(Jon Regardie is an Off-Ramp commentator and the executive editor of the LA Downtown News.)
When it comes to the 2013 Los Angeles mayor’s race, there are three top contenders: City Council members Jan Perry and Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel. Then there’s Kevin James, an attorney, former AM talk show host, and a onetime college football cheerleader. That’s not necessarily germane to his qualifications—it’s just an amusing fact.
At first glance, and probably at second glance too, James is a long shot to win the race against candidates with serious advantages in name recognition, experience and fundraising. One school of thought — mine — holds that the only way James wins is if he echoes the terrible 1991 movie "King Ralph," in which a few dozen members of the British royal family are electrocuted when they gather for a group photo. The next person in line for the throne is a slovenly Las Vegas lounge singer. It wasn’t a documentary.
James doesn’t think it’ll take mass electrocution for him to ascend to the highest office in City Hall. Instead, the only Republican of the four primary candidates thinks he’ll get there by building a coalition of GOP voters, his former radio listeners, those tired of the status quo, and what he terms the “pitchfork and torch” crowd, people who won’t vote for anyone inside City Hall.
None of this will be easy. Although James’ campaign manager, John Thomas, helped take down Carmen Trutanich in the DA’s race, Greuel, Garcetti and Perry all raised roughly a million dollars by the last campaign reporting deadline. James just hit $200,000.
Still, there are a few reasons it’s worth paying attention to James. Although he was treated like a gadfly when he first announced his candidacy, and was sometimes ignored by reporters in stories, he and Thomas threw elbows at every sin of omission. James has behaved like a candidate and has released more detailed plans and position papers than his establishment competitors. His years on the radio have made him a persuasive but occasionally long-winded orator—he has the potential to do damage once the debates begin.
Some think that, come Election Day, James’ only role will be spoiler, that he’ll suck votes from one or two other candidates. Maybe so, but there’s one other reason not to completely discount this long shot.
That reason is Trutanich. As late as June 4, the current LA City Attorney was considered the shoo-in to be the next district attorney. But, in an outcome absolutely no one predicted, Trutanich finished third in the June 5 election—the dude with a greater than half-million dollar fundraising advantage over his closest competitors didn’t even make the runoff.
The point is, sometimes in local elections the unexpected happens. Sometimes, the royal family gets electrocuted.