D^2 has a long post which also touches on the issue of the role machine politics played in integrating European ethnic immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. (Look at the end of the post after the long and wrongheaded argument that polite discussion of the race issue keeps us from dealing with the reality of it. I’ll get to that issue at some later point.)
Los Angeles politics in the 70’s were marked by an alliance between the city’s African-Americans and liberal Westsiders (often Jews), in which many of the city’s civil service jobs were targeted at African-Americans through AA and explicit political setasides.
The consequences were, on one hand, a flourishing African American employee and professional middle class (as opposed to entrepreneurial middle class), and on the other a highly racially politicized set of civil service unions.
This is pretty typical of most big cities at that point in history; it was the modern ‘googoo’ form of ethnic machine bloc politics.
What has been interesting in Los Angeles has been to watch the politics since then change, as on one hand, the burgeoning Latino voting population and political class began to outmuscle the African American politicians, and the fragmenting of the liberal Westide/urban African American alliance as the claims of the Latinos began to challenge the role of blacks as the ‘parties due compensation’, and as the fiscal crisis of the cities began to erode the white entrepreneurial/professional willingness to tolerate the costs of ethnic patronage.
Essentially, the same things happened at Tammany as Tweed had to provide more and more jobs and contracts to keep buying the support he needed to stay in power; at some point the cost became so high that he couldn’t bury it in the budgets any more. At that point he was prosecuted and his patronage appointees lost their jobs to a new set of patronage appointees.
The difference is that the reforms instituted to block Tweed/Daley type of explicit patronage created the groundwork for a more structural kind of patronage, which is equally valuable, equally political, and equally hard-fought over. But because it operates under the color of a bureaucratic civil service, the fights are less explicit and hence harder for anyone but the politically hyper-aware to follow, and they tend to be accretive, in that programs and positions never die, they just get added to.
And so the school district gets layers and layers of administrative employees, the city gets half-attended to and partially-funded programs, services decline and costs increase.
Note that this isn’t done outside the boundaries of the SkyBox politicians; they’re the ones orchestrating it to maintain their own coalitions and political advantage.

2 thoughts on “PATRONAGE”

  1. I can’t figure out if you’re explaining or criticizing.
    To the extent you’re criticizing, I agree, someone with cojones needs to take a good, hard look, department by department, program by program, to see what they do, if it’s needed, if it’s duplicative, and if it’s the most effective way to go about achieving the goal. For the City of LA, isn’t that Laura Chick’s job?
    Although you focused on “ethnic” coalitions, don’t forget that “white” is an ethnicity too, and that the “other side” has its coalitions (business, religion, etc.) that they reward for support as well.
    So now that The Powers That Be have figured out how to work the civil service and competitive bidding systems, what do you propose?

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