An open letter to L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin

Dear Mike:

First and foremost I want to say thank you. Last week you did the right thing by your constituents, not to mention yourself and your family, by announcing you won’t seek reelection for a third and final term. Mike, this was never personal, and this post isn’t a victory lap. I mean it, you made the correct — really, the only — decision. I sincerely hope you find the help and support you need to find your way back to recovery. I also urge you to resign your position now rather than serving the duration. Doing so will benefit your constituents and community in a number of important ways, not least of all by allowing some healing to begin now rather than in a year. Moreover, based on what you said in your video it is the best thing for you and your family. It is time for all of us to turn the page.

However, that’s not the point of this post. I want to try and impart to you why so many people found themselves so strongly opposed to your policies and why your announcement came as a relief to your constituents, including many who previously supported and voted for you. In the process I hope to give voice to a more general sentiment arising not just in CD 11 but around the City of Los Angeles and indeed the State of California. It’s the ultimate political cliché but in 2022 it happens to be spot-on: Change is coming. L.A.’s city and county governments are going to look much different at this time next year, with a new mayor, at least four new councilmembers and two new supervisors, as well as a new city attorney and controller, and the personnel changes that will be involved with all of it. It truly is a new day.

And that’s actually central to your story, Mike. Along with nearly all of your colleagues on council and a goodly portion of our city and county officialdom in general you have been blind to the changes in your constituents’ perspectives on key issues. You behaved as though all was well, that you and your colleagues had the City headed for a bright future. No one believed it, yet not a week before your surprise announcement you were taking a victory lap of your own, reveling in the preliminary failure of the recall effort. Even that late in the game you were profoundly tone-deaf, dismissing (at the very least) the 26,150 people whose petition signatures were verified, calling the effort “demagoguery” run by “professional right-wing operatives.” This attack was particularly revealing: You know damn well the recall organizers are Democrats and that they did it on their own time and at the grassroots. Moreover it’s highly unlikely there are 26,150 right-wingers in CD 11 in the first place.

Alas, this lie was typical of your tenure and, more importantly, your attitude toward many of your own constituents.

Your lies weren’t just toxic to your district and the people who live there, they were ultimately self-defeating. Do you not realize that your constant demagoguery did you in? Lashing out at your own constituents became your singular calling card, central to your political identity. Perhaps you fancied yourself as being tough, a sort of Trumpian reflex to hit back harder even if you hit the wrong people and even when you were punching down. At best you came across as a bully, at worst you seemed increasingly divested from reality. You and your staff attacked anyone who so much as disagreed with a particular policy as a “right winger” or even a “fascist,” a cheap scare word that at this point has lost all meaning and is of no use to anyone except morons on Twitter (also, you and your staff should consult your Funk & Wagnall’s. To quote Inigo Montoya, you keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means).

You revealed your true nature for all to see in January 2019. Your “Bridge Home” homeless shelter was about to open in Venice after years of neighborhood opposition and concern (your approach to the shelter was consistent with your political persona, as you lambasted anyone who expressed concerns about moving nearly 150 homeless people into a small, close-knit community barely a quarter mile from a school as – wait for it – a right-winger who hates homeless people and wants them to die. At least you got an “A” for consistency). A security guard called LAPD one evening to report a suspicious package on the roof of one of the new buildings. You remember the rest, don’t you? As per standard response the police evacuated a small radius and sent a bomb unit to investigate. They found some CO2 canisters taped together, the kind junkies use to do whippets. Despite the fact that LAPD issued multiple statements, including one within twenty-four hours, specifically stating there was no cause for alarm, you conjured a bomb threat out of thin air. Indeed, even when journalists published public records nearly two years later proving again that your story was a shameless lie and smear, your official position remains that that someone in your district planted a bomb to try and intimidate you. Which would, of course, be an act of terror and a major federal crime. It was disgraceful.

The fake bomb threat was bad enough.

The fake bomb threat was bad enough. Do you know when you really started losing support en masse? The night of April 21, 2021. That was the night a fire was set, very likely by a vagrant (sorry, but people who intentionally burn other people’s houses down are not “our unhoused neighbors,” they’re dangerous criminal sociopaths), in which a woman’s dog burned alive. An actual act of violence, not one that was a product of fevered imagination.

A heartrending video emerged of neighbors trying desperately to break down the front door as the dog screamed inside. In response you waited 24 hours and then took to Twitter — not to express sympathy or condolences for a woman who’d just experienced an unspeakable tragedy, but to convey the stupefyingly tone-deaf message that people shouldn’t blame the homeless for the incident. Incidentally the victim was straight out of central casting, a pediatric ER doctor who has a history of volunteering in refugee camps overseas.

THAT’S the kind of person you threw under the bus.

Forget morality and common decency: You represented West Los Angeles. This is a place where people’s pets, especially our dogs, are full-fledged family members. Angelenoes often say we like our dogs more than we like most people, and we aren’t being ironic. Again, forget for a moment whether or not you have the capacity for empathy – it’s long been apparent that you lack some essential genetic code that allows normal people to experience or at least imagine the emotions of others. As a purely political matter your reaction was incomprehensible. I know people who wept when they heard the story. I know I did. I myself have two small dachshund mixes who combined weigh maybe forty-five pounds, for whom I have seriously risked my own physical safety to protect not once but three times. At least. We Angelenoes are positively batty about our mutts, and in the context of the situation you completely failed to capture and reflect that essential aspect of what it means to live in L.A. in the twenty-first century. You didn’t even try.

