Scholar aims to be LA’s next City Controller

  • December 16, 2021
Scholar aims to be LA’s next City Controller

Reid Lidow talks about his campaign to be City Controller of his home town, Los Angeles, and to improve the lives of others.

I  would look to be a nimble and agile Controller who is unafraid to speak truth to power and who is connected with local communities.

Reid Lidow

Reid Lidow is in election mode. He is campaigning to be  City Controller of his home town, Los Angeles, and he sees it as a chance to improve the lives of his fellow citizens, in keeping with the Gates Cambridge mission.

He wants to reimagine the office and help it to be “a force multiplier” to address problems ranging from homelessness to economic hardship, challenges that will be even more complex and entrenched as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.  Reid [2014] sees the City Controller as having a watchdog function with the power to audit city functions and to be a strong activist on behalf of the whole city. “I  would look to be a nimble and agile Controller who is unafraid to speak truth to power and who is connected with local communities.”

There are five candidates in the race with a primary election in June. The top two candidates will go on to a general election in November, which coincides with gubernatorial and congressional mid-term elections – something that will boost voter turnout. “That puts us in uncharted territory,” says Reid, given turnout for elections for the Controller role is usually around 20%.

At the moment he is 100% focused on the election and is busy fundraising and getting out to meet people. He compares it jokingly to the process to become a Gates Cambridge scholar. “The odds are long, but there are incredible outcomes,” he says, adding that he needs to work very hard to earn every vote by coming up with good, feasible ideas that will make people feel better about their city. Reid says the position does not normally get a lot of attention, but he wants to change that. “I see the potential to use it as a megaphone to call attention to some of the toughest challenges we are facing,” he says.

A product of Los Angeles

Reid was born and raised in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley and is a true product of the city. He did his Bachelor’s degree in international relations and political science at the University of Southern California. In one of his classes he was asked to pick a country in Asia to follow over the course of a term. Most people chose China, but Reid opted for Burma, visiting the country three times and doing research and community service activities there. “It was a good experience and illustrated the importance of getting out of the classroom to understand the issues,” he says.  At the time, there seemed to be a democratic flourishing in the country, although subsequent developments suggest it was not as healthy and sustainable as many had hoped.

In 2014, he began a taught master’s in Development Studies at Cambridge where he had access to lectures from the likes of leading economist Ha-Joon Chang and Middle East expert Professor Maha Abdelrahman. That gave him a broader picture of how countries lift themselves out of poverty and build the human infrastructure and systems that serve the people – lessons that are transferable to his work in Los Angeles now on issues including housing and homelessness, creating an economy that works for the many rather than the few, and climate change. “No one lever works for these problems. You need to identify 100 levers for each and pull them all,” says Reid. “Our future depends on it.”

He took the time to enjoy all the conversations that enrich life at Cambridge, getting a broad range of perspective on different issues.  He says his studies and those conversations “gave me a strong foundation to go out into the world and take on the gauntlet that Gates throws down: a commitment to improve the lives of others. I was exposed to so many different perspectives, and that makes me more well-rounded and empathetic.” 

One of his favourite memories is coxing for his college Queen’s – at six foot one he must have been one of the tallest coxes the college has had. However, despite his “wild” enthusiasm, his depth perception proved too big a challenge for the job.

From inclusive education to City Hall

When he left Cambridge, Reid was keen to roll up his sleeves and get to work addressing major political issues. He got a job at the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity in New York and began working closely with Gordon Brown, the UN’s Special Envoy for Global Education. Brown asked Reid to work with him on issues related to equitable and inclusive education for young people across the globe. 

Soon after this he started working with Brown on speeches for his campaign against Brexit on the basis that the most vulnerable would be worse off as a result. Reid, a Democrat, says he is proud of his role in the campaign. He says: “It was a true statement of Brown’s advocacy for positive principles and the patriotic case for Britain to remain in Europe.”

Reid stayed with Brown for two years and then moved back to Los Angeles after Donald Trump won the US presidential election. He says: “I wanted to pivot from international issues to the domestic front. I was very concerned about the direction the country was taking and the war being waged on cities and states from Washington. I wanted to play my part in helping folks locally using the skills I had developed.”

Reid got a job in Los Angeles City Hall where he worked for four years with Mayor Eric Garcetti, first as his speechwriter and Deputy Press Secretary, and most recently as Executive Officer.

During the Covid pandemic, he was working with the mayor writing nightly briefings and promoting mass vaccination.  Indeed he was with the mayor when Joe Biden was inaugurated as President, helping with the Covid vaccination programme at Dodger Stadium. He has heard heartbreaking stories of loss and immense sadness. “The toll in the US is incalculable. The death figures do not begin to scratch the surface of the loss people are feeling,” he says. He is determined to help address the fallout and rebuild. “The task falls to us to save lives and livelihoods,” he says.  “It’s not easy, but we should not shy away from it because it is hard. It is the fundamental job of government and public service.”

Reid, who stepped down from his role with the mayor when he launched his election campaign, still keeps in touch with his Gates Cambridge friends and still finds those conversations invaluable for the different perspectives he gets on how to improve people’s lives. He says simply: “Gates Cambridge was a magical time for me and I go back to draw on its strengths. It puts wind in my sails.”

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