Kenyans Provide Outside View of Local Government

A trio of visitors from Kenya got an up-close view of American politics this summer when they visited Los Angeles City Hall and met with city councilmembers. One of the Kenyans hopes to run for the city council in his own country.

Kitty Felde: We know traffic is bad. Father Andrew Massawe has seen enough of Los Angeles to know why.

Fr. Andrew Massawe: Most of the cars, the small cars are like – one person, one car; which back home, it would be different.

Felde: Back home is a poor neighborhood outside Nairobi, where Father Andrew is pastor of the local Catholic church. He and two parishioners are visiting their sister parish in Santa Monica.

Felde: Oh, and here comes the shuttle.

Felde: They're catching the bus to City Hall; their first excursion on American transit. And their expectations?

Charles Atula: No comment for now.

Felde: Charles Atula is a tailor, but he wants to serve on the Nairobi City Council. He'll be on the ballot in December. Today, Atula, his pastor, and a colleague are meeting American politicians at Los Angeles City Hall.

Felde (at City Hall): Hi, I'm Kitty Felde and I have a contingent of Kenyans here to meet with the City Councilman.

Felde: We have an appointment with L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks, who is going to Nairobi himself later in the summer.

[Sound of introductions]

Felde: Atula lost his first race for the Nairobi City Council. Councilman Bernard Parks (who won his first race) is happy to offer advice.

Councilman Bernard Parks: If he's interested in public service, he's getting right in the heart of it. You can't be more in the trenches, as far as public service, than elected office, particularly at the local level.

Felde: And then it's down the hall for our next appointment.

[Sound of introductions]

Felde: Put two politicians in a room and talk turns to elections. Council President Eric Garcetti asks Atula why he lost his first race.

Atula: I came second because of a lot of propaganda. My opponent actually used a lot of money on the nomination day, and he bribed people, and actually worked very negatively on me, and so I lost.

Councilman Eric Garcetti: I had 12 different negative propaganda pieces against me, in my election, from my opponent. He said I didn't live where I lived, said I hadn't paid taxes that I paid. So I called him and I said, "Stop lying."

Felde: Garcetti estimates his primary race cost $300,000. Atula says he'll spend 300,000 ... shillings. That's about $4,300.

Atula: We have the posters, we have the campaign team, we have to take care of them. The t-shirts. And some using bribing actually. Let me say the truth. Some do bribe voters, especially on the nomination day.

Garcetti: Well, you know, it's interesting. Here we have a very strong ethics system, so the smallest infractions, you'll get a big punishment, a big slap on the wrist.

Felde: Father Andrew doesn't particularly like politics. He hates the bickering.

Fr. Massawe: Being an opponent in politics doesn't mean the ideas are also bad. Good ideas could be from the opponents, the ones we think we should challenge. That's where we lack that solidarity, and it really destroys everything.

Garcetti: It's destroying us at the national level.

Felde: The conversation turns to transit. The Kenyans ask Garcetti why the City Hall shuttle is free.

Garcetti: We have too many cars on the road, too many people and too many cars. The traffic is terrible. So I think all buses and trains should be free in Los Angeles. It's an idea I'm trying to think about, we're looking at now. And maybe we have a small tax on everybody, but then we make all the buses and trains free.

Felde: There's no proposal in City Council to do this, but Father Andrew, the political skeptic, is won over.

Fr. Massawe: Are you a Catholic?
Garcetti: Uh, my father's side – I'm very complicated. My father's Catholic, my mother's Jewish.
Fr. Massawe: If you are not married, I'll make you a priest today. You really have that heart to listen, to be with. Very few politicians would be like you.
Garcetti: I appreciate that, it means a lot to me. I don't know if I'm ready to be a priest today because I have this day job, but ... and my fiance; I don't know if she wants me to be a priest either.

Felde: Father Andrew doesn't convert Garcetti. But Charles Atula does.

Garcetti: I don't know if it helps you at all, but you tell them that Charles Atula has Eric Garcetti's endorsement for city council if you run.

[laughter]

Garcetti: And I'll pray for your success, too.

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