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Chick Retracts Support for Hahn

City controller says she 'lost confidence' in the mayor's abilities and won't back reelection.

August 04, 2004|Patrick McGreevy and Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick on Tuesday withdrew her endorsement of Mayor James K. Hahn for reelection, saying she has lost confidence in his ability to lead the city.

Chick's announcement came after a week of escalating rhetoric between Hahn and Chick that culminated in an exchange of letters Tuesday in which each accused the other of not doing enough to push ethics reforms at City Hall.

Chick, whose audits have sparked two grand jury investigations into contracting at City Hall, said she told Hahn on Friday that she could not back him for another term but that she was not yet prepared to endorse any of his challengers.

"It was getting more and more difficult for me to comment about the strong leadership we need and that I think we don't have," she said. "In the last nine months, I've just lost confidence."

The mayor said he was not surprised: "I was getting the impression something like this would happen."

Asked whether he was concerned about losing Chick's endorsement, Hahn chuckled and replied, "Not at all."

Bill Carrick, a Hahn political advisor, noted that Chick is a friend of mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg. "This has all been a theatrical performance, and it has no consequences in terms of politics," Carrick said.

While Hahn's people downplayed the loss of Chick's endorsement, John Shallman, a political consultant for Hertzberg, said winning Chick's endorsement would be "a big coup."

"Laura Chick, in addition to being city controller, has really become the ethics czar of Los Angeles politics," he said.

Chick's announcement came a day after City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa said he would challenge Hahn for reelection. Chick endorsed Villaraigosa for mayor in 2001.

As the first woman elected to citywide office and someone who has cultivated a reputation for fighting government waste, Chick's endorsement was potentially a valuable one to Hahn.

"It's very significant," said Larry Levine, a Los Angeles political consultant not affiliated with any of the mayoral campaigns. "Laura Chick is a credible citywide figure who has a following and a constituency."

Political consultant Arnold Steinberg, who is not involved in the mayor's race, said Chick's withdrawal of her endorsement would probably mean less for whom she is than as an example of another setback for the mayor.

"There is the danger that there will be the perception of negative momentum if things keep going bad," Steinberg said.

Chick endorsed Hahn last year for reelection in 2005, but their relationship quickly soured after she released audits in 2003 that were critical of the contracting practices of Hahn-appointed commissioners in the harbor and airports departments.

After she turned over audit findings to the county district attorney, Chick backed a measure to ban city commissioners appointed by the mayor from raising political contributions for city candidates.

Hahn at first questioned the need for the law, but signed it after it was adopted by the City Council. In April, the mayor went a step further and proposed to ban city contractors from contributing to city candidates.

At the time, Chick said that Hahn's proposal may have been too drastic, but their dispute on the issue turned into bitter rhetoric this week.

On Monday, Chick urged the Ethics Commission to close a loophole in the commissioner-fundraising law and prohibit mayoral appointees from raising contributions for independent expenditure campaigns.

Hahn sent a letter to Chick on Tuesday saying that he supports that idea, but he called on her to back his broader ethics package.

Chick shot back an angry letter within hours Tuesday, calling his proposal a "campaign ploy" and noting he had raised $1.3 million at a time when commissioners could still hold fundraisers. She also noted that he continues to receive contributions from contractors even after proposing that they be outlawed.

"The fact that you have collected contributions from the sources that are now banned, and that your reelection effort is benefiting from activities you now seek to ban, is both troubling and disingenuous," Chick wrote, concluding her letter, "In short, Mr. Mayor, give the money back."

The latest exchange began July 28, when Chick charged that the mayor had failed to make improvements to the Animal Regulation Department two years after an audit.

On Thursday, Chick called reporters into her office, and she criticized Hahn for failing to provide leadership and perform detailed evaluation of the performance of city managers.

Hahn reacted with a letter Monday that responded, "No mayor of the city of Los Angeles has given more consistent feedback to general managers and made them more accountable.''

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