Mayor Richard Riordan received the resignation of Airport Commission President Daniel Garcia on Thursday, but he still declined to press embattled City Councilman Richard Alatorre to step down from the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
According to sources close to the mayor and councilman, however, Alatorre has discussed with Riordan the possibility of leaving the agency, which he serves at the mayor's pleasure. Alatorre is a close ally of the mayor, and aides to Riordan said the mayor is determined not to force the councilman off the MTA board, even though he is under investigation by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service, among other agencies.
Alatorre's problems have fueled pressure on Riordan to take the same step with him that he did with Garcia, but the mayor has been reluctant to publicly challenge the councilman, who has been one of Riordan's most loyal supporters on the City Council.
In Garcia's case, there are no allegations of wrongdoing; the mayor just grew impatient with what he viewed as the stalled expansion plans for Los Angeles International Airport. But when Garcia threatened to contest the mayor's demand for his resignation and began canvassing the City Council for the votes needed to keep his job, Riordan agreed to dump a second member of the Airport Commission, the mayor's friend Bill Dahl, an architect.
That sealed the deal. On Thursday, Garcia resigned from the commission, though his letter of resignation avoided any reference to the pressure put on him to leave.
"The time demands of the Airport Commission have escalated these last few months to a level which interferes with the duties of my regular job and my personal life, and I have, therefore, concluded that I should resign," Garcia wrote.
In the three-page letter, copies of which were sent to members of the City Council, Garcia listed his long and widely admired service to the city, but added a swipe at Dahl, though not by name. "In parting," Garcia wrote, "I wish to thank my colleagues on the Board of Airport Commissioners who, but for one exception, have been cooperative and diligent and have served the city well."
A spokeswoman for the commission said Dahl was out of the country and unavailable to respond.
According to sources, the jobs of the two outgoing commissioners will be offered to John Agoglia, a former NBC executive and friend of Riordan, and Miguel Contreras, a labor leader who has been tapped by Riordan for a number of assignments.
Contreras, who serves as executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, would bring an organized labor voice to the airport expansion debate and strengthen the political coalition that Riordan is trying to build around the project. Labor has generally supported expansion, which would create thousands of construction jobs. Once completed, an expanded airport also would broaden the region's labor base, creating an estimated 375,000 permanent jobs.
Both Agoglia and Contreras are members of the executive board of LAX 21, a new organization created to press for the airport expansion.
Together, those two commission nominees cover a broad ideological range, and Riordan aides expect them to win relatively easy council approval. For pro-labor council members who are worried about the airport expansion, voting against Contreras would be a tricky political move.
On Thursday, Contreras said he had not made up his mind whether to accept the nomination.
"I've been asked to consider it," he said. "I'll be taking it up with my executive board and studying it over the next day or so."
Alatorre's situation poses a different kind of challenge.
Like Garcia, the councilman has a long association with a troubled project, in his case the subway system. But Garcia is considered a scrupulous public official who has served on a variety of commissions for two mayors. Alatorre, by contrast, is the target of various investigations, some relating to his work with the MTA, and has been absent recently while recovering from surgery for a torn diaphragm. At this week's crucial and long-delayed vote on the agency's restructuring plan, an issue that has generated considerable controversy among Alatorre's Eastside constituents, the councilman abstained.
Sources close to the mayor say Alatorre himself brought up the idea of resigning from the board several months ago. The sources stressed that the mayor is not pushing the councilman to leave.
Alatorre is under scrutiny on several fronts.
The FBI and the IRS, working with the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, are investigating his personal finances, including whether he bought and remodeled his Eagle Rock home with the help of a contractor and a real estate investor who each had multimillion-dollar government deals backed by the councilman.