“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
Kevin James began his legal career in 1988 with one of the most prestigious law firms in the country – Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. After spending his first two years of law practicing at
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher Kevin was hired by the United States Department of Justice to work
as an Assistant United States Attorney in Los Angeles. In early 2003, Kevin began his talk radio career as a legal analyst and fill-in host on Talk Radio 790 KABC in Los Angeles, later becoming
host of KABC’s “Red Eye Radio” from 2005 until 2007. It was on Kevin’s Red Eye Radio show where he continued his crusade to improve the lives of those living and working in and around
Los Angeles. The Kevin James Show” on 870 KRLA was on the air until late in 2011 when
Kevin stepped away from the airwaves to focus on his campaign for Mayor of Los Angeles.
Los Angeles’ Mayoral Election Primary is this coming Tuesday, March 5 and will likely produce a run-off between two candidates. Kevin James hopes to be one of them…
KW: What was your first job and are there any lessons from it that you still use today?
KJ: My very first job, if you want to go all the way back, I had a paper route as a kid. It teaches you management of money, it teaches you entrepreneurial skills, it teaches you sales skills… discipline. You have to be somewhere everyday and be on-time… and it teaches you a bit about customer service and dealing with complaints. And you have to deal with specific requirements of various customers and you have to remember what those are. It’s a service-industry and it certainly was in those days. Back in, back in the Seventies, before the internet.
KW: So, you grew up in Oklahoma?
KJ: My early years, yes. [Then] mid-way through school, we moved to a suburb of Dallas. Went to school at Garland High School. Got out of school in 1981 and was the Student Body President. Right after high school, I went back to Norman, Oklahoma to attend the University of Oklahoma. Then I went directly into Law School at the University of Houston and then worked at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher [in Los Angeles] as an Associate. After a few years, I got a job at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
KW: What got you interested in Politics or running for office?
KJ: I’ve been interested in Politics for many, many years. I think it’s always kind of been in my blood to a certain degree. My parents were always involved in our communities. My Mother was a public high school teacher and taught math. But, we were always involved in local races. School board races and the city council races, things like that. I was involved in Student Government all through my years in college. When I came to Los Angeles, most of my community service in L.A. was in working around AIDS service organizations as a volunteer because this was late 80s.
KW: During the full-blown epidemic?
KJ: The full-blown epidemic was wreaking havoc in communities across our country. So, my political activity in L.A. kind of grew out of that. I started working, like I said, with AIDS service organizations and then, my political activity kind of grew from that. I started working with local issues in the 90s when I was leadership in AIDS Project Los Angeles for a number of years. I was Co-Chair for a number of years. Mayor Riordan, who has endorsed me in this race, was Mayor [of Los Angeles] during those years. He was a good friend of ours In City Hall and that was when I became familiar with City Government in Los Angeles and with City Hall. And then it was in late 2002-2003, when I began a broadcasting career and I started covering City Hall.
KW: What made you become a Republican?
KJ: I was a Republican growing up. It seemed like the logical choice for me [and] I was aware of Party-politics then. Ronald Reagan [had] a message that resonated with me. And so, when I could… I became a Republican. And most of my friends, my peers, were Republicans in that time, in that part of the Country. That was my first moment with the Republican Party.
KW: Well, many folks might think that finding a Republican in Los Angeles is like finding a Leprechaun or a Unicorn. Are there many Republicans or Conservatives in Los Angeles?
KJ: There are 300,000 registered Republicans in the City of Los Angeles, which surprises most people. They’re still outnumbered significantly, but in a low-turnout race like the race we have right now… any low-turnout race, unfortunately for Angelenos, is very low turn-out. [Current Democratic] Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was elected in 2009 with 154,000 votes total. That wasn’t the margin… that was the total! So, if Republicans come out, I will have an easy map to a run-off and what’s interesting about Republicans coming out to vote in this Election is that they have a candidate on the ballot. You know, Republicans haven’t had any candidates on the ballot to speak of in the last several years, since Mayor Riordan. I, I always argue that the last time that a Republican ran for Mayor –he won. And that was Richard Riordan. My solutions, though, have attracted “Decline to State” (Independent) voters. If you look at the ABC 7 Poll that came out last week, I’m in first place with not just Republicans, but with Independents. The reason that I’m not in first place across the board is because of the registration of Democrats.
KW: Well, have you gotten much support or do you think the local Party is really pushing the base to come out?
