The March primary winnowed the race for city controller to a longtime City Hall insider and an outsider with an unusual degree of expertise in city finances. The former is City Councilman Dennis Zine, now in his 12th and final year representing District 3. The latter is Ron Galperin, an attorney in Century City who has been a longtime critic of wasteful and inefficient city practices. The Times endorsed Galperin before the primary, and he remains the right man for the job.
Despite the title, the controller doesn't actually control any part of the city's finances. The office comes with broad powers to inspect the records and performance of city departments and a bully pulpit from which to offer critiques, but no authority to force changes. As a result, the controller's audits have often gone ignored. That's why the position demands someone not just with expertise on fiscal issues but also the perseverance to make change happen.
Galperin's expertise was demonstrated in 2010 and 2011 when he led the City Council's Ad Hoc Commission on Revenue Efficiency, which identified more than $100 million in revenue and savings for the city through operational improvements. He's shown his persistence by keeping the pressure on officials to implement a number of these recommendations, as well as other money-saving changes he's suggested over the years. Although he's better known for his work on the revenue side of the city's ledger, he's shown during the campaign that he would take a broad approach to the controller's job. Among other goals, he's talked about promoting accountability, making the city more business-friendly, focusing city resources on its top priorities and getting more out of city assets.
A former police officer, the garrulous Zine has promised to be tough on wasteful spending. He's pledged to hunt for savings in the city's largest departments, starting with the prodigious number of lawsuits against the Los Angeles Police Department. That's not a bad idea, but Zine has made little of the opportunities he's already had as a council member — and, for the last two years, as chairman of the council's Audits and Government Efficiency Committee — to root out the waste and inefficiencies he's now promising to target as controller. Instead, he shares responsibility with his fellow council members for the way the city has lurched from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis.
Galperin finished first among the six candidates in the primary, about 4,000 votes ahead of Zine, but fell short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. Voters should support him again when they go to the polls May 21. Zine has a more familiar name, but Galperin has more expertise on fiscal issues, and his track record is more promising.