“People You Should Know” is a series of interviews with emerging players and creative talents who will help determine where American Politics, Media, Entertainment and Entrepreneurism heads in our future. After journeying for nearly eight years producing and distributing the politically themed documentary FEAR OF A BLACK REPUBLICAN, I will be starting with some great, smart folks whom I have met along the way
KW: In South L.A., there is a sizable African American population that many folks tell me may be open to a Kevin James Mayoral candidacy.
KJ: They are.
KW: In my documentary, FEAR OF A BLACK REPUBLICAN, we met a lot of folks in the Black community around the country – who would like to consider a Republican candidate – but have never been asked by a Republican candidate to speak with them or for their vote. Have you been able to speak with any voters in Minority communities and what has been the reaction to your candidacy?
KJ: I regularly do. I’ve been in South L.A. many, many times in this campaign. Whether it’s the King Day Parade or forums. I was at the Watts Neighborhood Council a week ago. I’ve been there a number of times and I have been to many of their neighborhood councils and community groups. I’ve been in a number of Black Churches in South Los Angeles and worked with them, providing some legal advice when they were facing some foreclosure issues. I just met last week with the Black Clergy and Citizen’s Labor Alliance. I was not sitting in the room with strangers. I was sitting in a room with people who know me. Because they know that I’ve worked in the community on issues long before I was a candidate. So I expect real support from South Los Angeles that could well put me over the top in the run-off.
Let me tell you something, I have a simple question that I ask the community… [because] they feel that City Hall has left them out of the future of Los Angeles. They know that City Hall has turned its back on them. I ask them quite simply when I speak to their community organizations, their community leaders and at debates… “How many more years are you going to wait? How many more years are you willing to wait for City Hall to open its doors to you and to listen to you?” Because this City Hall has refused to do so and that seems to resonate with them.
KW: How important has it been that you’re being there well before you asked for their vote?
KJ: I think, significantly. One of the things that many of the community members in South L.A. will say to me is “Are you familiar with our Community? And how so? And Why so?” When I talk about the fact that in the late 90s, when I was in leadership with AIDS Project Los Angeles, we saw the need to move our services into minority communities across the City… I’m the one who signed the documents to sell our building in Hollywood. So, that we could afford to open satellites up in their community.
When we talk about education, I’m the one who works with a group called Urban Compass that is a work-study program and great pilot program in South Los Angeles. It’s one of the best in the state. In many of these activities, I’m the one who as a broadcaster exposed the inequality of issuance of truancy tickets to minority students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. To the tune of shocking numbers. There are community leaders who took notice of that and who stand up and speak for me in these areas. And will confirm my involvement in these issues. So it is very important to them that I have a record and that I just didn’t show up as a candidate looking for votes. I was in South L.A. years before I was a candidate and that matters to them. It moves the community away from a pre-disposition based on the Republican label that the Party needs to work on.
KW: You’re not just competing against Mayoral candidates. [Democrat City Controller] Wendy Greuel’s Campaign, that she’s got a couple of Unions spending millions of dollars. How tough has it been for you to compete against them with all that money?
KJ: Well, if you look at recent races in L.A., the candidate with the most money has not won. Carmen Trutanich, his opponents in the District Attorney’s race were outspent two to one and he came in third. Meg Whitman, how much money did she spend? She by lost 10 ½ points. There are any number of candidates that are well-monied that don’t win the race. Wendy’s millions from the Department of Water and Power… I call it the Department of Wendy’s Pals… they are in a complete and direct conflict of interest. Brian D’Arcy, the head of the Union there has told the L.A. Times that they support Wendy because they know that once she’s Mayor, they fully expect more raises.
They are the highest-paid Public Utility in the country. They make 40% more than the employees doing the same job in other City Departments. It’s outrageous what they’ve done. And they’re unapologetic about it and say that “Wendy is our candidate.” Where do they get the millions? This is a Public Utility! They hike our rates and then pour millions into a political campaign? It’s outrageous! Voters are becoming aware of it and we’ve seen her numbers fall in the polls and she is the one I expect that I will overcome on March 5th to make the runoff.
KW: Has your experience in the Entertainment Industry helped prepare you for your entry into Electoral Politics?
