Jan Perry’s passion for building comes naturally. In the Cleveland, Ohio, area where she was born, her father, Samuel, an attorney, fought for fair housing, as did her mother, Betty.

After she left home as a teen to attend USC in 1974, she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s in public administration. In 1990, she “was offered a position as planning deputy” in the office of then-Councilman Mike Woo.

When Perry discusses her major accomplishments, she talks mostly about buildings and housing, and the outflow from such talk is jobs.

“Well, you know, over the last 10 years I have focused on job development … not exclusively, but in a big way,” she says. “I talk a lot about the large projects I’ve worked on, and the reason that they’re important is because they put people back to work. The work that I’ve done at Staples [Center], L.A. Live, the Nokia, and the JW Marriott has put 90,000 people over the last 10 years back to work.

“One of the reasons I’m excited about the possibility of a stadium is because it will bring 20,000 new jobs. And then working together with places like the YWCA, with Chrysalis [a skid row nonprofit that works with the homeless], with organizations that train people and . . . and help people get back on their feet. . . brings exciting possibilities that didn’t exist before.”

[There are others who feel Perry is a little too business-friendly with developers like AEG, the main force behind Farmers Field, citing it as a simple land giveaway.]

After almost 12 years as councilwoman for the city’s 9th District–which hooks around most of downtown and broadens out to include a large swath of South Los Angeles–Perry can’t reduce her political career to one major accomplishment. But she adds: “I would say that there are a number of housing units that I have shepherded through. . . . In 2013, it will be up to 5,000. The fact that I have been able to complete projects, both large and small, that have put 90,000 people back to work I think is major.”

Perry expresses pride in such 9th District projects as the Augustus Hawkins Wetland Park and the South Los Angeles Wetland Park, breaking ground on Dunbar Village, Somerville I and II apartments, a new City Hall at 43rd and Central Avenue (“a $12-million environmentally friendly building”) new grocery stores at 20th and Central and Adams and Central.

“Right now I’m building a project on Vermont (multigenerational housing for grandparents caring for their grandchildren), the first of its kind,” she says. “The Downtown Women’s Center, a beautiful building that houses 77 elderly homeless women. It’s such a beautiful project that people take tours just to come and see it. So there’s a lot to be proud of. I can’t nail it down to one thing. That’s just a partial list. I’ve done a lot. I mean I surprise myself sometimes.”

Still, a number of African American construction workers lament that they have been virtually excluded from these and other large city projects. Outside observers have commented on this phenomenon also.

Perry, explained the situation this way: “When you have a project that is funded with public money, you’re obligated to bid it out. The bid has to be a competitive bidding process, and people have to respond and we have to pay the prevailing wage. A large part of the jobs that have come through are union jobs and as such you have to hire from the hall. That doesn’t mean you can’t have apprenticeship programs and internship programs and journeyman programs to bring people through that way. The other things we have done, and we’ve done it on the Expo Line and other large projects, is create opportunities that come from census tracts that are deemed to be disadvantaged, or people who are coming out of prison. So that there is a place for them to participate–particularly on the construction site–so that they can gain skills and earn money …. “

When the interviewer explained that the complaints didn’t necessarily come from entry-level workers or apprentices, but union members, she replied:
“Well, you know sometimes reporters say that. I remember I talked to a reporter about the Expo Line, and I said to him you have to look at a job in its totality. You have to see all three shifts. When you deal with light rail you have above the ground and there’s a lot going on below the ground, below grade, too. And the other thing that I think has changed more radically in the last 10 or 15 years is the procurement opportunities have increased for African Americans. Procurement … and those are things that you don’t see necessarily on the supply side and on the material side.”

Like two other high-profile city officials–Council member Eric Garcetti and City Controller Wendy Greuel–Perry has her sights set on the mayor’s job in 2013. She and Garcetti will be termed out as council members. Villaraigosa will be termed out as mayor. A fourth contender, philanthropist Austin Beutner, served on Villaraigosa’s staff for 15 months as first deputy mayor. His assignment was job creation and improving the city’s business climate. (See Nov. 3, 20011, Austin Beutner story at www.ourweekly.com). There is speculation that as many as three others contenders may enter the mayoral fray.

Beside being African American and female, Perry is also Jewish, having converted to Judaism about 30 years ago. Beutner is also Jewish, and Garcetti has roots in both the Latino and Jewish communities. Greuel is married to a filmmaker who is Jewish.

Perry sees the core of the city’s problems, with its cutbacks in services and $72-million budget deficit, as being a lack of jobs. Although she is optimistic about the future, she believes the city may have to ride it out for the next two years.

Perry believes her “strong sense of pragmatism, ability to reflect people’s needs for housing, or transportation or more retail in the neighborhood, more jobs and to be able to translate that into things that are deliverable. . . .” are her best qualifications for being mayor.

She may also have the genes for it. Both her father and mother at different times served as mayor of tiny Woodmere Village, a suburb of Cleveland. Her father was also a partner in the well-known Cleveland law firm of Louis and Carl Stokes. (Both Louis and the younger Carl distinguished themselves in Ohio politics. Louis was the first African American congressman from the state, and in becoming the first African American mayor of Cleveland, Carl also became the first Black major of a major American city.)

Perry, one could say, is simply following in a great tradition.