By Dennis J. Freeman
INGLEWOOD — Inglewood has been a city on the move. And the man orchestrating most of the progress is seeking his third term as mayor in the Nov. 6 municipal election.
The accomplishments of Mayor James T. Butts are many since he defeated Danny Tabor in a close election in 2011.
He is facing four challengers in his bid for re-election: retired nurse Mohamed Ben Amor, Marc Little, an attorney, pastor and businessman; Brandon George Myers, an entrepreneur; and Joseph Soto, a business owner.
Butts is running for re-election on his record.
“Inglewood has changed its brand and how the world perceives it,” Butts said. “We are seen as smart and business oriented. We have cut our unemployment rate in just seven years from 17.5 percent to 4.8 percent. Our property values are up over 125 percent since 2012. We have renewed our infrastructure at an amazing rate after decades of neglect.”
Butts points to the Los Angeles Stadium & Entertainment District (LASED), the future home of the Los Angeles Chargers and Los Angeles Rams, which will officially open for business in 2020 as one of the reasons for the city’s turnaround.
The city also is with the Los Angeles Clippers to erect an accommodating NBA arena within a short distance of the football and entertainment venue.
The new stadium will host the Super Bowl in 2022 and the college football national championship game the following year and also will be a part of the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 2028.
These are just a few of the glamour projects that have elevated Inglewood into a prime-time player in the sports and entertainment market. The next mayor of Inglewood will be in the spotlight and Butts is seeking his third-term in office because he believes in completion. He wants to finish off the job that he started.
Butts also believes that monumental projects such as the $2.6 billion football stadium don’t need a novice running the show and trying to figure things out on the fly.
“This is the most critical period for the completion of the projects I have brought to the city of Inglewood,” Butts said. “This next term for mayor is not one for on-the-job training. Experience is required.”
Getting worldwide conglomerates such as the National Football League (NFL), NBA and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to buy into Inglewood as the place for their brands have required a couple of things from Butts and city officials: safety and the improvement of mass transit in and around the city.
“Mass transit is a critical piece to the new Inglewood,” said Butts, who sits on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board of Directors as first vice chair.
Making the city safe may be Butts’ strongest attribute. Aspiring to be an attorney, Butts wound up working for the Inglewood Police Department where he became just the seventh black officer and the department’s first black lieutenant. Eventually, Butts found himself in charge of things as the first black chief of police at the Santa Monica Police Department, holding that title for 15 years. So, Butts knows a thing or two about community safety.
“No one makes a multibillion dollar investment in a city that is deemed unsafe,” Butts said. “We are in our eighth consecutive year of the lowest annual crime totals in the recorded history of Part I crime in Inglewood. Crime has dropped nearly 70 percent compared to the peak year of 1981. We have appointed a top-tier Chief of Police (Mark Fronterotta), and he has assembled a first-class command staff. We have invested $10.7 million in the Inglewood Police Department in the past seven years.”
Butts said the key to the transformation of a city is simple fiscal responsibility. When he took office, Inglewood was $18 million in debt with just $11 million in reserves.
As a tactful negotiator, Butts eliminated the lifetime retiree medical program and outsourced the city’s tree-trimming, parking control and sweep sweeping departments that would help bring the deficit down.
It is projected that Inglewood will close the current fiscal year with a $25 million budget surplus and $50 million in reserves. Without the finances being handled properly, there is no way the NFL or NBA would be running to Inglewood to do business with the city, he said.
“First, no one invests in a city whose infrastructure and water systems are failing as Inglewood’s was,” Butts said. “We have paved more lane miles of streets, and linear feet of sidewalks and trimmed more trees in the past six years than the prior 20 combined. We have repaved Florence Avenue, Manchester Boulevard, reconstructed Century Boulevard and commenced [work on] Imperial Highway.
“The residents have voted in a city council whose members are mature, cohesive and put the interests of the community as a whole first, last and always. The mayor serves as the visionary CEO that the Inglewood City Charter envisioned,” Butts added. “As a result, there is rational political stability and an overall logic in the council’s decision making. Political instability translates into economic uncertainty for those that would invest billions into a city.
“As a leader, I have negotiated win-win deals for Inglewood that have cost the city of Inglewood zero dollars of investment and consequently no bond burden for the taxpayers.”