The Rip Post




The Queen of Los Angeles
(Sept. 4, 2003)
      I don't like to write about politics. I had my fill of it as a general assignment reporter for two L.A. dailies years ago, deciding that it's one bottomless can of worms. The names change, the worms stay the same.
        I am coming, ever so briefly, out of retirement.
        A few weeks ago I wrote about the proposal to build a gigantic jail in the heart of Little Tokyo, and what a colossally stupid idea this was. Not only is Little Tokyo a thriving commercial district and residential community---and a real nice place---but I pointed out that maybe Japanese-Americans would not like a huge monolithic reminder of government-ordered incarceration in their midst.
        You know, seeing as they were locked up during World War II, despite being about as All-American as Babe Ruth and Kate Smith.
        Anyhow, case closed. The jail will not be built---thanks entirely to the concerted protests of L.A.'s Japanese-American community. Now, if they can just focus that same energy on the huge law enforcement headquarters planned for the same spot. . .
        The point of all this is Councilwoman Jan Perry, whose district includes Little Tokyo. In my column, I asked Perry how the jail proposal ever got so close to reality, and a number of rhetorical questions:
       Jan, have you and your fellow Councilmen/women forgotten that Little Tokyo is not a quaint tourist stop? Not just a place where you can ride in its Nisei Week parade every year? That it is a thriving community? That it is a major part of Los Angeles history? That thousands of elderly citizens reside there, along with a healthy sized artist contingent? Has the City Council forgotten the Japan American Cultural and Community Center? The Japan America Theater, the museum? The East-West Players Playhouse, the senior housing complexes, myriad restaurants, malls, foot traffic, restored and revitalized main drag on First Street. . .The acute paranoia about losing business because of beggars spilling over from Skid Row? (Oh, a jail will really help solve that problem. . .)
        Well, I heard back from the Councilwoman, which was terrific. Here---verbatim, as I received it---is her e-mailed response:
        "i read your article. it is unfortunate that we did not have the chance to speak. if you had, you would know htat (sic) i have opposed the jail form (sic) the beginning of the process. as for little tokyo as a quint (sic) tourist stop, please....i have been involved with the community since 1974."
        Now, she has a point that I might have checked with her before writing the column. On the other hand, I was writing a column, not a news story---and frankly, I think that if she had been doing her job properly, the jail plan would never have gotten off the drawing board. Just my opinion. But this is not what surprised me about her response.
        It was the "syntax."
        Look at it, folks: no capitalization, several misspellings, and most amazing. . .not even the slightest veneer of formality. Wouldn't you expect a government official to write something like, "Dear Mr. Rense, I read your column with interest and some alarm, and would very much like to set the record straight. . . "? Okay, put aside courtesy---what about her dignity?
        Ms. Perry, it seems, suffers from e-mail-itis, a common ailment which finds strangers writing to one another as if they have long-standing relationships, and that usually denies the existence of capital letters, spelling, and correct punctuation. I mean, this reads like a note from a high school kid.
        It is obvious that Ms. Perry sat down and typed as fast as she could and then hammered the "send" button. Was it because this was all a lowly Internet columnist deserved? Or (gasp) because this is how she writes to everyone?
        I was going to let it go, but then I read that Ms. Perry's chief of staff, Carson Mayor Daryl Sweeney, recently pleaded guilty to 15 federal charges related to a bribery scandal involving a lucrative trash-hauling contract. Or rather, he is Ms. Perry's former chief of staff, having resigned when he was indicted last December.
        Hell, if my former chief of staff was looking at ten years in the pen, I'd misspell stuff in e-mails, too.
       Still, I wasn't going to devote a whole column to this---until I read an Aug. 18 L.A. Times article that Ms. Perry would become acting mayor of L.A. while Mayor James Hahn is vacationing in Hawaii. Gosh, I thought, I hope she doesn't have to e-mail anybody important while she's running the city---you know, like President Bush. Of course, he might not notice the lack of caps and misspelling "quaint" as "quint," etc., so I was relieved until I read this quote:
        "I'm going to have myself designated as queen," Councilwoman Perry said of her temporary mayoralty.
        Well, er, yes, it was only a joke. . .but it got me to thinking again about that antiquated concept, dignity. Here is a longtime elected official who cannot be bothered to put a simple e-mail in ordinary letter format, who sarcastically injects the nagging "please. . ." (as in Oh, puh-lease. . .) into it---as if gabbing to her Pilates partner or something.
        And finally, here is a longtime elected official whose top aide turns out to be a big-time crook, making a really lame joke about being Queen of L.A..
        Given the apparent lack of humility---if not shame---at work here, I am now wondering how much of a joke that remark really was.
       Think I overreact? Here is a little post-script.
        I promptly answered the councilwoman's e-mail, expressing thanks for her note, and offering to interview her at length to get her side of the story: her opposition to the Little Tokyo jail, etc. What's more, I said we could do the interview as a Q&A, so that her point of view would be represented word-for-word. I thought this was only fair, and well, somewhat gracious of me.
        Perry accepted my invitation, then referred me to assistant Eva Kandarpa to arrange the interview. Ms. Kandarpa asked when I would like to do it, and I said "at the councilwoman's convenience," but the sooner the better. Ms. Kandarpa said she would send background information within a week, and get back to me.
        I waited two weeks, never received the background information, and never heard another word about the agreed-upon interview, from Ms. Kandarpa or the councilwoman. So I cancelled it. Ms. Kandarpa wrote back, explaining that she had been busy, but began her note with that blame-the-other-party ploy:
        "I'm sorry that you feel that way."
        As if I was the reason the interview didn't happen.
        Well, at least Ms. Kandarpa was polite, though, plus she capitalized the first words of her sentences, and spelled everything right.
        How quint. She'll never get to be Queen of Los Angeles that way.