LAKE FOREST — Attorney Charles T. Manatt has decided to withdraw as lobbyist for South County cities battling for recognition as the planning agency for El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, after his ties to a company that would benefit from a commercial airport at the base, slated for closure, became known.
Lake Forest Mayor Richard T. Dixon said Wednesday that Manatt informed city officials he would give up the job to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Manatt, a prominent attorney and former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, was hired last month by Lake Forest and Irvine to lobby for them in Washington.
South County officials were hoping that Manatt's ties to the White House and Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, plus his firm's connections with powerful Republicans, would help them win recognition from the Pentagon as the official planning agency for the Marine base.
However, The Times reported last week that Manatt is also a member of the Federal Express board of directors. Federal Express, which currently flies only one cargo flight per day from John Wayne Airport, has supported a commercial airport at El Toro, which is scheduled to close by 1999.
Both Irvine and Lake Forest oppose a civilian airport at the base.
"None of us feel there is a conflict of interest, but Manatt said he was stepping aside because of an appearance of impropriety," Dixon said. "It's unfortunate that in the world of politics perception is reality."
On Wednesday, Paul Reyff, a representative from the Pentagon's Office of Economic Adjustment, met with Dixon and representatives from other South County cities. According to Dixon, Reyff informed them of the Department of Defense's intention to recognize the Board of Supervisors as the planning agency for the base.