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Board Nominees Mostly Insiders

Politics: Mayor names 17 to airport, harbor and DWP commissions. Included in the mix are union members, residents and allies.

July 21, 2001|MATEA GOLD and JENNIFER OLDHAM | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn appointed his nominees to three of the city's most important commissions Friday, stocking the boards that govern the airport, the harbor and the Department of Water and Power with many appointees who served under the last two administrations.

The 17 nominees have at least 16 previous commission appointments among them, reflecting Hahn's comfort with City Hall insiders.

With his appointments, Hahn shapes the direction of the panels that govern the city's three semi-autonomous agencies. The mayor's announcement has been eagerly anticipated by those seeking to glean the stances of the new administration.

The unpaid commissioners face an array of complex issues, including a controversial $12-billion plan to expand Los Angeles International Airport, a proposal strongly opposed by residents in the area. Hahn pledged during the campaign to seek a regional solution to increasing air traffic and said Friday that his commissioners "share this goal."

The new mayor said his Harbor Commission appointees--the majority of whom live in San Pedro--will work to build a better relationship with the community, which has often felt ignored in harbor matters. And he said his Board of Water and Power commissioners will focus on maintaining a reliable power source for the city.

Some observers praised the mayor's appointments as balanced and others complained about the return of so many familiar faces.

Hahn said he selected nominees who would bring both experience and new perspectives to the boards. "I think we've got a good mix of people," the mayor said.

One of the most prominent--and possibly controversial--appointees is Ted Stein, a hard-charging attorney who served on three commissions under mayors Richard Riordan and Tom Bradley. In 1997, Stein challenged Hahn for the city attorney's office, running a tough but unsuccessful campaign against him. But Stein eventually joined Hahn's mayoral campaign team as a vigorous fund-raiser for his former opponent.

"I had a chance to get to know him in a different way," Hahn said after appointing Stein to the Airport Commission. Hahn called Stein "someone who wants our airport to be as competitive as we can make it."

Stein's nomination could ruffle feathers at the airport, where he clashed with airlines during his previous tenure as president of the commission under Riordan. And he caused a flap when without consulting the rest of the commission, he gave a lobbying contract to Webster Hubbell, a onetime confidant of President Bill Clinton who got ensnared by the Whitewater scandal.

Stein was also a strong advocate of the airport expansion plan, which was strongly backed by Riordan. But Hahn said Stein now agrees that a regional solution is needed to deal with increasing airport traffic. "He is someone who understands the world has changed and we need to have a more regional approach," Hahn said.

Airport expansion opponents expressed concern that a majority of the new appointees, including Stein, served on the Airport Commission under Riordan.

Hahn "didn't take full advantage of the opportunity he had to send a clear message that times have changed and the existing Master Plan is dead," said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Redondo Beach). "When you're starting something fresh, it's easier to put your signature on it if you have new faces."

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter was skeptical that the commission would take a new position on airport expansion.

"What we're looking at [are] commissioners whose previous position has been staunch advocacy of LAX expansion," she said. "The question that remains unanswered is: Since we have Hahn instead of Riordan, will we have people carrying out his policies or Riordan's?"

The mayor's appointments--the largest number he has announced since taking office--are a careful mix of political allies and a diverse assortment of residents and union members.

"On the whole, it's a good balance of people," said City Council President Alex Padilla, who supported Hahn in the mayor's race. "Just like we see on the City Council, there are senior members with more experience and institutional history, and newer members that should bring in some new blood and new ideas. It's certainly a more diverse list of people than I've been used to seeing in the past several years."

Hahn's nominees must be confirmed by the City Council in the next 45 days before they can take their posts.

The names were received with little surprise by some observers who anticipated Hahn would select commissioners who shared with him a long history in City Hall.

"These are the people who have been running Los Angeles for the last 20 years," said political consultant Harvey Englander, who ran Stein's 1997 race against Hahn. "He's rewarding his friends. He's put people in whom he can trust, who can watch his back, who are not going to embarrass him and who are not going to be extremely independent."

Some of Hahn's political friends include Harbor Commission nominee James Acevedo, a San Fernando Valley political consultant who helped Hahn's field effort in the mayoral race, and current DWP Commissioner Ken Lombard, business partner of Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who campaigned for Hahn.

On the Airport Commission, carpenters union member Armando Vergara--whose union backed Hahn--replaces Miguel Contreras, head of the County Federation of Labor, which waged a campaign for Hahn's opponent, Antonio Villaraigosa.

The mayor also selected an array of neighborhood residents for the three panels, including Airport Commission nominee Ruth Mahala Brown Walter, a 32-year resident of Westchester, and Harbor Commission nominee Camilla Townsend Kocol, the former honorary mayor of San Pedro.

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