Last week the Buzz sat down with Windsor Square resident Mitchell Schwartz, who has decided to run for mayor against incumbent Eric Garcetti in the March, 2017 election.
Schwartz is the first to say his is a long-shot campaign, but he also notes that so far he’s on track to raise enough money to make it a “good” run. And for Schwartz that means focusing on the big issues he thinks current Mayor Garcetti isn’t addressing.
One of those issues is education. Schwartz says the current charter vs. traditional school struggle is a “continuing civil war,” that LAUSD may eventually lose without some serious reforms. “We have to break up the district; it’s just too big,” said Schwartz (who has done paid work for both sides in the charter/LAUSD battle). “I know it will be very difficult to do that, but a mayor has to speak out.”
Schwartz acknowledges that the mayor doesn’t control the school board, but he says only the mayor has a “bully pulpit,” so there is both a need to get involved and the opportunity to have a major influence on local education. In addition to breaking up the district into smaller, more manageable chunks, Schwartz said, we need to get rid of “last-in-first-out” retention systems and reform LAUSD pensions. Otherwise, he said, the district will go broke, possibly in just 3-5 years.
Another big issue Schwartz would like to grapple with is planning and zoning. “We need density in certain places but not everywhere,” he said. At the moment, said Schwartz, each city council member acts like a individual planning department and the city ends up with 15 different plans.
That said, however, Schwartz does believe that we need more affordable housing units. Currently, he said, there’s a high vacancy rate for luxury units, which feeds the homeless problem, and a very low vacancy rate for affordable housing. So he says he supports development in places – such as downtown – which “should be densified.” In places like Hollywood, however, he says the story is a bit different – many affordable units have been replaced with luxury units, without adding density, which doesn’t solve any of our housing problems.
As for the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, the ballot measure that proposes a two-year moratorium on any project requiring a zone change, and which will be on the ballot at the same time as the mayoral contest, Schwartz says he’s not sure yet of his official position. He says he understands the sentiments behind the measure, but is not sure yet whether not the specific legislation is “good policy.” “Though maybe that’s what it takes to fix things,” he said.
Whether he finally supports the NII or not, however, Schwartz says the measure will “definitely” affect the spring election and the conversations it creates. “It will bring up lots of bad things about how the city is run,” he said. “Everyone has problems with development.”
On other issues involving the city’s built environment, Schwartz said “single family neighborhoods should not be touched.” He’s also leaning toward “letting neighborhoods decide” on the issue of granny flats…and does support Measure A, which would help fund parks and green space in our park-poor city.
Schwartz said he’s not a fan of Measure M, however, which would create a new permanent tax to fund transit projects. Schwartz said he opposes the measure because studies show that Metro ridership overall is falling, despite expensive new light rail and subway projects in recent years, and it would result in billions of dollars spent on “something that’s not proven effective.”
Schwartz would also like to see the city pension system reformed. The economy has improved, he said, but Los Angeles has not replaced city workers laid off during the recession, because of pension issues. “It’s the biggest problem everywhere,” he said. “We just can’t leave it how it is.”
“I’m a progressive,” he noted. But “I’m a progressive who can do math.”
Overall, Schwartz, who has never held an elective office but has served as a campaign advisor in the past, acknowledges that running for mayor is difficult. But he says he’s doing it because he hasn’t seen the current mayor take on any of what he sees as the really big, difficult issues.
“Where are all the solutions to deal with the big problems?” he asks. And, yes, it’s hard, “but why get into politics otherwise? You have to be willing to fight and be unpopular and not get re-elected.” Schwartz also says that, unlike current and past mayors, he has no aspirations to higher office – he just thinks there’s a real chance to get something done as mayor in the next term. “I’m in this to win it,” he said. “That’s really my focus, but I want to do it in such a way that we highlight the important issues.”
Currently, Schwartz is meeting with many community groups and organizations, including local neighborhood councils, to get his message out. To find out more about him, or to invite him to speak to your group, see his new website, schwartzformayor.com