This is the second in a series of one-on-one sit down interviews with each of the six individuals running for four open seats on the Culver City Council in the April 10 elections.
It’s easy to see why Micheal O’Leary became a pub owner. He likes to chat to people. He’s happy to engage, to talk, to listen and to ruminate. When Patch sat down to interview him about his campaign to seek a second term on the City Council, O’Leary – who owns Irish pub here in Culver City – revealed how politics has always been in his blood and much of that stems from his immersion in pub culture.
“When you’re in the pub business you’re constantly interacting with people who have issues,” he explained. “If you think about what brings people out to a pub in the first place - they’re celebrating: a marriage, a new home, a new child, a new job, very significant key points in their lives. Or they’re commiserating: a death, a lost job, they lost their home, or they’re moving. These points are focal points and then people begin to think, ‘What’s next for me, what are the tax implications? So political discussions always happen in the pub.”
He added Thomas Jefferson loved to go out and have a beer and talk politics. “I’m not so sure the constitution wasn’t formed over [a few beers],” he quipped.
O’Leary said he decided to seek political office after hearing constant complaints and frustrations from customers. “They’d say, ‘Oh the government doesn’t care about us.’ The more I heard people saying, ‘Oh, there’s nothing we can do, we can’t win [if we run for office], the more frustrated I became and the more motivated I became.’
O’Leary also reveals a legacy of political activism within his own family back in Dublin. “My mother was always out canvassing [for local politicians] and my grandfather was one of [Irish political activist and statesman Eammon] de Valera’s lead figures. He went to jail with de Valera.”
While O’Leary isn’t advocating introducing beer to city council meetings just yet, he still has plenty of things he’d like to accomplish if he is re-elected on April 10.
Culver City Patch: Having now served a full term on the City Council is there anything you have learned that you might do differently if you’re re-elected?
Micheal O’Leary: Four years ago an issue came in front of the council to rethink development and that was in my area [where I live]. I seem to have upset the community around me. I may have over-promised what I could have done to make the development in their estimation go away or be more palatable. But when [I was elected] and we started with the legal wranglings, I realized that my hands were tied.
This time round I’m more careful about what I can promise to do. I now understand better that there are certain legal parameters that have to be abided by. Because of that I think I’ve lost the support of my neighborhood for re-election and that’s sad, but obviously I care about my part of Culver City as much as I care about the rest of it. If they think that I don’t, that’s crazy.”
Patch: You served as mayor this year and had the opportunity to go to the Conference of Mayors in Washington D.C. Is there anything you feel you can apply from that experience going forward?
O’Leary: Just meeting people who are elected mayors was interesting. As an elected mayor you have a lot more influence and control in the city. As a rotating position it’s not as influential, and I like the way we have it here, that five of us have to decide. I do love hearing the struggles of similar sized cities in different parts of the country. Sometimes I think we’re blessed and sometimes I think we’re ignored. I look at transportation money given to the East Coast, and California as a whole has been ignored. Do they not think we need public transportation just because we have predominantly good weather?
Patch: You certainly expressed your displeasure at the last Expo board meeting over yet further delays in the opening of Phase II of the Expo line.
O’Leary: I didn’t intend to sound like I was upset. I don’t like being told by staff at any level – vagueities (sic). The opening of the [Expo line] was getting closer and in this past meeting instead of it getting even tighter it went to six months and I was infuriated. I just felt that they don’t care about a specific opening time and they don’t understand that we do. I need to know specifics. Our parking lot is due to be open on May 1. That’s the construction company’s deadline. Don’t tell me, ‘Oh [the line will be] open early 2012 to mid-2012.’ Early 2012 is already over.
Patch: The opening of the Expo line is clearly an important issue to you. What are the other issues you see as important and how would you address them?
O’Leary: I see revenue generation as our key and what better things to bring new revenue than Parcel B getting built and the Expo triangle development. Not only will those two projects alone boost the economy with the sales tax dependent city that we are, but also imagine the corridor between the two. That Washington Boulevard piece that’s been neglected. We need to get moving. I’m sick of the speed at which government works. As a businessman that’s my biggest frustration. It would be frustrating for me to step off the council having voted on things but not seeing any doors open.
