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Key Aide to Hahn Quits Amid Probe of Agencies

March 26, 2004|Jessica Garrison, Noam N. Levey and Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writers

A top deputy to Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, who raised millions of dollars for the mayor's 2001 election and who had overseen three city departments facing criminal investigations into contracting practices, resigned Thursday.

Deputy Mayor Troy Edwards, 37, has been one of Hahn's most loyal supporters and served as the mayor's liaison to the multimillion-dollar agencies that run the airport, port and the Department of Water and Power. He has been a controversial figure since the Los Angeles County Grand Jury began investigating allegations that contracting at the agencies is linked to campaign donations.

Edwards' departure, set for April 9, came as two other deputy mayors also announced their resignations. A fourth left last month, leaving seven deputy mayors still in the administration. But it was Edwards who has been closest to the mayor, as a trusted aide and friend.

The wave of resignations comes as Hahn faces multiple challenges: He must build support for a $9-billion airport modernization plan and close a $250-million gap in the budget for the coming fiscal year. The mayor, who faces reelection next year, also is striving to maintain public confidence in city government amid ongoing criminal probes into contracting.

Hahn said the three resignations announced Wednesday night and Thursday were voluntary and unrelated to each other. But the scope and timing of the exodus surprised many city officials.

"You have grand juries and inquiries going on and now you have a bunch of people leaving," said Councilman Dennis Zine. "It doesn't send a positive message."

The mayor acknowledged that his own job would be more difficult. "You don't have something like this happen without a bump," he said. "But I am confident we will be able to continue our momentum."

Hahn dismissed any suggestion that the departures indicated a problem in his administration. "There is nothing wrong," he said. "I think people see changes in lineups all the time in elected offices. I would caution anyone from reading too much into this."

But with the mayor under persistent legal and political pressure over contracting practices at Los Angeles International Airport, Edwards' departure was seen by some political observers as an attempt by the Hahn administration to clean house.

Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, who had called for Edwards' removal, called his resignation "good for the city of Los Angeles."

"While there has been no evidence of wrongdoing on his part, the appearance of impropriety has cast a pall over City Hall that the mayor is obligated to remove," he said.

Edwards stressed that he chose to resign because he needed some time off and wanted to explore other interests.

"It's my decision," Edwards said Thursday. "I believe strongly that it's my time. I think most people will agree that I deserve a vacation, and I'm going to take it."

Fernando Guerra, director of the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University and a friend of the deputy mayor, said Edwards was concerned about being linked to the investigations and worried that he was hurting the mayor.

"He's the kind of guy who internalizes things," said Guerra. who said he had spoken to Edwards a few weeks ago. "I think he has been struggling with this for some time."

Edwards, who helped Hahn raise more than $5.7 million during the 2001 mayoral campaign, was the mayor's liaison to the city's three biggest money-generating departments: Airports, Harbor and the Department of Water and Power.

Last fall, he was stripped of responsibility for the DWP. For a time, he also oversaw appointments to the commissions that run those departments and administer hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts.

In recent months, Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley has been investigating whether officials at those departments traded campaign contributions for favorable treatment during negotiations.

The county grand jury called Edwards to testify earlier this year. The deputy mayor said he was called as a witness and was not a target.

In February, in a separate probe, the U.S. attorney's office subpoenaed hundreds of pages of contracting records from the departments Edwards oversees.

As the scope of the probes widened over the last few months, the City Council enacted a ban on city commissioners raising money for political campaigns. And several council members joined Villaraigosa in calling on Hahn to remove Edwards, saying he was an impediment to the mayor's agenda.

Some also have called on the mayor to remove Airport Commission President Ted Stein, who has been a Hahn fundraiser. Stein declined to discuss his plans Thursday.

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, a vociferous opponent of Hahn's airport plan, had written the mayor a letter earlier this year calling on him to fire Edwards. She said she hoped the deputy mayor's departure would put the airport plan on a new track.

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