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by Doug McIntyre | Los Angeles The carnage in Chatsworth was a vivid reminder of how the phrase "train wreck" entered the lexicon as an ultimate expression of catastrophe. The twisted remains of box cars and locomotives were a once-frequent sight. Over time, we have learned from these disasters and have reduced collisions to anomalies that grab headlines exactly because they are so rare.
While the country understandably gawked at the Metrolink tragedy, the other Los Angeles "train wreck" keeps chugging along - crooked elections. I'm using the vernacular here since I can't prove Mark Ridley-Thomas is actually for sale. However, anyone with two nostrils can smell the stench of whoredom dripping off one of L.A.'s great statesman, the state senator from SEIU. For the first time in 12 years, a seat is open on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, and the Service Employees International Union is champing at the bit to grab that seat and vote itself a bigger slice of your pie. After all, the public-employee unions pretty much wrote their own ticket with the city, but L.A.'s cash well is tapped out. The unions see a potential gusher in Los Angeles County government. They've tapped Ridley-Thomas to drill, drill, drill! He is the union's own personal Halliburton. The seat up for grabs is currently held by another legendary L.A. leader, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke - you know her, you love her - the supervisor who represents one of the poorest districts in the city, yet lives in a Brentwood mansion with a tennis court. You almost have to admire Ridley-Thomas. Burke, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and company have lowered the ethics bar to earthworm levels, and somehow Ridley-Thomas has still managed to limbo under it. The unions are stuffing millions into the pocket of "Sen. SEIU." If Ridley-Thomas wins a seat on the Board of Supervisors, he has the potential to cost the taxpayers of the county uncountable millions. You almost have to admire the brazenness. The union/Ridley-Thomas ticket isn't pulling a backroom deal. The cash grab is taking place in full view of everyone. Despite multiple investigations into the union leadership, including several with the potential for jail time, Ridley-Thomas is unapologetic and rounding that bend, chug, chug, chugging toward victory. The only thing standing in his way is City Councilman Bernard Parks. Yikes! While the country is going through a credit crisis after a decade-long spending bender, you have to hand it to Los Angeles politicians. They're strictly cash and carry - no dealer financing, no easy terms necessary. In Los Angeles, our politicians are pay to play all the way, which leaves the homeowner and garden-variety taxpayer stiffed again. Unions are important parts of a diverse economy. I belong to one or two. But when unions and developers become kingmakers, the taxpayers are left voiceless, yet on the hook for all the deals they didn't make. We're living in a state so financially mismanaged that a budget has just been crafted by borrowing from future lottery earnings. While we mourn the victims of the Chatsworth train wreck, let's not ignore the political train wreck we've got on our hands - and the real-world consequences that result. We learn from each railroad accident how to make train-travel safer. Undoubtedly, new safety measures will be added to Metrolink at the terrible cost of 25 lives. We should also be able to learn to run a clean and safe local election that puts the interest of the public ahead of the lobbyists. Our passive acceptance of business as usual has Los Angeles hurdling off the rails. CRO first appeared at L.A. Daily News copyright 2008 Doug McIntyre

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