[Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed from the Mexican American Political Association and is shared with permission.]
I’m not an aspirant of a Gold Card, and I hope that you’re not, either. The Gold Card Program is the epitome of municipal privilege enjoyed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, his office, City Council members, and other city managers — not really open to the public as represented by Villaraigosa and his spokespeople. The story broke last week when City Controller Wendy Greuel released an audit that uncovered 20 years of abuse of public authority by city elected officials starting with the mayor’s office.
The audit revealed that a near-secret Gold Card program, managed by the Department of Transportation, provided almost exclusive access to the political high-rollers to have parking citations dismissed — 1,000 over the past two years alone. The loss of revenue to the deficit-ridden city is estimated to be at least $15 million.
The Gold Card program issued cards to city public officials with a direct phone number on the back of the card to contact a desk in the Department of Transportation to fix parking tickets. The audit revealed that the program had been used hundreds of times by the mayor’s office and those of city council members and other officials, although it permitted such scofflaws to remain anonymous. Some 90 percent of the cases indicate no paper trail showing why the citation was tossed or who made the request.
The mayor has directed the Department of Transportation to discontinue the program, but only after a bitter exchange between Greuel and himself over the disclosure. The exposè embarrassed the mayor and while initially his push-back was accusatory towards Greuel he was forced to accept the hypocrisy of the program’s existence. This led to his call to surrender the Gold Cards. In the face of the facts, the public outcry, and the devastating budget crisis that has led to repeated cutbacks in personnel and services, he really had no other alternative. It is the equivalent of wiping the egg off his face.
One of the mayor’s accusations against Greuel was that she enjoyed these privileges while serving as a council member and even voted to perpetuate the privilege. She denied any knowledge of the Gold Card or ever having used it, and less so having voted to support it. Villaraigosa also claims that he had no knowledge of the program until the recent bombshell. This constitutes mutually destructive political accusations and denials from these politicians.
Greuel’s political ambition to the mayor’s office is a convenient reason to present herself as the anti-corruption candidate. Villaraigosa’s swift counter-attack was an indication that she is not his favorite candidate. This is a nice spate to have for the public. It is almost only when such in-fighting erupts between politicians that the public gets a look-see into the internal workings of the city.
If both politicians were serious about transparency and uncovering corruption and patronage under their roofs they would order the naming of names – an immediate and complete disclosure of the officials who requested that tickets be fixed and for whom. Fat chance of that happening in the City of Angels!
Juxtaposed to the Gold Card abuse is the rampant illicit confiscation of poor immigrant worker’s vehicles due to the absence of a DMV issued driver’s license. In 2009 alone some $60 million found its way into the city’s coffers resulting from the illegal confiscations. The city has since increased the fines exacted for such “infractions.” This is nothing more than an immigrant tax, and it has been a huge money maker for the city and the tow-truck companies that handsomely contribute to the politicians who perpetuate this unjust policy. How about Gold Cards for hard-working immigrants, Mr. Mayor?
Villaraigosa regularly makes brief appearances to the immigrants’ rights marches to espouse supportive rhetoric towards immigrants and the goals of immigration reform, yet, he hasn’t been able to find his way to ending the most egregious repressive anti-immigrant and anti-worker policy operating under his jurisdiction and nose. He doesn’t seem to be embarrassed by this policy and less so its execution, which violates civil and human rights of poor immigrants. Walk the talk or simply no longer appear at the immigrant marches.
An even better option would be to mothball vehicle confiscations along with the Gold Card program, Antonio.
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