Politicians get power because they seek power. They support their friends and hurt their opponents. This gang mentality is nothing new and the fact it occurs at a local level comes as no surprise. In Lakewood power-hungry politicians flock together as the ruling establishment. By looking out for each other and scratching each other’s back, politicians are able to stay in power. However in November candidates independent of the establishment won a majority of the seats on City Council for the first time in Lakewood history.
However, the establishment’s titlar leader, Mayor Adam Paul, is determined to maintain power despite losing the support of the voters. Paul hopes to flip one of the independent councilors to regain a majority on Council. By combining the vote of a defector with the five votes he already has in the solid establishment block he could once again have a 6 to 5 majority. That process is now underway with the establishment seeking to convince one of the wavering councilors that by “working with” the establishment they could gain favors for their ward. Conversely, not “getting along” carries the threat of the establishment/City getting “back at” an offending councilor.
To send a message that the establishment is still in control, as well as help a struggling establishment councilor win re-election, Mayor Paul is using the old political tool of appointment power. Observers may recall how former mayor Bob Murphy helped his protege, Adam Paul, succeed him as mayor by appointing Paul to the #2 spot on Council (Mayor Pro-Tem). This office is similar to Vice-President. While it has no real power, it carries the prestige of being the second in line to the throne. By bestowing this “honor” to a loyal ally, Paul hopes to enhance the creditability of the most politically vulnerable of his councilors – Dana Gutwein.
Two years ago during the first of the independents’ election sweeps, the youngster was able to hold a Ward 5 Council seat for the establishment with a razor-thin margin of less than 1% of the vote. This extremely close call came despite Gutwein running for over a year and having almost four times as much money as her independent opponent. This last November, the other Ward 5 councilor, Karen Harrison, running for re-election, saw her vote total fall 13 points from 67% in 2013 to less than 54% in 2017. With the establishment stronghold in Ward 5 rapidly eroding it is clear Gutwein probably will not be re-elected in 2019. To forestall this outcome, the establishment is throwing all their resources to shore up Gutwein.
Paul decided to play hardball with the new Council majority and declare he will single-handedly decide who will hold the number two spot on Council. At the Council meeting in December he declared he had selected the junior (two years experience) councilor from Ward 5 to hold the Mayor Pro-Tem position. However, the Council rebelled and refused to ratify his choice. The political battle revolves around the City Charter’s rule that Council selects the Mayor Pro-Tem position. Paul’s allies argue, during the heydays of establishment rule, a previous Council designated a procedure that the Mayor nominates the Pro-Tem. This concentration of power to the Mayor was rejected by last year’s Council but had not been formalized yet. Therefore Paul claimed he could still exercise sole power until Council formally voted to open up the nomination process.
Since the Council has the power to withhold its ratification of any nomination they chose not to rubber-stamp the mayor’s first choice and demanded he nominate someone other than Gutwein. The Council majority does not have any confidence in Gutwein who during her first two years refused to constructively address the overdevelopment problem and instead focused on silly bike events. During Council meetings Gutwein physically acts like a “drama queen” making faces in response to every speaker. Rather than address why the Council finds Gutwein immature, she and her allies are claiming the boys are being mean to her and are sexually discriminating against her. Hoping to ride the current #me too movement, Gutwein send out pink-colored messages declaring that Council selections should not be based on gender thus implying she was a victim of sexual discrimination .
So long as the Council is not allowed to nominate a mature candidate, the establishment is able to play this discrimination card. However, when the Council is finally allowed to nominate its own candidate – Council President Pete Roybal, the discrimination card will fall flat. Being hispanic, over 55 with a physical handicap (from his military service), attacking the six year Council veteran will open up the establishment minions to charges of racial, age and handicap discrimination. That’s three discrimination charges to Gutwein’s one claim.
What is a bleeding heart to do in a case of competing discrimination claims?
The pundits at Lakewoodpols suspect the establishment eventually will find a way to flip a councilor and thrust Gutwein onto the new Council. Then in 2019, Guwein will prominently list her anointment by Paul as an “accomplishment” that voters should be impressed with. Hopefully we will be wrong this time and the establishment will lose this battle of wills just as they lost the support of the voters.