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NEWS ANALYSIS

School Fight Has Riordan's Inner Circle Squaring Off

Politics: Handling of Zacarias issue has divided confidants Soboroff and Wardlaw, clouding Soboroff's mayoral plans.

November 03, 1999|JIM NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite Wardlaw's emphatic denials, Soboroff persisted, arguing to a variety of Latino leaders that Wardlaw was undermining the superintendent, apparently unaware that several of those same officials consider Wardlaw a close ally. The result: Wardlaw knew of Soboroff's accusations within minutes of his having delivered them.

Soboroff also urged various Latino leaders to call reporters and make it clear to them that the mayoral candidate was on their side. Some did make calls, but a number said they had no evidence that Soboroff was working on their behalf or that Wardlaw opposed them.

In fact, Soboroff's claims of a close relationship with state Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) were contradicted by a source in the Latino coalition that was fighting for Zacarias. That source said Polanco and county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, another potential mayoral candidate, were working closely together. But, the source added, Soboroff had never even called Polanco's office, much less received the senator's support.

"Soboroff is in a bad position because Latinos have identified him as the man who brought in Miller, yet he claims to be Ruben's ally," that source said. "He's also the mayor's friend, but on the outs with the mayor's political advisor. So he's a man with one foot on the dock and another on the boat in choppy water. He might well end up all wet."

Controlling the Spin

On Tuesday, Soboroff walked a fine line in trying to describe his comments of recent days. At one point, he insisted that he had never meant to label anyone a "puppeteer" in the controversy, then amended that.

"There has to be some puppeteer behind this," he said. "It's hard for me to fathom that the school board would just come up with this."

Exactly how the bruised feelings will play out politically is hard to predict, but Soboroff supporters had hoped to lure Wardlaw into their fold. As a practical matter, that idea now is dead, and with it, any chance of Soboroff seeking the city's top office with the undivided support of the Riordan team.

Soboroff faces other problems in that regard.

For years, Riordan has advanced the notion that progress is best made when the people responsible for it eschew credit.

Soboroff, however, needs to trumpet his achievements in order to make his case for becoming mayor. The result is a palpable irritation among some Riordan aides and commissioners who believe their work is being overshadowed by Soboroff's need to proclaim his own achievements.

On projects such as the Alameda Corridor and Staples Center, for instance, Soboroff portrays himself as the central actor, without whom neither deal would have come to pass. Others close to those projects describe his role differently, saying he was an important participant but not necessarily the most important one.

So thin is Soboroff's support among the top people on Riordan's team that when the mayor held a fund-raiser for Soboroff last month, not a single one of the mayor's top deputies attended.

Times staff writer Louis Sahagun contributed to this story.

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