David Sokol prefers mid-town Manhattan, where he runs Ogden-Martin Corp. from an office high above Park Avenue. But to do business in Los Angeles, he has learned, it helps to make respectful visits in City Hall and buy tickets to fund-raising events held by key members of the City Council.
And Sokol, the firm's president, dearly wants to do business here.
His company is competing for the honor of building and running the city's Lancer project, the trash-to-energy incinerator proposed for South-Central Los Angeles. Whoever is selected by the council later this spring, either Ogden-Martin or Signal Environmental Systems of Hampton, N.H., will win a 20-year contract worth at least $250 million and bragging rights to a showcase plant in the nation's second largest city.
The battle between Ogden-Martin and Signal set off the most intense lobbying campaign since competition for the cable television franchise in the East San Fernando Valley three years ago and involves the leading heavyweights representing clients in the private offices at City Hall. The lobbying has dwarfed the resolute, but meager, efforts of some mostly poor black and Latino neighbors to keep the trash-burning plant out of their backyard.
"It's all politics--politics and money," said Sheila Cannon, a neighbor who fears that the plant's smokestack emissions will irritate her children's asthma. She and about 50 other South-Central residents have met every Saturday for several months at a Central Avenue library to plot their fight against the plant.
They contend that the city kept them in the dark until last fall, when the first of three community meetings was called by Councilman Gilbert Lindsay, the 85-year-old patriarch of South-Central. By then, planning had gone on for several years and more than $1 million had been spent on the project. "Some of the elderly people around here, they think Lancer is a shopping center!" Cannon complained.
When the bidding began, Sokol said Ogden-Martin wanted to avoid the political back-scratching that some believe colors many decisions in City Hall. "We want to win this on the merits or not at all," Sokol said then.
Stakes Are High
But Sokol soon entered the high-stakes game by reserving three tables, for $9,000, at a fund-raising dinner for Lindsay's new political action committee. Donations were allowed to exceed the $500 limit imposed by a recent city referendum because the money raised by the new committee, called LINPAC, was not to be used for city political races, according to a city attorney's opinion.
Sokol said Ogden-Martin also contributed $2,500 each to council members David Cunningham and Joan Milke Flores, and Sokol recently attended a reception for Councilman Robert Farrell given in New York by the brokerage firm of Smith Barney, Harris Upham & Co.
Rival Signal has not been far behind. The firm reports that it gave $3,000 to Lindsay and $500 to Councilman Michael Woo, and Signal's president, Alfred del Bello, also contributed $250 to attend a Manhattan fund-raiser held by Smith Barney for a fund, the Teresa Lindsay Foundation, that Lindsay named after his late wife. In addition, lobbyists for both firms may have made other contributions, which they are not required to report until June.
Led by Attorney
Ogden-Martin's team working City Hall is led by attorney Neil Papiano and includes former City Councilman Arthur K. Snyder and lobbyists from the law firm of former Democratic Party National Chairman Charles Manatt.
These Ogden-Martin forces began an investigation that turned up connections between Signal and businesses in South Africa. Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., president of the Los Angeles Airport Commission, won a coup for Ogden-Martin by using the reports to persuade local civil rights leaders--including Urban League President John Mack and NAACP President Raymond Johnson Jr.--to attack the opposition on the eve of a key committee meeting.
Signal has recruited a high-powered force of its own that began by hosting a dinner in Seattle for council members who attended the National League of Cities convention last December. The team includes lobbyists Joseph Cerrell and Philip Krakover, who have had their hands full denying allegations that the firm has South African business connections.
Signal's officers contend that the relationship is limited to sales to South African firms of products made by other subsidiaries of Allied-Signal Co., the parent firm of Signal Environmental Systems. However, the denials were weakened by a recent Allied-Signal in-house magazine that carried a map pinpointing the company's worldwide business locations--including South Africa.
But Signal won a victory last month when it complained bitterly that the city's process of evaluating bids had been tainted, charges that forced city officials reluctantly to reopen the bidding.