KJ: The local Party, more so the County Party… they’ve provided lots of volunteers, lots of people walking precincts and phone-banking.
KW: Party affiliations won’t be on the ballot, but have Party affiliations been a hindrance to your candidacy in any way?KJ: Well Kevin, I’ll tell you next week!
KW: On the Campaign trail… are people listening to what you have to say?
KJ: Yes, they are listening. I think in the early days, before people started focusing on my message and what I would be able to do… I think there was a “discount factor.” [Some said], “Oh, he’s a Republican. No chance, never mind.” But as the Campaign has grown, as the Media has paid attention… and as debates began… I’ve participated in forty debates [over eighteen months]. And it’s been very good for me, because it’s given many Democrats and Independents a chance to hear me. There was a feature piece in the L.A. Weekly a few weeks ago and it said that I’m the one who has won the audience in many of these Democratic-majority debate halls. And that is good for me because to win the Election, I’m going to have to have the “cross-over” voters.KW: Well, do you see some opportunities for Republicans in California?
KJ: I do. Especially if Republicans and Republican candidates are willing to actively recruit Independent and Democrat votes. You have to do so with common sense ideas. You have to have real solutions. You have to be independent of the “special-interests” and you have to be willing to talk to everyone. You’re not going to convince everyone, but you don’t have to [in order] to win. And the opportunities that we have in Los Angeles are magnified by the fact that voters are blaming the incumbents for the problems. As they should. That presents opportunities for viable challengers from the Republican Party.
KW: Many Politisite readers are generally aware of how bad the business climate is in California right now, particularly in losing jobs to Texas. Particularly with Governor Perry coming to pay you a visit…
KJ: Yes, [Governor Perry] keeps no secret about it. And I argue regularly when I’m talking to groups or in debates, if we’re ever going be competitive again… then we’re going to have something to sell. A hostile business environment is not attractive to businesses… small businesses, medium-sized businesses that now have a lot of choices. Especially with technology. So, we have to change our ways. That is going to take a fight, that is going to take a battle with entrenched interests at City Hall. That is why you need someone independent like me to have [that battle].
KW: Well, how bad is the situation in L.A. and what can a Mayor James do to improve it?
KJ: It’s very bad. The Unemployment Rate is 50% higher than the national average. There are lots of space available signs in areas that were very popular… Melrose Avenue, Ventura Boulevard… places you aren’t used to seeing “space available” signs. I hear every day and multiple times of people who on their way out. You have to beg and plead with them to see to stay a little longer just to see if the Voters are willing to put Los Angeles in a new direction. As Mayor, I’m optimistic that with seven new City Council members coming in… that I’ll be able to work with them, form new coalitions and new relationships. That’s almost half the Council and there are some existing Council members who I can work very well with. So, we can get things done through the Council. But even if we can’t, that’s not the end of real reform in Los Angeles. We have a Proposition system. As Mayor, I can go out and use the political capital of the office, the power of the podium and the microphone and raise money to put reform measures like pension reform and business-type reforms on the ballot and go around Council. If they won’t cooperate, the people will. That, in of itself, is leverage to negotiate with the City Council and the Public Sector Unions. We know very well that they don’t want to be put on the ballot because of what happened in San Jose and San Diego. The voters are ready for something new.
KW: L.A. is not the New York City of the 1990s, but your candidacy reminds me of Rudy Giuliani’s run for Mayor when he was trying to redirect New York into become a more business-friendly and livable City. Quality-of-life issues, crime issues were as paramount as the economic issues. Would that be a fair comparison?
KJ: I do think that is a fair comparison. We’re trying to get Rudy out here to campaign for me [actually]. If you look at Rudy, first time he ran… he was an “outsider candidate” and a Federal Prosecutor. There are some natural comparisons there and looking at quality-of-life issues is very important. Candidates like Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Riordan, when they’ve been successful…
they’ve turned around a City that has previously been in crisis. And that is the circumstance we have in Los Angeles. A different type of crisis, but we’re on the verge of bankruptcy. And Angelenos feel it because my opponents have raided all of the Special Revenue Infrastructure funds that are used to fix our sidewalks, fix our roads and keep the sinkholes from happening, trim our trees. All these “quality-of-life” issues, graffiti abatement, you name it, they’ve raided all those funds to pay the Unions we can’t afford. And Angelenos are starting to understand that it was mismanagement that caused it.
Part 2 of our Kevin James interview will come tomorrow…