KJ: This is a “company town” in many ways. I mean, we’ve lost the company. They chased Hollywood out of Hollywood. I’m endorsed by the Bring Hollywood Home Foundation. But, it is important because you need to learn the language of the Entertainment industry. You need to have relationships with some of the key entertainment players, even if they don’t end up endorsing you in Round 1. Some of them have, some of them haven’t. But, they need to be familiar with you because they are typically politically involved and they are well aware of me. What is also important is that if they don’t know me directly, they know people who do. So, I have a lot of familiarity between major industry leaders. Most of whom are Democrats, but who I’ve worked for [over] many years.Steve Tisch, who is one of the most prominent entertainment executives and who produced FORREST GUMP, RISKY BUSINESS and AMERICAN HISTORY X and owns the New York Giants… he was the one who recruited me to be on the Board of AIDS Project Los Angeles in the early 90s. It’s those kinds of relationships with people who are Democrats, but who are familiar with me… they’re not concerned that I’m a registered Republican. They know that I can get things done.
KW: Up to this point, are there any traits that have been integral for you to be successful?
KJ: I’ve always been willing to take on the Establishment. Look, I’ll put it bluntly… I’m a gay Republican. I’ve never been afraid of a challenge. I moved into leadership with AIDS Project Los Angeles and with an AIDS service organization, if you’re old enough to remember, you knew what the stigma was and it wasn’t just how it affected the gay community.
KW: Very much so.
KJ: We supported IV drug users. Not exactly people who are well-regarded in communities. Especially in those years. So, I’ve never been afraid of a challenge. I’ve never been afraid of an uphill battle. I admitted the other day on [local news] that I’m a Clippers fan [and not] a Lakers fan.
KW: Well, it’s over now! You might as well tell them that you don’t want an NFL stadium.
KJ: I do tell them I want football here, but what I’m not going to do is destroy downtown and put it on the taxpayers’ back. And because I have been the one opponent to the original deal, the City has a much better deal on the table. Because I was able to insert it into public debates as a Mayoral candidate. So I want football here, but I’m not going to make the taxpayers pay for it. Not when we got NFL owners who will come and we have an alternative in the City of Industry that’s just a few miles down the road. So, we’ll have football here.
But my point, to get to your original question, is that I’ve never been afraid to take on the Establishment. I’ve done it everything I’ve done in my life and it’s prepared for me to go against the Establishment at City Hall. I’m not afraid of them. I have experience to handle tough situations in the public eye. One of the things that the reporters who cover me say is that I’ve got thick skin, I’m tough and I can joke.
KW: There are a lot of people out there who want to see people who are comfortable with themselves. Look at Rubio with the water bottle?
KJ: Exactly. And I think that is something that makes me interesting to people and it’s getting me votes. Even the critics say that I win the debates. The L.A. Times said this morning that I’m a “crowd-pleasing populist.” Well, okay. But, people want something new and that is why I’ve got the momentum I have now and the other thing is… I’m going to tell you what I see. I disagree with the Party on [some] things and I disagree with City Hall on a lot of things. I still have a lot of voters that disagree with me on a lot of things who are going to still vote for me. I tell people that if you want to vote for a candidate who you agree with on 100% of the issues, you better be prepared to run for office yourself. Otherwise, you’re not going to find that candidate.
KW: There are a lot of people around the country who are open-minded and just want to have a candidate who’s going to believe in something and do it. And if it’s not going to be the right solution, that at least admit it, step back and try to find the right alternative.
KJ: That’s true. Some people criticize me because “Oh, James has evolved on issues since he was a Conservative radio host”… well, I have on some issues. But, that’s because you learn a lot in life. I started my broadcast career in the 90s. I’m 33% older than I was then… you never stop learning in life. That is one of the criticisms I have of City Government. They stopped listening a long time ago. Call me what you want, but I’m still going to fight to find the best solution and I’ll tell you who else is going to have a say in what the best solution is… it is neighborhoods and communities in L.A. I’m going to let them tell me what they want and we’ll start making the decisions there.
To Read Part 1 of this interview, Click Here
- People You Should Know – Bob Wheelock, Al Jazeera Americas
- People You Should Know – Chris Stigall
- People You Should Know – Crystal Wright