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Magazine 'Awed' by Chick's Scrutiny of DWP Billing

CALIFORNIA | INSIDE POLITICS

January 03, 2005|Noam N. Levey | Times Staff Writer

Allegations that public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard overbilled the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power are attracting the attention of more than just local prosecutors and pundits.

PR Week, a New York-based magazine of the public relations industry, gave the Fleishman saga big billing in its annual rundown of the events of the last year, which the magazine dubbed its Book of Lists.

City Controller Laura Chick, who has been among the toughest critics of both Fleishman and the DWP, was noted in the "5 Communicators Who Awed" category.

"L.A.'s city controller took agency giant Fleishman-Hillard to task for allegedly overbilling the Department of Water and Power by $4.2 million and spurred increased industrywide scrutiny of billing practices," the magazine noted.

The alleged overbilling was listed as one of the "10 Business Events That Caused a Stir." Douglas R. Dowie, an ex-Marine who headed the office until he was suspended amid the allegations, "will need all of his military training to survive Laura Chick," the magazine quipped.

And Richard Kline, who took over the office after Dowie left, got one of the "10 Most Daunting Jobs in PR."

"Kline needs to rebuild the agency's image after charges of overbilling in Los Angeles cloud the firm's stellar reputation," PR Week noted.

Kline, who was on vacation last week, could not be reached for comment.

Offering a Clear Sign of Support for Hahn

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn -- who has received the endorsements of most of the region's major unions -- last week picked up more support.

In the largest independent expenditure of the mayoral campaign, the Service Employees International Union, Local 347, which represents city employees and has been among Hahn's strongest supporters, announced it had produced 10,000 red, white and blue lawn signs supporting Hahn's campaign.

"Lawn signs are something Local 347 is good at," union General Manager Julie Butcher said. "Our members love lawn signs. We get to use power tools to put them together."

Butcher said union members began distributing the signs last week.

Unlike direct contributions to candidates, which are capped at $1,000, independent expenditures on behalf of candidates are not limited by the city's campaign finance rules, although they cannot be coordinated with the candidate.

SEIU reported spending $9,785.80 on its lawn signs.

The Hahn campaign also announced last week that the 100,000-member Los Angeles/Orange County Building Trades Council endorsed the mayor, who also has the support of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and the Police Protective League.

Hertzberg Lowers Internet Profile

Hahn challenger Bob Hertzberg, meanwhile, has temporarily scaled back his ambitious Internet advertising campaign.

The former Assembly speaker from Sherman Oaks had been advertising on local newspaper websites and blogger sites for weeks with an appeal to voters to visit his website, at www.change la.com.

Hertzberg was even appealing to Southern California readers of the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Hertzberg spokesman Matt Szabo said the campaign bought online advertisements that were "geo-targeted" to appear only to readers registered in the Los Angeles area.

But Szabo said last week that the campaign was pulling back for the moment. "It's likely that we will put up more ads to talk about policies as we roll them out," he said.

Of the major mayoral candidates, Hertzberg has used the Internet most aggressively.

There are, however, a few risks to the online blitz.

Hertzberg has been taken to task by one local blogger -- www.martinirepublic.com -- who complained last month that Hertzberg was advertising on a website run by conservative commentator Roger L. Simon, who among other things labeled opponents of the war in Iraq "pro-fascist."

Hertzberg responded to the critique on his own site, noting: "With all due respect, the decision regarding blog advertisements was made not on the basis of the blogger's ideology. Rather, like all media buys, the decision was made on the basis of the blogger's readership."

Hertzberg's online critic noted that he appreciated the candidate's reply.

The campaign is no longer advertising at Simon's website.

L.A. Mayoral Candidates Becoming Web Savvy

A fellow mayoral challenger, City Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, was spiffing up his website last week as he prepared for the final push to the March 8 election.

But Villaraigosa's slogan on his new website -- "A better mayor for a better Los Angeles" -- may sound familiar to some political junkies. Former Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Dole ran for president in 1996 with the slogan: "A better man for a better America."

All four of Hahn's leading challengers now have websites, which allow supporters to sign up for updates, find out about events and even make donations.

Villaraigosa's website is www .antonio2005.com.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks has also improved his website, which is www.bernard parks.com.

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