Mr. Mayor's righteous hand man

Like many Angelenos, I have long since soured on the mayor of our great city. It's still shocking to me that he basically moonwalked into a second term. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's personal peccadillos and ethical standards aside, his tenure, like his personality, has been more show than biz; all talk, no game. Sure, you say, he's a politician: That's what they do. Fair enough. But he's my politician -- or, at least he was until I moved just outside the city's sprawling border -- and I intend to exercise my right to be disappointed.

Now in the second year of his second term, Villaraigosa has a new right hand man. A righteous hand man. And Jeff Carr is an evangelical minister. (The mayor's previous chief of staff was, in fact, a Jewish woman.) Carr was lured away from his COO job at Sojourners -- yes, that Sojourners -- back in 2007 to become Los Angeles' first gang czar.

Now that he's been promoted, Carr, like Rahm Emanuel was for President Obama, works behind the scenes to grease the wheels of a big bureaucracy. But this week Carr got some press attention.

The story was written by Los Angeles Times city hall reporter Patrick J. McDonnell. Here's a snippet:

To admirers, Carr is a savvy, energetic, even charismatic leader with a distinctive pedigree, the adopted son of a preacher who followed his father to the ministry and now toils in a decidedly secular setting.

"Those [faith] values drive how I live my life, the decisions I make, how I treat people, how I try to manage, how I try to lead," Carr said in a recent interview.

But others see Carr as a macho figure failing to impose direction on a deeply divided staff of 200 serving a mayor who is both demanding and easily distracted.

This is the basic focus of the article, assessing Carr's success as a newcomer to the world of politics. But the story also spends a good deal of time discussing whom Carr is and just how his religious professional background tracks through his new profession.

Carr dons no clerical garb and his office betrays no outwardly religious artifact beyond a Bible on one shelf. He occasionally fills in as a guest preacher around town, but at City Hall his status as a man of the cloth stays mostly in the background.

Although many outsiders view evangelicals monolithically as conservative Republicans, Carr sees himself as the disciple of an earlier tradition, progressive 19th- and 20th-century evangelicals who were at the forefront of the anti-slavery and women's suffrage movements.

"A lot of evangelicals think politics is evil," says Carr, who was reared near Seattle. "I say politics is not evil. It is a process by which you change policy."

McDonnell doesn't explain what kind of evangelical Carr is but he does explore just how Carr came to identify with liberal causes. Kudos.

Leaving aside the absolutely hilarious reference to "clerical garb" -- a subtle reference to Juan Williams? -- this seems to me like a decent discussion of how religion plays out in the life of someone in the political arena. Certainly more could be done, but considering the focus of the article and the audience, I think this is a good piece.

PHOTO: A retouched image of Jeff Carr, via WitnessLA

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