DOWNEY – Running against a politician with the last name Hahn might intimidate most, but for Steve Napolitano, the challenge is undoubtedly worthwhile.
“Nobody knows the Fourth District better than me and I have a record of achievement,” said Napolitano. “We don’t need an L.A.-centric, Washington, D.C. approach to the county. We need a public servant.”
Napolitano is vying for the Fourth District seat on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which goes vacant this fall when longtime supervisor Don Knabe gets termed out of office.
With a $28 billion budget to manage annually, the board of supervisors represents 10 million people and oversees large public health, social services, and criminal justice agencies. In fact, LA County manages the largest local prison system and child welfare program in the U.S.
Napolitano isn’t the only one, however, contending for a chance to steer these massive bureaucracies. Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) and Whittier Union High School District board member Ralph Pacheco are also hoping to represent the Fourth District, which stretches from the South Bay, down to Long Beach, and up through the Gateway cities.
Knabe has actually already chosen his successor, endorsing Napolitano for the job.
“Now more than ever, we need someone who will continue our legacy of being fiscally responsible so that we can provide the programs and services that our 10 million residents demand,” said Knabe in a statement last October.
“Steve shares these values and gets that you can’t spend what you don’t have. He will make the tough decisions so that we don’t put our financial burden on future generations.”
The endorsement was expected. Since 2005, Napolitano has served as Knabe’s senior deputy and liaison to Fourth District cities in the South Bay. Prior to this post, Napolitano was elected to three terms on the Manhattan Beach City Council, where he championed a revitalization of local beaches.
“Public service is my passion – I’ve been doing it for 25 years,” he said. “We must always put people in the community first.”
Napolitano, in fact, laid out a seven-point plan, which includes support for early childhood education, fighting rising crime and homelessness, and rebuilding key infrastructure like public transit.
To cut crime, Napolitano suggests a veterans initiative to fill the nearly 1,000 open positions inside the LA County Sheriff’s Department with qualified veterans.
With homelessness around LA County up 5.7% since last year, Napolitano maintains that finding new revenue streams for affordable housing is paramount. The board of supervisors recently announced 47 strategies for solving homelessness in LA County, including the introduction of a half-cent tax on county residents who earn more than $1 million a year.
Napolitano said he’s not opposed to the “millionaire’s tax,” but he worries it could be unstable if the money garnered is not spent transparently and effectively.
“People don’t support blank checks to the government,” he said. “We need a spending plan [first] to see how exactly this money will get spent.”
Even more than his seven-point platform, Napolitano’s temperament regarding fiscal responsibility may ultimately epitomize him as a candidate.
On May 11, the LA Times endorsed Janice Hahn to replace Knabe, framing her as a heartfelt candidate with a “more sweeping vision and a deeper commitment.” Napolitano (and Pacheco) were described as likeable leaders who would approach the board of supervisors as a “small city council.”
“I think they got it wrong,” Napolitano said. “We have some big problems and we need big solutions, but we’re also made up of small cities.
“We’re the most diverse district in the county – we need a supervisor who is out in the community, not an L.A. city elitist.”
Although the Times editorial favored Hahn – whose father Kenneth Hahn served on the board of supervisors for 40 years – it acknowledged that having a fiscally conservative voice on the board ensures the progressive majority on the board remembers to budget accordingly.
“If we’re not keeping an eye on the checkbook, we’re writing checks that we can’t cash,” Napolitano said.
The 50-year-old Napolitano understands Janice Hahn enjoys instant name recognition – her brother James K. Hahn served as Los Angeles mayor and city attorney – but he’s hoping to distinguish himself as the homegrown candidate with endorsements from Fourth District leaders.
“Do we want someone tied to special interests who isn’t even familiar with the Fourth District,” Napolitano asked. “Janice is a good person, but the policy proposals, I haven’t seen them. This isn’t just about getting elected, there’s work we’ve got to do afterwards. I will put people and our communities first.”
On May 31, the Coalition for a Just LA will host a candidates’ forum with Hahn and Napolitano at the First Congregational Church of Long Beach starting at 6:30 p.m.