Yesterday, around this time, when I read the Hillel Aron article in Los Angeles Magazine, Can a Blustery Former Cop Become L.A.’s Next Mayor?, I shuddered and decided to share through Twitter a pretty ugly thought that I've had in my head for a long time. But ugly thoughts... that's all about what reactionary City Councilman Joe Buscaino's campaign is all about. He's running on a platform of hatred, divisiveness and demonization-- just what you might expect from a Republican pretending to be a Democrat.
Buscaino was part of the LAPD for 15 years. What do you expect? That's what he is. "While the last contested mayoral election in L.A. was fought over the thinnest of ideological territory by two liberal Democrats with pro-union backgrounds," wrote Aron, "this one promises to be a contest over a divisive set of issues: crime, police reform, and, above all, homelessness. Buscaino’s positions on those issues are hardly extreme, and his campaign raised an impressive $800,000 in its first two and a half months. But his rhetoric, his supporters’ rhetoric, and some of his staff’s rhetoric have a way of inflaming the opposition, and Buscaino has become the bête noire of L.A.’s progressive activist community."
And that's exactly what he wants. He was a registered Republican until 2010 when someone explained to him that if he wants a political career in Los Angeles he'd have to switch his registration, if not his positions. Some of California's biggest and most predatory corporations have formed a hush-hush PAC, ostensibly to stop progressive superstar Kevin de Leon-- but in reality to saddle L.A. with Buscaino, a genuine across the board conservative. "They chased him out of Venice just like they did Larry Elder," said California Democratic Party Executive Committee member Dorothy Reik. "Angelenos should do the same." Reik is also the president of a powerful Los Angeles Democratic Club and it will be hard for Buscaino to win the nomination without the support of those kinds of grassroots party organizations. Others have noted that Buscaino is basically "L.A.’s Donald Trump," the "Messiah of Segregation” and "a willing servant of structural racism,... His vision for bringing L.A. out of houselessness is by force, banishment, and ultimately death."
When Aron visited Buscaino at his San Pedro mansion he immediately started attacking other (non-white) members of the City Council. Aron wrote that "Of the first-time politician Nithya Raman, a progressive: 'I don’t think she knows what she signed up for.' Buscaino’s chief spokesman, Branimir Kvartuc, who joined us for the afternoon, was even less politic. He dismissed City Councilman Kevin de Leon, widely rumored to be running for mayor, as 'a scrub,' and said, 'He doesn’t know what he’s doing.'" A "scrub" is an overtly racist term that's been around since the America's were first discovered by Europeans when it was just slang for an "insignificant contemptible person." It was used to describe prostitutes and Black people.
Aron asked them about the criticism Buscaino gets from left-wing activists, "which the councilman at times seems to almost relish. Kvartuc explained, 'We have sort of a no-fear attitude. Every other council member is so afraid. Even Nury,' he continued, referring to City Council President Nury Martinez, who has said she’s considering a run for mayor. 'She’s been such a disappointment.' He added, 'You have to be combative.'" Kvartuc didn't call Nury a scrub or any other overtly racist names.
Aron noted that when Buscaino began running for city council, Kvartuc had just returned to the U.S. from three years in Croatia, a country with a long fascist and racist history. "Kvartuc and Buscaino had been friends growing up... Kvartuc calls the councilman 'Joe'; Buscaino calls Kvartuc 'Branny.' In April, the two were inspecting a homeless encampment in Los Feliz (well outside Buscaino’s district) when they were approached by an activist with StreetWatchLA, Jeffrey Perez de Leon. Kvartuc took a few photos of the councilman stepping around a make-shift shelter. De Leon, who says he thought Kvartuc was shooting video, took offense and shouted, 'Yo! What the fuck are you doing here? Stop that.' The 5-foot-8 Kvartuc was startled and, he says, felt threatened by the 6-foot-4 de Leon. Kvartuc responded by going head to chest with de Leon and shouted, 'Fuck off! Fuck off! Turn around and fuck off!' All the while, Buscaino, annoyed, was calling out, 'Branny. Branny. Branny.' The incident was captured on video and posted to Twitter.
Buscaino was the first councilman to restart cleanups of homeless encampments, which the council had placed on hold during the pandemic. And he pushed the city council to pass an ordinance that would have placed strict limits on where the homeless could pitch tents and banned them from sleeping outside if they’d been offered shelter. The council passed a narrower version giving council members authority to decide where the tents would be allowed in their districts, which Buscaino supported and vowed to use aggressively.
“There’s got to be consequences,” Buscaino says. “Because right now, it’s lawlessness on our city streets.”
Talk like this can make Buscaino sound like a bit of a reactionary. He has referred to seeing “buckets of feces” at homeless encampments so often that activists have taken to calling him Joey Buckets. “He takes the worst of what he’s seen and repeats it over and over,” says Johnson. “He really plays up the ‘buckets of feces.’ They don’t have any bathrooms. Where would you shit?”
Buscaino likes to speak about the need for compassion and empathy but offers no apology for his charged rhetoric. “We need to either speak the truth of what’s happening on our streets or paint a rosy picture that all is fine in the city of L.A.,” he says.
I hope to meet with Kevin de Leon in the next couple of days and see if I can nudge him along towards running.