going to stand in the way in his efforts to keep the downtrodden from public view, especially when it threatens to interfere with the "character" of the district. He proposes that the police should arrest those who are struggling with substance-abuse problems and force them into rehabilitation. While he says that "they will thank us for it later", it is highly improbable that his strategy will work as rehabilitation programs require patients who are willing participants in order to succeed. Furthermore, if the underlying issues that led to their homelessness are not addressed, they face an uphill battle of maintaining sobriety after they are released from their forced incarceration.
THE AMERICAN WAY?
While Lee pretends that he wants to disrupt the status quo that he has long been a part of, he made it very clear that it is the will of the voters who will be the real subject of his attack. Measure M was overwhelmingly approved at the ballot box, but Lee wants to derail the bus rapid-transit route that was included in this initiative. Voters also voted for Measure HH to fund initiatives to fix the homeless problem, but the former Chief of Staff would like to continue the work of Mitch Englander to keep this money from being spent in the district. The voters also approved Proposition 47 because they wanted criminal-justice reform, but Lee ignores their message and calls for the homeless to be jailed.
Lee would also like to usurp the power of the elected members of the LAUSD School Board and give the Los Angeles City Council veto power over the schools' budget; an act that would disenfranchise some of the school district's stakeholders. The boundaries of the LAUSD extend beyond the borders of Los Angeles City and the students living in those areas also deserve equal representation. Lee's proposal would take it away.
Knowing that a special election's electorate will consist of those most passionate about issues, Lee and his supporters have dragged the race into the mud with a campaign based on lies, fear and an assault on the electorate. Voters can show future politicians their rejection of these methods by showing up on August 13th and voting for Dr. Loraine Lundquist.
Carl Petersen is a parent and special education advocate, elected member of the Northridge East Neighborhood Council and was a Green Party candidate in LAUSD's District 2 School Board race. During the campaign, he was endorsed by Network for Public Education (NPE) Action and Dr. Diane Ravitch called him a "strong supporter of public schools." His past blogs can be found at www.ChangeTheLAUSD.com. Opinions are his own.