May 8, 2013 - From the May, 2013 issue

LA Roast - Thomas Jefferson (TJ) Plunkitt explains it all... and Perdicts LA’s Next Mayor

This is the third in a series of TPR exclusive interviews with TJ Plunkitt, a direct descendent of the infamous George Washington Plunkitt, the sachem of Tammany Hall, which was, by all accounts, run as a “results-oriented,” turn-into-the-20th-Century New York political machine. Plunkitt’s leadership facilitated the building of a world-class city even while he was accused, by political reformers and muckraking journalists, of being a wellspring of self-serving aggrandizement, self-perpetuation, and graft. The young articulate Plunkitt, who prefers being addressed as TJ, is in Los Angeles on a travel and study grant from the family’s Institute of Government Studies to substantiate his forefather’s thesis that political favoritism and a bloated bureaucracy are not antithetical to the health of cities, and that most citizens don’t care anyway. But TPR does!

TJ Plunkitt

TPR: Given your extended studies of the body politic, and benefitting from the recent polling that reportedly puts Garcetti in the lead, I really would like to know who do you think will be LA’s next Mayor? Who will lead the great city of ours? Better yet, whom do you think GW would want? TJ: Herb Wesson.

The Planning Report previously found TJ downtown enjoying the cut rate fare in the Department of Water and Power and LA Metro cafeterias while checking out the scenes there of satisfied bureaucrats and their sycophants seemingly immune to the questioning of public paychecks and promised pensions. This month TJ was encountered at the modest food stand on the depressingly drab second floor of City Hall. We asked him what he was doing there.

TJ: Besides having a bad cup of coffee, I’m in this well secured but citizen unfriendly city hall to see if I can sense any premonitions among the City Hall denizens about the upcoming mayoral election, if not who will win then maybe how it might affect their jobs.  As you know there has been a lot of talk on the campaign trail about public “waste, fraud and abuse”, for employment benefits to be reduced, and the promised delivery of services restored and made more efficient. Though to be fair and balanced, it should be noted that these “issues” are being “pressed” by many who obviously do not worry about their paychecks or security of their pensions.

TPR: And have you found the call for “reform” by both the mayoral and city council candidates resonating here, at municipal government’s equivalent of a water-cooler?

TJ: Are you kidding? What concern I’m hearing from these well-defended public servants is about the fall of the Lakers and the mediocrity of the Dodgers despite the big bucks being invested in them. When you ask the municipal workers wandering in here on extended coffee breaks, you get mostly blank stares, as if you disturbing them at their desks requesting approval of some needed document, or your building plans stamped. And despite their omnipotent air of importance, no one it seems acknowledges that they actually work for the city, but rather for their councilperson or their division or department, or, quite frankly, themselves.  They know who butters their bread. After all, when management is accountable to elected officials elected by the unions who represent the employees, there is no mystery as to who is on:  First, Second and Third?

TPR: But they are public employees, supposedly civil servants with the emphasis on servants. Who do they think underwrites their paychecks?

TJ: How naïve.  I am told most take advantage of direct deposit. 

But to your intended point, as for whom are they actually working, clearly they are not working for the 78 percent of eligible voters who didn’t vote. They are working for the folks who “brought them to the dance.” There is therefore a predictable disconnect, as you might expect, between City Hall and the actual citizenry they purportedly serve – even a disconnect among the city departments and the governing mayor’s office and city council, for that matter.  It is this conundrum that no doubt enervates the electorate, and unintentionally perpetuates such low voter turnouts, the opinions of the pandering pundits not withstanding.

TPR: This disconnect must be fine fodder for your research for the Plunkitt Institute of Government Studies.

TJ: Yes. It is something that my esteemed forefather G.W. would lament. I and my Institute are all about reminding folks of what he would say about Reciprocity in Patronage: “I acknowledge that you can’t keep an organization together without patronage. Men ain’t in politics for nothin’. They want to get somethin’ out of It.” GW, you will remember, once held and collected the salaries for four City Hall jobs simultaneously. Disturbing if not illegal as this might seem, it did make him a millionaire and generated through real estate investments, of course, the largess that supports the institute providing me with a generous grant. Like my counterparts in the so-called academic think tanks, I know who butters my bread.

TPR: Are you saying that all this talk during the municipal elections concerning reform is to naught?


TJ: For my answer, I refer you to that classic text, “Plunkitt of Tammny Hall,” specifically chapter 14, headed  “Tammany the Only Lastin’ Democracy.” In it GW puts into perspective the rise and fall of reform movements, commenting how the newspaper are forever bemoaning the innocent graft that feeds party politics and keeps cities serving its citizens, and adding “Say, ain’t some of the papers awful gullible about politics?” And you would think that today the media would be more sympathetic and savvy, given how their own sinecures are being shrunk, and that they soon might lose their jobs and be knocking at the doors of the very politicians they had previously been scolding.

TPR: You don’t seem to respect the media.

TJ: They aren’t as smart as they think they are.

TPR: And what about the reformers?

TJ: As my great, great grandfather commented, all that is needed to dissipate the do-gooders is put them into office, or give them a judgeship. This is in keeping with his infamous quip, “I’ve seen my opportunities, and I took ‘em.” The bottom line is that the reformers really just want an opportunity for themselves to take advantage of.  

TPR: So, you see no chance for needed change in municipal government, whomever might be elected? That there is no difference between Geruel and Garcetti?

TJ: Oh, the styling might be different, but from my perspective and in the parlance of a born and bred New Yorker raised in the shadow of the garment industry, they are cut from the same cloth.

TPR: Thanks but no thanks for the prattle. I would like some straight answers. Given your extended studies of the body politic, and benefitting from the recent polling that reportedly puts Garcetti in the clear lead, I really would like to know who do you think will be LA’s next Mayor? Who will lead the great city of ours? Better yet, whom do you think GW would want?

TJ: Herb Wesson.


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