New USC series follows the leaders
The Judith and John Bedrosian Center on Governance and the Public Enterprise launched its new Lunch With a Leader series aimed at providing a small group of USC students the opportunity to engage with state and national leaders to discuss issues of governance and policy implementation.
Held on Dec. 10 at the University Club, the event featured Austin Beutner, the first deputy mayor of Los Angeles, who now serves as president and co-CEO of Evercore Partners, an independent investment banking advisory firm. Other participants included Jack H. Knott, dean of the USC Price School of Public Policy; John Bedrosian, founder of the Bedrosian Center; Frank Zerunyan, Rolling Hills Estates mayor and USC Price senior fellow and director of executive education; and Darrell George MPL ’84, Duarte city manager.
“Our goal is to have a series of small events where we have real, in-depth conversation,” said USC Price Professor Raphael Bostic, director of the Bedrosian Center and former assistant secretary for policy development and research at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Rather than hosting a standard lecture, Bostic said he wanted this series to be more informal, more interactive and “give an opportunity to engage in some back and forth.”
Beutner, a member of the Bedrosian Center’s board of advisers, explained to the students how he ended up serving as the first deputy mayor of Los Angeles. After breaking his neck in a 2007 mountain biking accident, he decided that “the next chapter would be about giving back and doing something different,” and he began volunteering at Los Angeles City Hall.
Beutner went on to share key lessons from his broad set of experiences, which encompasses the public, private and nonprofit sectors. At 29, he became the youngest partner at the Blackstone Group. At 33, he served in the U.S. government under President Bill Clinton and led a team that helped Russia transition to a market economy after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He later co-founded Evercore Partners.
Beutner also addressed one of the biggest budgetary challenges presently facing Los Angeles.
“Between this current fiscal year and three years from now,” Beutner said, “the city’s contribution to pensions alone will increase $800 million. But there’s no discussion about that.”
He criticized the political “sophistry of kicking the can down the road” and called the impending pension crisis a “live boa.”
During the conversation, Beutner touched on several other critical issues, such as redevelopment, tourism and high-speed rails.
He concluded: “If we are going to be competitive and imagine a robust future for Los Angeles, where we have all kinds of natural assets — we’re the most diverse big city, we’re the window to Asia and Latin America, we are the transportation nexus for our country with Asia — it’s only if we have effective government that’s going to see a different path for tourism, to see a different way to embrace our universities, to actually get to some fiscal solutions, so the city can provide services cost-effectively and sensibly.”
Beutner’s comments sparked lively discourse, and several students noted the value of hearing about theories from the classroom put into practice at City Hall.
“You hear Beutner talk about how things, in theory, ought to happen a certain way but in the real world are happening a different way,” said Jennifer Connolly, a USC Price doctoral student who is conducting research on local government. “It’s nice to hear the real-life perspective on those issues.”
Eric Battles, a master of public administration student, said he appreciated “knowing that what I’m learning now will apply to policy and to the work environment.”
For the students, Bostic said he hopes the event offered the “hard reality of what government is” and that, despite all of the challenges, stakeholders can still come together to get things accomplished. He added that these conversations can also serve as a forum for good ideas.
“I was really pleased that there were a lot of different voices in the room,” Bostic said. “We heard from students, city managers, academics, alumni — all of whom have a stake in this. And the more we are able to be a collective set of voices, the more we can work toward finding a group solution that’ll work and we can impart some knowledge that’ll be useful.”