Patch: Do you think that’s a little naïve? Government doesn’t tend to move fast.
O’Leary: But wasn’t it amazing how fast government moved once [Gov.] Jerry Brown – ‘the closer’ – came in [and shut down the redevelopment agencies]? We moved at the speed of business. That to me was very exciting.
Patch: With the loss of the Redevelopment Agency, how would you balance the revitalization projects such as arts and entertainment programs against the essential services the city needs?
O’Leary: I go back to the projects we have planned. We can ask developers instead of doing traffic mitigations to put money into a fund for public arts. To developers these are small amounts of money that could be used in negotiations. I do recall when the Entrada project was proposed the planning commission was able to get [the developers] to commit to providing a vehicle to the police department.
But we can’t just do things piecemeal. The [concerts etc.] are lovely events and they are obviously fun, but the Downtown Business Association made a bold statement and said these events aren’t benefitting the businesses. And if they’re not, that could be seen as a misuse of funds.
Patch: What other issues do you feel are important?
O’Leary: I have seen the community come out in droves to support our Globe and Tilden Terrace projects, which will bring affordable housing. But when that funding runs out, what are we going to do? We have to zone for affordable housing. Then there’s the stuff I want to get done.
Patch: Such as?
O’Leary: I want a bridge over Ballona Creek at Higuera Street. There’s a traffic light coming and there’s going to be a parking lot on the other side and we’re supporting it financially so we can have public parking there. Currently there’s no parking for people going up the hill and the State charges an arm and a leg to park up the top. If we build a bridge there – it’s already in the Baldwin Hills Conservancy Master Plan – we could have a walking community. If we made it two lanes for cars to get in and out it would take traffic away from that part of town and we could have restaurants, groceries, a plaza. Right now when you’re on the bike path there is no place to stop. You don’t even know when you’re in Culver City on that path.
Patch: Do you think council members should take a stand on school board issues?
O’Leary: I was one of the first to sign the petition [over parent-funded volunteer adjuncts] because I absolutely know the correlation between our property values and our schools. If our schools decline our property values will decline also. It was drilled into me in Ireland. My parents moved into an area just so we could go to certain schools. I went to the number one school in Ireland. I came here with $700 and all I had was my education. The learning experience is so valuable to the kids that we have to stick our nose in if necessary.
I don’t see why we shouldn’t be overseeing what the school system does. But I know that they are a good group and have the best interest of the school system at heart and I feel for them in this case. My take on the adjuncts is that some of the programs were created [by parents] because the school system couldn’t afford or were planning to cut the various programs or teacher positions. The only way the adjunct program should be removed is when the school system says, ‘We can now afford to pay for these positions, off you go parents and find other great systems to bring to our city, and thank you for keeping these adjunct programs alive for 23 years.’
Even though I don’t have children in the system it doesn’t mean I won’t in the future and I want to make sure that valuable asset is protected. And I want the school board to walk in [to city council] like [School Board President] Karlo Silbiger does on occasion and tell us what they think we should do. We’ll listen. Any one of them is free to reciprocate.
Patch: No council member works in a vacuum. How important is it to have contacts beyond the city?
O’Leary: I love my regional outreach. On my bridge project, based on my participation with the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission, I have interest from them to look at it as a bridge that could be a catchment area – so there could be funding from them. There’s probably federal funding that’s available. So to be able to use all the tools in your toolbox for something like this is critical. A new councilmember will have to take the time to build those relationships. I’m no better than any other person running, but right now I have an advantage in that I have the regional outreach.
Patch: If your campaign had a bumper sticker, what would it say?
O’Leary: ‘Mehaul. The Right Man For The Right Job.’
And I’d just like to say to your readers to not procrastinate and to get out and vote. Too many elections have been decided in Culver City by a small margin. So if you’re reading this, you care. Your vote counts. It’s not insignificant. You can get voter registration cards at City Hall or the Post Office or at my pub, Joxer Daly’s.
You can read more about O’Leary’s campaign at www.mehauloleary.com
Click the links below to read other council candidate profiles: