As James K. Hahn moves into his new office at City Hall, he has Ronald N. Tutor, in part, to thank for it.
Tutor, president of construction giant Tutor-Saliba Corp., spent $75,000 to help Hahn win the mayor's race. That money went for mailers that backed Hahn as an experienced crime-fighter and branded his rival, Antonio Villaraigosa, as "armed and dangerous."
The contractor also hosted two fund-raisers for Hahn during the long mayoral campaign. And Tutor, his employees and their spouses made at least $39,000 in contributions directly to the Hahn effort.
Now Hahn is in a position to help Tutor. When Hahn officially became mayor on Sunday,, he also assumed the role of the most powerful member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. Hahn aides, conscious of the potential for conflict, insist that the new mayor will not use his position to favor his ally.
The MTA is locked in a bitter and costly legal battle with Tutor-Saliba over work on the Metro Rail subway. The case is so serious that Tutor-Saliba could be barred from bidding on some future public works projects if it loses--a potentially devastating blow to a company that lives on government contracts.
Determined to press forward with its allegations that Tutor-Saliba filed false claims and defrauded the transit agency on several subway contracts, the MTA board rejected overtures to settle the case before it went to trial in May.
But the board's composition is about to change. Four of the board members involved in that decision were former Mayor Richard Riordan and his appointees, and they are about to be replaced by Hahn and three of his. Those four votes represent a formidable bloc on the 13-member board.
The question for the new mayor is simple: Will he change direction at the MTA to benefit a rich contributor who helped secure him his job?
Hahn spokesman Kam Kuwata said Tutor will receive "no special treatment."
Tutor did not return numerous phone calls from The Times. In recent testimony, he told jurors that the accusations by the MTA's lawyers are "a series of lies."
The MTA alleges that Tutor-Saliba violated state law by filing false claims and fraudulently billing the agency for work on the subway.
The agency also contends that Tutor promised to use minority subcontractors on the job, but that some of them turned out to be fronts for other businesses that did the work.
"The evidence will show that not only did they not issue subcontracts for the required amount, but that the disadvantaged business enterprises they used were not all legitimate, independent disadvantaged business companies," MTA attorney David B. Casselman said as the trial began.
For its part, Tutor-Saliba contends that the MTA failed to pay more than $2.5 million that the company says it is owed for work on the subway project, including the Metro Rail station at Wilshire Boulevard and Normandie Avenue.
Nomi Castle, attorney for Tutor-Saliba and a member of the company's board of directors, said in her opening statement: "This case is really very simple, although it has a lot of peripheral issues and complex things and nit-picky pieces. My client wants to be made whole."
Tutor-Saliba Subway's Biggest Contractor
Tutor-Saliba has received billions of dollars in contracts to build subway and rail projects, airports, highways, bridges and government buildings across California.
The MTA and its predecessor agencies paid Tutor-Saliba and its joint-venture partners nearly $945 million for work on the Metro Rail subway, making the company the biggest contractor on the $4.7-billion project.
Over the years, The Times has reported that the walls of some of the subway tunnels Tutor-Saliba built in downtown Los Angeles were thinner than required. Two of the three workers killed in accidents during subway construction were Tutor-Saliba employees.
One of California's best-known contractors, Tutor also has a long history of contributing to politicians at the local, state and federal levels. Hahn is just one of the beneficiaries of the contractor's financial support.
But the $75,000 that Tutor spent to boost Hahn's election prospects stands out as one of the contractor's biggest political donations.
The amount eclipses, for instance, the $50,000 that Tutor-Saliba sent last year to support the reelection campaign of Gov. Gray Davis.
Tutor's independent expenditure in the closing days of the mayor's race was notable not only for its size but also for its tone: The money paid for 240,000 mailers that warned voters of dire consequences if former Assembly Speaker Villaraigosa was elected.
In attacking the former lawmaker's record on certain crime bills, it said, "Villaraigosa is dangerous and must be defeated." The mailer described Villaraigosa as "an extreme left-wing fringe Democrat who is more concerned about the rights of criminals than the rights of victims and potential victims."