02/15/2007 01:41 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Los Angeles: Proving Ground for a President

I have not attended an LA City Council meeting since the 1980s, when a cynical friend of mine said, "Welcome to the greatest deliberative body in Western democracy." If yesterday's meeting was at all the norm, I have been missing out. During a three hour or so session, the City Council framed the presidential contest.

1. The Council weighed in on an effort championed by the progressive California Courage Campaign (of which I'm founder) to move the primary to 5 February 2008. While the Council's unanimous support was symbolic, Council President Garcetti made the point eloquently: with 36 million people in this most diverse state in the country, we need candidates for president who can address the issues of California, which are really the issues of the nation. The four million residents of Los Angeles approximate the total of those who live in Iowa and New Hampshire combined. It's time to think about immigration, infrastructure including nationally sclerotic transportation, education, healthcare and an imperiled environment. I for one would like to hear candidates talk about how they will make the lives of people, not just rich donors, better. Who knows; it might even reinvigorate an otherwise cynical electorate.

2. Eli Broad, the billionaire philanthropist who has used his wealth and force of will to reshape this city, rightly smiled broadly (pun intended) while labor leader Maria Elena Durazo, the champion and conscience of those with the least, stood in favor of a true public-private partnership that includes a massive redevelopment of downtown, a living wage for all employees associated with that new center and hope for new jobs. It was leadership at its best, a series of tough compromises that can tackle some of the problems that plague urban America. I wish the presidential candidates had watched as politicians, plutocrats and populists joined arms to build a city.

3. Maria Elena then rose again, this time to defend a living wage for 3,500 hotel workers near the airport whom the Chamber of Commerce thinks should get by on seven bucks or so an hour. The city council again stepped up and demanded that the hotels that benefit so thoroughly from their proximity to the airport pay their workers a decent wage. The fight is not about maids and managers; it's really about the future of America. If we insist on the Wal-Martization of the country such that the many have the least to serve the few with the most, this capitalist society will not endure.

The tale of Los Angeles is increasingly the tale of America. If this city can really work - and it has a long way to go - then the country has a bright future. If it fails, as Blade Runner and so many other science fiction films predict, so will the nation. The presidential contest is not simply between the two celebrity candidates grabbing for big bucks so fast you'd think they'd won a shopping spree contest. And the race is not just about money and endorsements. It's about mending America as we reach for the clouds.

John Edwards so far comes the closest even to talking about the two worlds of Los Angeles , the country and the nation. But where are the rest? Imagine a contest in which the candidates actually show that they understand what it's like to get stuck on an interstate system that was initially built as part of the nation's defense program. Fantasize about what would happen if one of them expressed in human terms the need to close the wealth gap and then showed us how to do it. Picture just one of the candidates explaining how the largest port in the US can be environmentally clean and safe from terrorist attack. Focus on a candidate who can weave together the "Crash" of LA that emboldens a few more Eli Broads to create better jobs for Maria Elena's workers so that we can fund more efficient schools and eventually build the systems to move people freely from beach to downtown in a safe, environmentally friendly manner.

Yes, Iraq is vital, but America can only rise again in the world through strength at home. It takes a village, but it also takes a city. Show us you at least understand how a city works and then maybe we'll believe you when you talk about a world. I'm waiting for the candidate to show me the dream, not just take the money.