For that alone you deserved to lose your job, because in addition to moral callousness you demonstrated political incompetence. Empathy is not a “nice to have” quality in a public official, it’s as essential as the abilities to craft bills and speak in public. It’s as essential as breathing. Politicians who don’t naturally possess the impulse learn to fake it, like your pal Eric Garcetti (have you ever noticed that Garcetti literally has one facial expression? Eric’s Prozac Smile. It’s creepy). When tragedy struck your district, your constituent, it was your job to provide comfort and succor. Your cold-blooded response wasn’t just incomprehensible and professionally indefensible, it was deeply disturbing.

There are too many other examples to capture in a single missive. Your deafening silence when a young woman was beaten, gang raped, and left for dead in a coma in a public bathroom on Venice Beach. Your equally cold-blooded nonchalance when a young trans person committed suicide by intentionally overdosing in an encampment barely half a mile from your own home. Your indifference to the neighborhood catastrophe that was and remains the Venice Boulevard “road diet.” Your one-note-Johnny insistence that the only solution to homelessness was to build our way out, even as scores of people perished on the streets of your district, often in horrific ways.

The list goes on, and on, and on, and on. So much failure packaged into a single tenure, so much hurt inflicted. All of it so unnecessary and avoidable. It’s all the more remarkable to see you apparently oblivious to the harm you caused. Maybe it’s just that you faked it as long as you possibly could and finally the jig was up. After all, you’ve been an operator since high school. Impressive to reach the likes of Sydney Schanberg in his Upper East Side penthouse all the way from humble Clinton, Mass.

So much failure packaged into a single tenure, so much hurt inflicted. All of it so unnecessary and avoidable.

You can only fake it for so long. Karma, as the saying goes, is a bitch. And it has caught up with you with a vengeance. Mike, you looked absolutely awful in your video announcing your decision, like a completely beaten individual. For a second I felt badly for you (again, the whole empathy thing).

A personal note: I’ve often said that when I left my legal practice I wanted to spend my days writing poetry on the beach. And I did, for a couple of years. I published a literary and arts journal and was fortunate to have some of my short stories and poems find homes. My first novel was published in 2016. Unlike you, a search for my journalistic efforts turns up scores of stories in dozens of outlets. I was a pretty happy dude.

Then one day in 2017 I was sitting in traffic on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista. And by “sitting in traffic” I mean I was trapped in gridlock. This wasn’t normal L.A. rush hour, this was something altogether novel. This was bat country. In thirty minutes I made it to the Culver City border, and barely. So I had plenty of time to examine my surroundings. I noticed the new green-painted lanes (given that they go virtually unused and there wasn’t a single cyclist I didn’t immediately realize what they were). I noticed the bizarre, dangerous new configuration of the street parking spots. And I noticed the bollards. Good Christ, the bollards.

I noticed the bollards. Good Christ, the bollards.

It was one of those before and after moments in life. I went home and did some research, and that was I learned about “road diets,” “Vision Zero,” “complete streets,” and all the other transportation nonsense that’s been bolloxing up our city and state for the last six or seven years. It was also the first time I heard the name Mike Bonin.

All of which, with apologies to James Joyce, brings us by commodious vicus of recirculation back to your announcement. To reiterate, in all sincerity you deserve credit for your decision. Regardless of the factors that went into it, it was the right one. For the first time in nearly a decade the people of CD 11 can look forward to a new day, a new approach, new ideas. A new hope, to coin a phrase.

I have to thank you for something else, and this part is personal. As folks have engaged and come together to fight for the future of CD 11 and more generally the future of our beloved city over the last four-plus years, I have met some of the most extraordinary people I’ve had the good fortune of knowing in my life and career. A diverse group of some of the smartest and strongest people, with pure hearts and the best of intentions. People who don’t dwell in the darkness but constantly seek out the light. They’ve inspired me in ways I didn’t know possible. They give me hope that we will soon overcome the petty, often downright insipid political controversies that career politicians use to divide and conquer the people and so keep yourselves in power.

Which is where the message goes beyond you and me, and beyond CD 11. Beyond even the City of Los Angeles. All across California the people are putting the politicians on notice: If you don’t change your corrupt ways, we are coming for you. We are coming for you and we will not just remove you but ensure you are politically nonviable for any other office. We won’t just defeat you, we will end your careers. If you don’t start prioritizing the people over your own power (and pocketbooks), and if you don’t start to do it today, we are coming for you. If you keep allowing and encouraging people to die on the streets, we’re coming for you.

All across California the people are putting the politicians on notice

If you keep allowing criminals and vagrants and lunatics to carve up our neighborhoods from within and terrorize us in our own homes, we’re coming for you. If you keep handing those selfsame neighborhoods and homes over to Wall Street and Silicon Valley and dark money from god knows where overseas, we’re coming for you. If you keep turning our schools into conveyor belts of despair and failure, we’re coming for you.

So long as human misery and poverty remain your calling cards we are coming for you. We are coming for you and we will not relent. There is too much at stake. Nury Martinez, you’re on notice. Paul Koretz, you’re on notice. George Gascon, you’re on notice. Mike Fuerer, you’re on notice. Chesa Boudin, you’re on notice. Ed Chiu, you’re on notice. Scott Wiener, you’re on notice. Gavin Newsom – well, actually, you’re going to be irrelevant pretty soon, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Change is coming. The people are coming, and the political establishment has no idea. If you doubt me, if you doubt us, remember CD 11.

Take care of yourself, Mike Bonin. Good luck and godspeed.

Very truly yours,

Christopher LeGras


6 thoughts on “An open letter to L.A. Councilman Mike Bonin

  1. Thank you for putting in words what so many of us have been feeling but having some difficulty expressing these past years ….from high hopes and expectations to experiencing the reality of his behavior and it’s impact in and on our communities. Thank you Chris!


  2. Thanks for summing up the many things that have been on our minds, and don’t go away. I hold no animosity toward the Councilmember personally, but his policies have made my life and those of my neighbors here by ABH, a living nightmare.


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