The Metropolitan Water District board meets today to select a new chief executive as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his deputies lobby hard to give the job to Richard Katz, a close ally.
Normally a subcommittee would talk to the candidates, but this time the finalists will get their first interviews by the full board when a special meeting of the 37-member body convenes with Katz and four others, said Chairman Wesley Bannister.
"There has been no interview process," Bannister said. "An awful lot of politicking is going on. The mayor and deputy mayor and lobbyists have been calling people and putting pressure on people."
Bannister, who represents the Orange County Municipal Water District, said he was concerned because the top job is supposed to be for someone with technical expertise in water issues.
"It's not a political job," said Bannister, who has not decided whom he would support for the position.
The other candidates are MWD acting chief executive Debra Man, MWD Executive Vice President Gilbert Ivey, MWD general counsel Jeffrey Kightlinger and Orange County Water District head Virginia Grebbian.
The MWD supplies water to 18 million people in Southern California.
Katz, a former state assemblyman, served as an advisor to former Gov. Gray Davis on water issues. He also was a close advisor to Villaraigosa during last year's mayoral campaign, and Villaraigosa later appointed him to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board.
Katz declined to answer any questions about his interest in the MWD job, saying it was an internal matter.
"I'm going to go before the MWD board, make my pitch, answer their questions, and we'll see what happens," Katz said.
Villaraigosa has made calls to board members urging the appointment of Katz based on his resume, which includes a stint on the State Water Resources Control Board, said mayoral spokesman Joe Ramallo.
Bannister said that, if Katz is appointed, he could press to revive a controversial $150-million project by Cadiz Inc. to store Colorado River water underground in the Mojave Desert for use in drought years.
The board voted down the Cadiz project in October 2002, due, in part, to environmental concerns.
Cadiz, its chief executive, Keith Brackpool, and some of its senior executives and directors contributed more than $50,000 to Villaraigosa's two campaigns for mayor. Villaraigosa worked for two years as a consultant for Cadiz before he was elected to the City Council in 2003.
Ramallo denied that the mayor was pushing Katz because of the Cadiz project.
"That has nothing to do with the mayor's support for Mr. Katz," Ramallo said.