CHARLOTTE LAWS - DREAM AND ACHIEVE TOGETHER
Anybody But Hahn? A Mayoral Convention for the Animals
by Charlotte Laws
A few months ago, the country heard the Democrats' mantra "Anybody but Bush." On January 9, 2005 at the Citizens for a Humane Los Angeles mayoral convention at Beverly Garland's Holiday Inn in North Hollywood, one group of animal rights and welfare advocates supported the "Anybody but Hahn" theory while another argued "Vote your Heart." In the end, the latter prevailed, and the convention endorsed the only Republican candidate in attendance, attorney Walter Moore, who had demonstrated the greatest concern for nonhumans and commitment to their plight.
Joining Moore at this event were State Senator Richard Alarcon, Former Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, Councilmember Bernard Parks, and Councilmember Antonio Villaraigosa. The 140 conference attendees appreciated the fact that these candidates took the time to address animal issues and attend the convention in spite of the pounding rain. Moore joked, "It's raining cats and dogs."
Mayor James Hahn was the only invitee not in attendance. The format involved a presentation by each contender with written follow-up questions from the audience. The plan was for the animal community to come together to support one mayoral candidate in the election, rather than split their votes potentially six or more ways.
Moore, who had already met with the humane community in November when he held his own Pet Policy Conference, was well-equipped to present his ideas. He began by extracting his cell phone from his pocket, "Do you know what my first call will be as Mayor? I will order an end to the killing at the shelters."
He went on to advocate a dog beach, spot inspections at shelters, free spay/neuter services, a move to place zoo elephants in a sanctuary and a requirement for landlords to accept pets. The latter was probably the most controversial of his ideas, but seemed to be accepted by both the tenants and landlords in attendance. In return, landlords would receive a ten percent higher rent, a $1000 pet security deposit, and be permitted to evict tenants with nuisance animals.
Villaraigosa was the second speaker, mentioning the 44,000 dogs and cats killed at city shelters each year. This number differs from statistics provided by the L.A. Times, as well as those offered by Daily News, and are different yet from numbers thrown out by city employee Regina Adams at a meeting I had with her and the General Manager of Animal Services (GM) Guerdon Stuckey a month ago. The true number of animal deaths in the shelters seems to be a carefully guarded secret.
To the predominantly vegan/vegetarian room, Villaraigosa said, "It would be easy for me to speak to the crowd and throw red meat" – an awkward cliché prompting whispers in the house, but which was intended to convey his promise to speak in a forthright manner, rather than tell the audience what they wanted to hear.
Villaraigosa encountered one serious difficulty, which involved his City Council vote in favor of Stuckey for the GM job, admitting that he considered Stuckey a poor choice at the time. He referred to this uncomfortable topic as the "big elephant under the rug," and promised to fire Stuckey when becoming mayor, a pledge made by almost every candidate.
Villaraigosa's strongest argument was that he offered the best chance for beating Hahn, since current polls showed him tied with the Mayor and since he had received endorsements from noteworthy groups. Villaraigosa praised his staff member Jim Bickhart, whom he called "the animal community's voice" and added that he and Bickhart would hold animal services accountable and make spay/neuter more affordable.
Hertzberg was the third speaker and called himself "a hands on guy," who would be inclusive and communicative. He emphasized sprucing up the shelters so Angelinos would feel welcome and connecting all shelters via Internet so as to facilitate reunions between people and their lost pets. When asked how he would grade Mayor Hahn on animal-related issues, he gave the lowest score possible, a "Z." Hertzberg's error was segueing into the subject of education reform; which is, of course, an important issue and a major platform of his campaign, but which was entirely off topic.
Deviating from an emphasis on animals was a common mistake made by most candidates. Alarcon—who seemed truly concerned about downtrodden people--said, "I am not an animal rights activist, but a human rights activist." He emphasized the need to teach children about compassion through the proper treatment of pets and linked violence against people with violence against animals. "If we can't treat animals with dignity," he said "we can't treat people with dignity."
Alarcon said that his replacement for Stuckey would come from within the city, adding that Hahn should have been able to find a qualified candidate out of 3.7 million people in Los Angeles rather than hiring a GM from across the country.
Parks, with his usual confidence and sense of humor, was the final contender. His biggest laugh came when he criticized comments made previously by one of Hahn's deputies who called L.A. animal people, "illegitimate terrorists." Parks quipped, "Having worked in the police anti-terrorism department, I don't recognize any of you."
Parks expressed an unfamiliarity with animal issues and said he was trying to understand them. More than the other candidates, he focused on humans, rather than the plight of the nonhumans. He worried about the impact of pit bull fights on people who watch them, rather than on the animals themselves. He talked about protecting people from vicious dogs and spent a good deal of time discussing the city budget. The emphasis at the convention was supposed to be on the nonhuman cause, and the candidates who ignored or forgot this, lost points with the crowd.
The final segment of the conference permitted three-minute speeches by members of the audience, making arguments as to why a particular candidate should be supported or rejected by the coalition.
There were two schools of thought: one group--many of whom were Democrats and shocked to be favoring a Republican--wanted Walter Moore to win the endorsement since he had an intelligent grasp of the issues and had made "no kill" an emphasis of his campaign from the start.
The other group preferred the "lesser of two evils" theory; in other words, they advocated "Anybody but Hahn." They thought Moore's chances of winning were modest, thus wanted the Humane Community to recommend the most viable candidate.
In the end, Moore received the endorsement with 59 votes. Villaraigosa and Hertzberg won second and third place respectively with 39 and 23 votes. If Moore does not make the run-off, perhaps the Humane Community will cast a second vote in March for Hahn's opponent.
In the meantime, this Republican attorney—who has been fighting for press and debate coverage--will receive funds and volunteers from the Humane Community. This coalition of possibly thousands—many who were unable to attend the convention due to power outages and washed away roads—will strive to make him the next mayor, a mayor whom they feel will represent and protect both the people and animals of L.A.
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