The size of Los Angeles and its economic woes make the city a nationally important test of surviving the economic recession. In a time like this, can a soft-hearted evangelical minister effectively run the mayor’s office? It’s a question being asked about Jeff Carr, newly appointed as Mayor Antonia Villaraigosa’s chief of staff. Carr replaces the tough, capable and experienced Robin Kramer, who’s reportedly been itching to leave–and get a life–for at least months. I think Carr will surprise the doubters.
Carr, whom I met in the mid-1990s, was already showing his effectiveness in working between a rock and a hard place–the very definition of the chief of staff job. He was overseeing the Bresee Foundation, a youth outreach, education and gang prevention program, for the evangelical Church of the Nazarene. Carr, whose progressive outlook and drive to innovate were a stretch for the traditonal church, operated at an LA intersection of multiethnic poverty. He expanded the program’s reach, welcomed all, taught skills from basic reading to computer tech, installed a family clinic and offered tough, at-risk kids a home away from gangs with structure and rules. He persuadedthrough effectiveness and leveraged his charisma into new funding and nonsectarian backing for the foundation’s work.
He put his family and his money where his mouth was, buying a home in the heart of the LAPD’s Rampart division.
Carr later jumped into national public policy on the openly progressive end of evangelicalism, as COO of the admired Sojourner organization in DC during tough times for progressives–much of the Bush administration. He came back to LA in 2007, leaping into secular policy as Villaraigosa’s "gang czar." His signature program has been the Summer Night Lights program in parks that have grown crowded after dark with kids and families, not gangbangers. He worked closely with LAPD and Chief Bratton on focusing police gang prevention efforts.
It’s not a traditional path to chief of staff. But it’s not jumping from the pulpit into the tiger pit, either.
Carr brings Villaraigosa his ties to DC and policy experience in health care reform and immigration reform. Carr has gone toe to toe with Sean Hannity. And led an ecumenical group on a trip to Iran, including a meeting with President Mahmoud Ahmedinijad. Expanding his reach and succeeding is his history so far.
L.A.’s political morass could be anyone’s Waterloo. But Carr’s critics should not think he’s soft just because he’s worn a clerical collar.