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Wealthy Car Dealer Boeckmann Proves He Still Has Ample Political Horsepower

Government: Valley businessman, a top campaign donor, serves a third administration after being the lone Police Commission member to be reappointed.

July 15, 2001|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As political appointees go, San Fernando Valley car dealer Bert Boeckmann is a survivor.

Despite his conservative politics and close ties to anti-establishment groups seeking to break up Los Angeles and the city school district, Boeckmann showed again last week that he remains a player in the liberal-leaning Los Angeles City Hall. New Democratic Mayor James Hahn picked him as the only member of the Police Commission to remain on the panel.

He served on the commission under Democratic Mayor Tom Bradley and Republican Mayor Richard Riordan, through the Rodney King beating and the Christopher Commission, right to today's Rampart Division scandal.

Even for a city in which municipal politics are supposed to be nonpartisan, the Republican power broker has demonstrated the ability to transcend party differences and find a place at the table of power at City Hall.

"He has credibility across a broad spectrum," said Anton Calleia, a former deputy mayor to the late Bradley. "He is an institution in the Valley. Everybody who has an idea for a public purpose goes to him for support."

Valley community activist Gordon Murley offered another reason for Boeckmann's success.

"M-O-N-E-Y," Murley said, spelling the word slowly for emphasis. "He has always given very big to politicians, and that has allowed him to be an insider."

Indeed, Boeckmann is one of the top political donors in the San Fernando Valley to local, state and federal candidates, doling out $628,000 in the last year and a half.

Boeckmann, 70, said he and his wife, Valley magazine Publisher Jane Boeckmann, gave more than $350,000 last year to campaign committees working to elect Republican George W. Bush president.

At the state level, his Galpin Motors Inc. contributed $213,656 to candidates and campaign committees last year, including $10,000 to Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.

Locally, Boeckmann and his wife spread around more than $20,000 to candidates, including Steve Soboroff, Kathleen Connell and Antonio Villaraigosa in the Los Angeles mayoral primary. He also contributed to Hahn, and endorsed him in the runoff election.

Boeckmann, who has also been a financial supporter of the controversial Christian Coalition, is a self-made man.

He started out as a salesman for Galpin Ford in 1953, and later bought his employer. He then built a corporate empire in the Valley made up of vast land holdings and a film production company.

He is president and owner of Galpin Motors, whose five Valley car franchises tallied $600 million in sales on 25,000 vehicles last year, and include the top-selling Ford dealership in the world.

Boeckmann has exercised the prerogatives of power to satisfy a lifelong fascination with law enforcement.

"At one time, I thought I might make a career in the military," he said. "The police force is kind of a paramilitary organization."

In his spacious and ornately decorated office, which overlooks the showroom of his North Hills Ford dealership, the most prominent item on his boat-sized desk is a crystal LAPD service award.

He has remained a City Hall insider despite his financial backing of petition drives to study Valley cityhood and to break up Los Angeles Unified School District.

Close Link to LAPD Draws Criticism

Others criticize Boeckmann on his record at Parker Center, saying he is much too enamored of the police to be an effective watchdog.

Although police union President Mitzi Grasso praised Boeckmann's appointment, saying his support for law enforcement brings balance to the commission, others were disappointed.

"I certainly oppose his appointment," said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

"He is part of the entrenched culture of the LAPD that we certainly need to change," Ripston said. "He has been in there for 14 years, through the Rodney King beating and the Rampart scandal. He has not been a strong advocate for reform."

Boeckmann initially opposed a court-imposed consent decree mandating post-Rampart reforms, saying the LAPD already was taking steps to make improvements.

He drew criticism last year for splitting from the commission majority when it found that the fatal police shooting of a frail homeless woman violated department policy.

The commission majority sided with the LAPD's inspector general in determining that Margaret Mitchell, 55, did not pose a deadly threat when she brandished a screwdriver at officers.

In a minority report, Boeckmann and Commissioner Raquelle de la Rocha said they found "the officers' perceptions of immediate threat were not unreasonable and that Officer [Edward] Larrigan's use of deadly force was within department policy."

He counts among his accomplishments spearheading a task force that made changes in deployment practices to improve response times and provide the Valley better services. He has been the commission's liaison with the department's anti-terrorist division.

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