Adam Nagourney, lounging around in L.A.: Very few women hold office in Los Angeles city and county government.
By “very few,” we seem to mean two, according to Adam Nagourney’s front-page report in Monday’s New York Times. At present, there is one woman on the 15-member Los Angeles city council, an elective office. There is one woman on the five-member Board of Supervisors for Los Angeles County, a much larger jurisdiction.
According to Nagourney, that’s it! The mayor, city attorney and city controller of Los Angeles are all men.
That isn’t a whole lot of women! This might have been an interesting topic, except Nagourney got involved and sleep-walked his way through the piece. For starters, he made no attempt to provide a history of such participation, except for this half-hearted effort, which occurred early on:
NAGOURNEY (8/5/13): The overwhelmingly male lineup in local elected offices has caught many people here by surprise, overlooked in the general lack of interest in this year’s campaigns. And it has become a subject of considerable chagrin, civic embarrassment and impassioned discussions about exactly what happened.We don’t know how the overwhelmingly male lineup “caught many people by surprise,” since the numbers seem to have changed for the better in the recent election. (Nagourney says the lone woman on the council just took office last week.) But Nagourney’s analyses rarely make sense, especially when found on page one.
“When I was in elementary school, there were like five women on the City Council,” said Nury Martinez, the city’s lone woman in elected office, speaking in her empty Council office at City Hall. “It’s a shame and embarrassing that in a city of four million people we are down to one woman.”
According to Martinez, there were “like” five women on the city council at some point in the past. She doesn’t say when that was, and Nagourney doesn’t ask her. Nor does he bother figuring out if that statement is accurate.
He provides no further information on the ebb and flow of women on the city council over the course of the years. What was the high point of female representation? What, Nagourney do work?
As always, Nagourney lounges. In this passage, he suggests that a trend may be underway, but he makes no attempt to garner information beyond what he’s been told by one organization:
NAGOURNEY: “The issue isn’t that voters won’t vote for women—it’s that we don’t have enough women running,” Debbie Walsh, the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, said in an e-mail. “It’s a recruitment issue.”That’s what “the center said” about women holding elected statewide positions over the past twenty years. Are their figures accurate? Nagourney will take that chance! Meanwhile, what do city councils look like in other major cities—in New York, Chicago or Houston? What are the trends in those positions?
In one measure of the representation of women in state and local government, 73 women hold elected statewide positions across the nation, or 23 percent of available positions, according to the center. That is almost identical to the percentage reported in 1993. The figure then increased through 2001, to 28 percent, but has been in a steady decline over the past 12 years, the center said.
Nagourney made no attempt to say. That would have called for research!
Nagourney did the typical thing in this very soft report. Instantly, he began quoting people saying the situation in Los Angeles is “shocking” or a shame. This gives the impression that scandal’s involved. The blood of the dead starts to flow:
NAGOURNEY: “Can you believe it?” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who works extensively with female candidates, including Ms. Greuel. “It’s part of a national trend. We are seeing this in a lot of places—in offices in statewide office, in a number of city councils. But it’s really shocking. That is a state that is very pro-women.”Lake called the situation “shocking” and said we are seeing this “in a number of city councils.” How accurate is her claim? Just what is the number? Nagourney didn’t bother to check.
The situation here has caught the attention of national women’s advocacy groups, including Emily’s List, which is planning to begin a training and recruitment campaign here aimed at enlisting women to run for office.
“We do not want to see any city without equal representation of women—and in this case, we are really, really off, “said Stephanie Schriock, the president of the organization.
Katherine Spillar, the head of the Feminist Majority Foundation, called the situation “shocking.”
“I’m very concerned,” she said. “We have gone backwards instead of forwards. Shame on Los Angeles.”
Spillar is also quoted saying it’s “shocking,” and she declares, “Shame on Los Angeles.” But who in Los Angeles should be ashamed? Nagourney didn’t ask Spillar to say, and this passage suggests that women in Los Angeles simply aren’t choosing to run for the city council:
NAGOURNEY: Los Angeles County, with a population of 9.9 million that includes Los Angeles, has just one woman on its five-member Board of Supervisors. And the race to fill the City Council seat for Hollywood, which Mr. Garcetti vacated when he was elected mayor, gave voters a choice of 12 candidates—all men.Who in Los Angeles should be ashamed? Los Angeles voters can’t vote for women if women don’t choose to run for these posts. Have women run in the past and been defeated?
Nagourney didn’t check.
Nagourney has always been like this—lazy, fuzzy, useless, scripted, a perfect New York Timesman. He was dealing with an interesting, important topic, but his laziness and his inertia seemed to keep him from developing information or wider perspectives.
Do women want to waste their time on the Los Angeles City Council? Nagourney quotes a few remarks about the need for influential women and women’s groups to recruit more female candidates. But he didn’t make much of an effort to examine that topic either.
Nagourney did the typical. He quoted a bunch of people expressing outrage and shock. He made the smallest possible effort to develop information and wider perspectives. That said, we thought the end of his piece was perhaps its most striking part. As he closed, he worried about the lack of role models for girls in L.A., a very important concern:
NAGOURNEY: “The role model aspect of this is very troubling,” said Donna Bojarsky, a longtime political consultant in Los Angeles. “It’s not a good picture for an up-and-coming generation.”Again, Nagourney quoted a statement by Martinez which he didn’t bother confirming. How familiar were women in Los Angeles government in past decades?
Ms. Martinez said women were familiar figures in Los Angeles government when she was growing up—and that was one of the reasons she ran for the City Council this year.
“Growing up, I always saw myself serving in public office, because that is what I wanted to do,” she said. “But I had people to look up to. There were people I would watch on TV and read about. I was reading about these women. The Jackie Goldbergs. The Gloria Molinas.”
“And for little girls for years to come?” she said with a sigh.
Nagourney didn’t say. For the record, Molina served on the city council from 1987 to 1991. She has served on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors from then to the present say, providing a superb role model for Los Angeles kids of all types.
Goldberg served on the city council from 1994 to 2000. In 2000, she was elected to the California State Assembly. How many other women were in the city council back then?
We have no idea! You see, we read the Times!
Whatever! We were somewhat struck by the wringing of hands concerning role models for girls and young women in Los Angeles. We’ll agree that it would be better if there were more women in the city council, although people can’t be forced to serve in such posts.
That said, girls in California aren’t exactly hurting for female role models at this point.
As Nagourney noted in paragraph one, both of California’s senators are women (Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer). So is the state’s attorney general, who has begun to take a fairly high national profile (Kamala Harris).
Meanwhile, the state’s congressional delegation is headed by a woman who recently served as Speaker of the House (Nancy Pelosi). And the Los Angeles area boasts quite a few high-profile women in Congress, including Loretta Sanchez, Linda Sanchez and Maxine Waters.
Farther north, you get Pelosi, the superb Barbara Lee and a host of others.
There are more men than women in the California House delegation (18 of 53 are women), but some of the women are very high-profile. Our view?
It would presumably be a good thing if more women served in the city council. It would also be a good thing if a couple of facts could find their way into Nagourney’s reports.