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Finalists Get Tough Questions From Hahn

September 27, 2002|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn grilled three candidates for chief of the Los Angeles Police Department this week, attempting to assess their political skills, labor relations talents and management experience with pointed questions formed after conversations with more than a dozen friends and associates.

According to people inside the sessions and others who have spoken to them, Hahn questioned former New York Police Commissioner William Bratton about his turbulent relationship with former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and how he would get along with Los Angeles' civilian leadership.

Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney was asked about his rocky relationship with the police union there, and Hahn pressed him for details about how he would relate to the union here.

And Hahn asked Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez about his ability to lead an organization of 9,000 officers after running a department of just 200.

"The point was to take whatever bothers you the most about that particular person ... [and] hit those issues straight-on," said former Police Commissioner Dean Hansell, who has advised the mayor and several current commissioners on LAPD issues. "I think what I was saying mirrored his own views."

Preparing for the interviews, Hahn reached out to more than a dozen advisors and civic leaders. Most said they offered the mayor their views and reactions without specifically endorsing any one of the candidates.

But billionaire businessman and Eli Broad was blunt about his preference.

"My advice was if he and Bratton could get along and have an understanding with regard to Bratton's interest in being a great public figure, he probably could not find a better person," Broad said. "It's time to get someone who is very accomplished, who's [run] a very big department and who has a national reputation."

The mayor spent about six hours with each of the candidates, meeting in the small library at the city-owned Getty House in Windsor Square. He met with them alone, with senior staff and with two City Council members.

"He continuously came back to the things he's articulated over and over again," said Tim McOsker, the mayor's chief of staff. "Civilian control, bringing down crime, morale and relating to the troops."

Hahn is a lawyer, and McOsker said the mayor "knows how to spend time with a witness."

Now that those meetings are complete, Hahn reached out Thursday to others who know the candidates. Hahn spoke with Ed Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor, to discuss Timoney. Aides to Hahn said he spoke to police supervisors in New York and Philadelphia, as well as the city manager and city attorney in Oxnard, where Lopez works.

In coming days, Hahn said he expects to talk with Giuliani and Philadelphia Mayor John Street, among others.

The Police Protective League also interviewed two of the candidates--Bratton and Lopez--this week in an effort to better understand their positions on community policing, officer morale and other issues. Union leaders said they will not endorse. They are seeking to interview Timoney, as well.

General Questions

In his meetings, Hahn asked each of the finalists a set of generic questions aimed at learning how they would address his major areas of concern. These include: reducing crime, officer morale, recruitment and retention of officers, and strengthening community policing.

Hahn said the three men "had similar answers on the core ideas but very different approaches on how do you get there, how do you achieve the goal.... Each person has their own individual way of doing things."

The session, Hahn added, allowed him to go beyond news accounts and secondhand information. "I wanted to spend enough time talking to them so we could get past the superficial answers and get to an in-depth discussion about these issues," he said.

But he also asked more pointed questions, attempting to get a more specific view of each. And, according to some of those in the room with the mayor and others familiar with the process, the mayor repeatedly returned to those issues.

Bratton, for instance, is credited with reducing crime in New York City to historic lows, an accomplishment that has made him a favorite of some Hahn supporters. Still, he also has a reputation for seeking publicity; he had strained relations with Giuliani.

Hahn, sources said, broached those topics with Bratton during their meeting Wednesday, stressing the importance in Los Angeles of civilian oversight over the Police Department. Neither Hahn nor Bratton would say how the former commissioner responded.

Lopez is viewed as an easygoing, former LAPD deputy chief who left the department to head the small-town California coastal agency. But some of Hahn's advisors warned that Lopez might not have the depth of experience needed to head an agency as complicated as the LAPD.

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