Can we count on your support?
A phone call from a local political campaign gets personal
It was late in the afternoon, too late to write another word, but too early to start making dinner. So, I put on a podcast where two comedians discuss and debunk Bigfoot sightings, while I did some chores.
After the bathrooms had been cleaned, and the living room tidied, I brought in the mail. Today’s mail included ten bajillion campaign fliers. Actually, that was an exaggeration. There were only nine bajillion political fliers, along with our ballots.
Hallelujah! The California primary was finally here. Soon, the general election would be here too. That meant we were mere months away from pundits telling us what would happen in 2024, while insisting it was “premature” to make predictions for 2026!
This momentous occasion called for a tweet. I picked out the three best fliers from today’s haul, arranged them on the freshly-cleaned table with our ballots, and used the fading afternoon light to capture the magic of democracy with my phone’s camera.
I was trying to decide what to tell Twitter about this photo, when my phone rang. It was a local area code, but I didn’t recognize the number. I answered the call anyway because I like surprises.
“Is this Michael?”
“Yes, it’s me,” I said, maybe little too excited.
“Great! Michael, my name is Katherine. I’m calling on behalf of Pilar for California. Pilar Schiavo is running for the California State Assembly. Are you familiar with Pilar?
Was I familiar with Pilar? Her flier was sitting on our dining room table, and I was about to tweet a picture to prove it. Speaking of Twitter, Los Angeles progressives have been tweeting about Pilar for months.
“Yeah, I know a little bit about her.”
In rapid-fire, Katherine gave me the highlights: Pilar’s biography, her policy positions, and some impressive endorsements. Everything Katherine said sounded good to me, but when Katherine asked if I would commit to voting for Pilar, I hesitated.
“I think I’m leaning toward Pilar, but I need to do some research before I commit.”
“No problem. Let me give you Pilar’s website.”
Katherine could’ve left it at that, but instead she took a chance on a local issue that’s on everyone’s mind.
“I hope you’ll take a look at Pilar’s plan to address homelessness,” she said. “I think Pilar has good ideas, and she doesn’t take money from groups that have contributed to making the problem worse, you know.”
Katherine’s comment resonated with me. Everyone in Los Angeles talks about the homelessness crisis, but few people talk about the corruption that permeates local politics. One example: my previous city councilman pled guilty to federal bribery charges, but his chief of staff, who was implicated in the indictment, escaped prosecution, and got himself elected to the seat his old boss once held. But my district isn’t unique. Two other LA City council members are also under indictment, and in recent years, several more local politicians have been implicated in corruption schemes, but weren’t charged.
While the corruption cases aren’t connected, one typical fact pattern involves real estate developers bribing local politicians to authorize projects that exacerbate the shortage of affordable housing and increase traffic. It’s a win-win for developers and local politicians.
Corruption is also a win for Hollywood, which has a gift for turning real pain into financial gain. Corruption in this town has inspired some great noir stories like Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Inherent Vice, and season two of True Detective. Sadly, none of those stories have inspired the people of Los Angeles to vote the corrupt motherfuckers out of office.
“I’m glad to hear she isn’t taking developer money,” I said. “I grew up in the Valley. Born and raised. I’ve never seen homelessness this bad. But you know what really frustrates me? Yes, there’s a humanitarian crisis. It’s a tragedy. But what really frustrates me is Los Angeles voters have voted multiple times in the past few years to raise their taxes to help their homeless neighbors. I’m forty-four, and at the risk of sounding like an old man, the LA I grew up in wasn’t nearly as compassionate. Not even close. I’m terrified our leaders are squandering the electorate’s good will.”
“Me too,” Katherine said. “I see you live in Chatsworth. I live in the West Valley. I’m thirty-eight, and I grew up here too. I know exactly what you’re talking about.”
“I’ll vote to raise my taxes to help people,” I said. “I’m happy to do it. A lot of my friends feel the same way, which really wasn’t the attitude here in the eighties, when I was growing up.”
“No, it wasn’t. You’re right.”
“But it’s got to work, you know? It’s got to work, or else what are we doing?”
“That’s why it’s so important that Pilar doesn’t take money from developers.”
“Tell me about it,” I said. “Rick Caruso is trying to buy the mayor’s office. I wonder why. Have you seen his ads? Of course, you have. You can’t watch a Dodgers game, or a YouTube video without seeing his ads. The dude who built The Grove is saying he won’t be beholden to special interests?! What a joke. The dude is a special interest.”
Katherine laughed, then said something else about Pilar’s bona fides.
“Can I answer any other questions for you?”
I didn’t have any other questions about Pilar. But to paraphrase Snoop Dogg, with my mayor on my mind, and my mind on my mayor, I did have a different question.
“I get that we’re talking about a state government race, but this is complex shit, and it’s going to take smart, honest people working at every level. So, if you don’t mind me asking, I’d love to know who you’re voting for mayor?”
“I don’t mind telling you, but there’s actually a law that prohibits me from talking about other campaigns on a campaign call.”
That sounded screwy to me, but also entirely plausible because the campaign finance laws in this country are screwy.
“Tell you what,” Katherine said. “I can give you my Twitter handle. I tweet about local politics.”
“That would be awesome.”
Katherine gave me her Twitter handle. I recognized it immediately.
“Holy shit, I know you! We follow each other. I’m Slacker Noir!”
“Oh my god, no way, dude! I know you too.”
“This is crazy. We’ve been talking for five minutes like we’re strangers, but we’re actually internet friends.”
“Too funny, dude.”
“I totally know who you’re supporting for mayor,” I said.
“Yeah, it’s pretty obvious for anyone who follows me on Twitter.”
“And you can mark me as yes for Pilar.”
“Hell yes! I was leaning her way, and you made a good pitch, but then we made the connection, and it was a done deal.”
We said our goodbyes. Then I tweeted about the serendipitous call, but I forgot to include the picture of Pilar’s flier.
“Craziest phone call today,” I told Christina over dinner.
“Let me guess, someone called about an auto warranty for a car we don’t own, and you convinced them to quit the scammer life and walk the straight and narrow.”
“No. I’m good, but I’m not that good. Besides, this was about politics, not scams.”
“I dunno, there’s a lot of overlap there.”
“No scam. This call was on the up-and-up. Promise.”
I told Christina about my call with Katherine.
“Wow, that is crazy,” Christina said.
“I guess what they say is true.”
“What’s that?” Christina asked.
“All politics really is local.”
“More like, it’s a small world, after all.”
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I lied to you about something. Season two of True Detective isn’t a great noir story. It’s not even a good noir story. Actually, I think it’s mediocre. Please accept my apologies and set me straight by telling me your favorite noir story.
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