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New Bradley Chief of Staff Seen as Fast-Rising 'Boy Wonder'

November 23, 1989|FREDERICK M. MUIR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mark D. Fabiani, the lawyer named Monday as Mayor Tom Bradley's chief of staff, is described by friends and rivals alike as a Harvard-educated "boy wonder," who has risen fast by making the right political connections and delivering on the job.

But in some quarters, there are still doubts that Fabiani, 32, has the political and management experience necessary to effectively make the leap from legal adviser to the chief of staff for the mayor of the nation's second-largest city.

"He's smart academically, but I'm not sure he's got street smarts," said one city councilman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "He's not seasoned in the political sense."

One key council aide said Fabiani may be "the least qualified" of five chiefs of staff during Bradley's 16-year tenure.

But Fabiani's fast rise attests to his considerable political skills, particularly in making the right friends and keeping up with them.

"He's brilliant, quick and has a keen instinct for the jugular," said attorney Pierce O'Donnell, who hired Fabiani in 1983.

The son of an Ontario police officer, Fabiani was an award-winning high school debater. Through that interest, he met Robert Shrum, then a speech writer for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and now a prominent political consultant.

After graduating as a Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Redlands with a degree in philosophy, and cum laude from Harvard Law School, Fabiani was introduced by Shrum to politically well-connected U.S. Circuit Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt, a Bradley confidant. After a year as a clerk for Reinhardt, Fabiani joined the now-defunct law firm of O'Donnell & Gordon where he hoped to be involved in public affairs issues.

But what he quickly learned was that "a law practice is just a law practice after all," Fabiani said.

After taking just two cases to trial, Fabiani sought a job in the public sector.

Making use of his connections with Reinhardt--whose wife, Maureen Kindel, was then a Bradley appointee as president of the Board of Public Works--Fabiani quickly signed on as a legal adviser to the mayor in 1985. He was 27 years old, with one year of law practice under his belt.

"From the beginning the mayor encouraged me to be innovative," said Fabiani, tall, blue-eyed and sporting a slicked-back hairstyle.

From the beginning, Fabiani made waves. His legal opinions-- described as "brash and arrogant" by one City Council member--often conflicted with those of the city attorney.

Fabiani defends his work, pointing out that the city's anti-apartheid ordinance--recognized nationally for its toughness--was the result of his legal arguments challenging a city attorney's opinion that the ordinance would not stand legal scrutiny.

But while his work might have been brash, Fabiani's manner is anything but that. He is described as low-key, quiet and serious by his colleagues.

As Bradley's personal legal adviser, Fabiani has headed the mayor's legal defense effort during investigations by the city attorney and now by a federal grand jury.

Fabiani was also chief architect of the mayor's dramatic hourlong, live television address made in response to City Atty. James Hahn's critical report on the mayor.

He acknowledged that during recent months, he was considering leaving the mayor's office. However, the opportunity to stay on as chief of staff, he said, was an offer he could not refuse.

In publicly accepting the promotion to chief deputy Wednesday, Fabiani said, "I think the next couple of years will be a time of exciting change in this city. . . . The mayor in his inaugural address in July set forth a bold agenda for Los Angeles. Our job on the staff is to see that agenda through."

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