Los Angeles police detectives began arranging interviews Friday with City Council candidate Rita Walters, her campaign staff and aides to Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley after disclosures that mayoral staff members used city offices and equipment to assist the Walters campaign.
Detectives began "knocking on doors," Lt. Fred Reno said, but he declined to say who had been approached or whether anyone had been interviewed by Friday afternoon. He said a search warrant to retrieve computer data from the mayor's office "could be forthcoming," but he stressed that such action is not certain and could be weeks off.
Walters' campaign manager, Felicia Bragg, said she was contacted by police investigators on Friday and agreed to meet with them, but no date has been set.
Meanwhile, in a highly charged political atmosphere at City Hall, several council members criticized Bradley for not being more open about the matter and two members called for the resignation of Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani, the mayor's chief of staff.
Fabiani was one of six Bradley aides reprimanded Wednesday by the mayor for creating "the perception" that they used taxpayer resources to help Walters in her bid for the 9th District City Council seat. The Times reported Thursday that Fabiani sent a computer message to mayoral aides last week soliciting volunteers to "boost the crowd" at a weekend fund-raiser for Walters.
The story also reported that over the past five months Bradley aides wrote briefing papers for Walters, provided her with materials from City Hall files and met with her to discuss city issues. After inquiries from The Times, Bradley reprimanded the six staffers and ordered two of them to reimburse the city a total of $37 for "staff time and computer time" spent on the campaign.
"We've been on notice for a long time that our offices aren't to be used for political purposes," said Councilwoman Joy Picus, one of those who said Fabiani should step down. "It would be terrible if a low-level employee did it, but a chief deputy? . . . There is no excuse for not knowing better than that."
Councilman Ernani Bernardi called Fabiani's role in the Walters campaign the "last straw" for the deputy mayor, whom Bernardi and others have blamed for worsening relations between the council and mayor's office over the handling of the controversy surrounding the police beating of Rodney G. King. Fabiani has angered some council members by orchestrating efforts to oust Police Chief Daryl F. Gates.
"I think he should resign," Bernardi said. "I don't know why he gets involved in so many kinds of these very damaging things in respect to the image that people perceive of the mayor and the City Council."
Councilman Richard Alatorre, generally an ally of the mayor, said Fabiani and the five other staff members should be fired if investigators determine they assisted Walters at City Hall.
"The allegations are serious enough that their continued tenure in office wouldn't be appropriate," he said.
Fabiani, who is vacationing in Hawaii, could not be reached for comment, but Bradley spokesman Bill Chandler defended Fabiani as a "hard-working deputy mayor."
"Some council members have shown an affinity for lashing out at the chief of staff," Chandler said. "The comments today are nothing more than typical, off-the-cuff rhetoric by two council members."
Bradley, described by Alatorre as "very unhappy," refused Friday to answer questions about his office's involvement in the Walters campaign. The mayor pushed his way through a crowd of reporters at a groundbreaking ceremony near downtown Los Angeles when they asked about the matter, and earlier in the day he told reporters the matter was closed.
"I took the disciplinary action. That's it," Bradley said before posing for photographs at City Hall with the president of Hungary. "I am finished with it."
Several council members, however, criticized Bradley for refusing to discuss his staff's conduct or his responsibility, saying the mayor's silence has led to public distrust in his office.
"I think what the public would like to see is some assurance that this isn't going to happen again," said Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores. "And I don't think a $26 or $35 or $100 fine, or a couple days off, or a call to the beach at Waikiki saying, 'I am not happy that you did this,' assures the people that this kind of thing won't happen again."
In the police investigation, detectives are seeking out potential witnesses, which is normal in such inquiries, Reno said. "We would like to do (this investigation) in a good, traditional way," he said.
Reno said Walters and her campaign aides were potential witnesses whom investigators were trying to interview Friday afternoon.
"Somebody from the Police Department did call and say they wanted to meet with me," said Walters campaign manager Bragg, adding that she did not know whether Walters had been contacted.