Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Newly elected Councilman Joe Buscaino with his wife, Geralyn, and children, Gia, 5, and Mateo, 9.
Councilman Joe Buscaino Swinging Into Action and Hitting Heavy Early
By Diana L. Chapman
I like it. I like it. I like it.
That’s how I feel so far about our new councilman and former senior lead Los Angeles Police Officer Joe Buscaino, also known around Los Angeles City Hall as “Bustea,” “Buscanacho,” “Busti,” “Bustia,” “Busty,” “Buzarella,” some of the many names Los Angeles council members teasingly came up with while trying to say his name on a welcome video.
So far, the 37-year-old councilman – who has sat on the council less than a month after a victorious ride to fill former Councilwoman Janice Hahn’s shoes– has hit all the right key notes.
He’s jumped on the gone-wild skateboarding practices, showed up when two teenagers were horrifically shot this week in Wilmington and picked the Warner Grand -- a historic theater well-known to locals by the many struggles to save it– to hold his public swearing in ceremony even though he’d already had an official swearing in downtown.
“Who’s idea was that?” I asked his chief-of-staff, Doane Liu of the Warner event.
“It was Joe’s,” Liu said.
It’s called shoring up a rather pale community pride that had grown even paler in recent years.
Packed with about 1,000 residents at the swearing in, Buscaino took all the joking in stride, surrounded by his wife and children, thanked city officials for “butchering my name,” and told the public: “It’s been an amazing journey and a journey we will travel together. It’s because of you that I am here today.”
He added that he plans to partner with Council District 15 communities –Wilmington, Harbor City, Harbor Gateway, San Pedro and Watts—to bring about safer streets, build “a dynamic” waterfront and invigorate the region to become a city gem.
At a ceremony peppered with bouts of humor, LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon, the emcee, told how he spotted Buscaino working with children as an assistant park director and was impressed. He encouraged the young man to become an officer and then mentored him after he joined the force.
 “For years, I got to be his boss,” Gannon said. “That’s all changed. He’s been in office for three days and he already calls me to get more officers in the Harbor Area. What are you going to do?”
Buscaino, Gannon said, received his request since he’s now the boss.
While many speakers came on stage, one who stood out was Isaiah Alexander, who as a youth,  worked with Buscaino to form the city’s first teen community police advisory board in the Harbor Area – which met with such success the LAPD adopted it in all 21 of its regions.
Now 22, the college student said his life improved dramatically with Buscaino’s friendship. He calls him: “Papa Joe.”
“He was with me at all my high school (events), ” Alexander told the crowd. “He was with me when I met my father (for the first time.) He helped me put my first car on the road. The councilman you chose is a caring man and he is loyal.”
Why do I like Buscaino so far? He feels our heartbeat.
He’s showing us true leadership, starting with the skateboarders who are “bombing” the hillsides of San Pedro – racing down them, clocking 40 mph and ignoring lights and stop signs. One 15-year-old skateboarder was killed.
“What are we going to do about the skateboarders?” one lady moaned when we were talking one morning. I didn’t have a clue, but Buscaino did.
He introduced a motion in early February to ask the City Attorney to draw up an ordinance to control unsafe skateboarding – and force them to abide the same laws cyclists and cars follow – meaning stopping at red lights and stop signs.
Not too long after, a horrific event drew the councilman to Wilmington Feb. 26, a Sunday night.
One day after the councilman’s San Pedro ceremony –which followed with a festive block party on Sixth Street --  a gunman shot to death a teen couple walking home in Wilmington at night – making them the sixth and seventh homicide in that community since 2012.
Killed were Carolina Ramirez, 15, a Banning High student, and her 16-year-old boyfriend, Meldrick Melgoza Alvarez.
I was glad to see Buscaino was there, trying to reassure residents and to  offer up a plan – to form a group called Wilmington United to help citizens work more closely with police. It’s first meeting Tuesday brought together police, church and school officials, the councilman’s office, residents and the many non-profits working with children or running gang prevention programs.
“No neighborhood in the city of Los Angeles should experience the horror of having anyone, especially teenagers, gunned down in its streets,” Buscaino said. “I want this task force organized to share valuable information with the LAPD and help deliver desperately needed resources to Wilmington.”
Already, we are breathing in the fresh air Buscaino brings to the low morale of the Harbor Area and Watts. It’s more than refreshing. It’s a burst of light.