Quick geography quiz: In the past half century, which region has seen only a handful of leaders, and today is focused on a controversial multibillion-dollar reconstruction project?
No, it's not Iraq. Welcome to the Westside -- or more specifically, the 11th City Council District.
In March, City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski will be termed out of office. Two well-connected front-runners, Bill Rosendahl and Flora Gil Krisiloff, are already battling for the prize of representing the quarter-million people -- including the sizable Jewish communities in places like Brentwood and Pacific Palisades.
From the LAX expansion to the Skirball and the Getty, from the Pacific to the Ballona Wetlands, there is a lot at stake, and both candidates know it. At first glance, they actually seem to have a lot in common.
Both are tired of gridlock, especially near the airport. Both want more responsible development. Both are longtime L.A. residents with a passion for public policy. And neither has ever been a politician.
"The transportation traffic headaches have turned into gridlock. Regional issues haven't been worked on regionally," Rosendahl said in an appeal to Southern California unity. "The 88 cities in L.A. County have to work together to solve these problems. An L.A. problem is also a Santa Monica problem, a West Hollywood and a Culver City problem."
Rosendahl said he would push for a regional summit on transportation and a light rail line from downtown to the coast.
On the issue of gridlock, Krisiloff notes one of her proudest accomplishments: The work of the San Vicente Design Review Board. "That's a four-lane highway that's ended up being very pedestrian friendly," Krisiloff told The Journal. "We were ahead of the curve 20 years ago in having a vision for that street."
Crucially, both Krisiloff and Rosendahl also oppose Miscikowski's deal with Mayor James Hahn on the expansion of LAX -- a plan that calls for a major overhaul, including moving passenger check-in to a new structure in Manchester Square and tearing down three existing terminals at a cost of $11 billion.
Rosendahl, in his usual style, advocates the regional approach. "When I looked at LAX, I thought of the three airports that serve the New York area. But for some reason in Los Angeles, it's all at LAX on the Westside," he said.
He said he would support modernization of LAX, but only up to the 78 million-passengers-per-year mark (the current promised expansion limit). He said Los Angeles needs to provide incentives for airlines to fly nonstop from Ontario Airport to take the pressure off of LAX and the Westside.
Krisiloff bristles at the thought of another broken LAX promise. "With the [Miscikowski] LAX master plan, there's no constraint that will honor what all the mayoral candidates pledged three years ago that growth would be held at 78 million passengers per year."
"It's all about trust," Krisiloff said. She spoke of the hazards of unchecked LAX expansion for the communities in that area in terms of rising health risks and traffic.
But, similar policies aside, Krisiloff and Rosendahl have very different perspectives on how politics work.
Rosendahl has a background in media, and mass communication is his metaphor. "We are a megalopolis of some 15 [million] to 18 million people that has no center pulling together the community," he said. "Our television and our radios and our newspapers are the way that people interact." Rosendahl used his media expertise to produce numerous public-affairs TV shows on issues ranging from Los Angeles politics to the Middle East peace process, including an interview with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Even today he educates others as a professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills, teaching such courses as Media & Politics and Public Affairs Television.
But despite his laudable emphasis on public awareness through the media, he still faces association with his maligned former employer: Adelphia Communications. That fraud-ridden media corporation has no part in any politician's ideal resume.
"I'm a victim of Adelphia's corruption," Rosendahl explained. "I lost my job in a layoff, I lost all my stock value."
"I'm not a yes man, and I stood up to these corporate people," Rosendahl said of his campaign to increase wages for his workers while at Adelphia. "In my last two years at Adelphia, I produced my [public-affairs] shows and had no operating responsibilities," he added.
Krisiloff's background is rooted in the nonprofit and community organizations of West Los Angeles, such as the Los Angeles West Area Planning Commission and the Brentwood Community Council.
"I come from the neighborhoods, the community, from the trenches," Krisiloff said.
She said her experience with West Los Angeles has taught her to take the public's concerns on development especially seriously. One of Krisiloff's best known battles took place in Washington, D.C., as she lobbied to save the Veterans Administration buildings near Brentwood from commercial development.
"I was working with [Rep. Henry] Waxman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Barbara Boxer, with the mayor, with Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky," Krisiloff said. "The process was really flawed and I demanded a new master plan. They told me it would never happen. Well, a couple months ago we were told by the secretary of Veteran's Affairs that we will get it."
On the question of garnering Jewish support, Rosendahl has more well-known ties to the community, including friend Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, Western regional director of the American Jewish Committee. One of his many television programs, "Mideast Perspective," was focused on that most emotional of issues to many American Jews.
Rosendahl's base of support, as a matter of fact, is its own unique story. Candidates in Los Angeles must disclose their campaign contributors. Rosendahl has been funded by such varied figures as Peter Camejo (Ralph Nader's 2004 vice presidential running mate), Bush/Cheney 2004 Jewish liaison Bruce Bialosky, California Democratic Party Chair Art Torres and, perhaps expectedly, the Adelphia Political Action Committee.
Those names certainly give merit to Rosendahl's claim of bringing together people of all political inclinations, a skill he says he learned from hosting guests on public-affairs TV.
But Krisiloff is not worried. "I always say the difference is not what we're promising or what we're identifying now as problems, because in the end we're all going to sound alike in terms of the rhetoric," she said. "So how do you differentiate? I have a 20-year track record of leadership in West Los Angeles."
Clearly, the fight for the 11th has been a long time coming. It promises not to disappoint in 2005.