Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Former mayoral candidate confirmed to Public Works in contentious hearing

Public Works

Alice Walton/KPCC

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously confirmed Mayor Eric Garcetti's nominees to the Board of Public Works Tuesday. From left to right, Matt Szabo, Mike Davis, Kevin James, Barbara Romero and Monica Rodriguez. The mayor's wife, Amy Wakeland (far right), joined the commissioners in the front row.

A former mayoral candidate was questioned about his comments on climate change and immigration Tuesday during a confirmation hearing to the Board of Public Works. 

Despite the grilling, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved Kevin James to the only paid commission in the city. As a Public Works commissioner, James will receive an annual salary of $136,000. Public Works is a policy-making board responsible for approving construction of public projects and overseeing the departments responsible for sanitation, street maintenance and graffiti removal. 

The vote came after four other nominees — Matt Szabo, Mike Davis, Monica Rodriguez and Barbara Romero — sailed through the confirmation process. Mayor Eric Garcetti's wife, Amy Wakeland, joined the nominees in the front row of the council chamber for the hearing. A mayoral spokesman said Wakeland was hanging out at City Hall and decided to stay for the council meeting. 

During the mayor’s race, James ran on a platform of ending corruption and cronyism at City Hall. He placed third in the mayoral primary, but received key support from conservative voters. His endorsement was sought, and received, by Garcetti in the runoff. After his confirmation, James told reporters he does not see a conflict in now accepting the mayor's nomination to the city's only paid commission. 

"The people that voted for me and supported me, they wanted me in City Hall. They wanted me to have a paid job in City Hall and now I have one," James said. "A full time job in City Hall for me requires a salary so I don’t see that as a conflict at all. I see it as an opportunity to work full time to devote all of my efforts to our city government."

The Republican attorney was also questioned about comments he made as a talk radio host. In a 2008 column about a policy from the California Energy Commission, James wrote "the Democrats (a.k.a. global warming wimps) have found the rhetorical weapon they will use for at least the next decade to decrease your liberty while increasing their power, and that weapon is the hysteria over global warming."

On the issue of immigration, he once said the "illegal alien crisis" was the cause of bad schools, gang activity and overcrowded hospitals. 

Questioned by the councilmen, however, James said he believes in climate change and wants to reform the immigration system. Many of his views were for shock value, he said. 

"You know, when you write an article like that ... part of the reason to do that, in that career, is to create controversy and to get a response," James said. 

The five new board members will serve the remainder of five-year terms already begun by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's commissioners. The new commissioners and the expiration dates of their terms (which can be extended for additional years): Rodriguez, an executive with the California Association of Realtors (2014); Szabo, a former deputy mayor to Villaraigosa (2015); Romero, chief of urban projects for the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority (2016); James (2017); and Davis, former State Assemblyman (2018).

Szabo and Davis made unsuccessful runs for city council in the recent municipal election. 


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