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Politics and pratfalls

Summer appears to have turned into silly season for several L.A. officials. Here's how they can make amends.

August 05, 2007

This has not been an easy summer for Los Angeles' elected leaders. Two citywide officeholders have been involved in messy personal scandals with some spillover into their work, and one of the county's five supervisors now finds herself embarrassed by a professional lapse. We offer here a summary of the recent meltdown, along with our recommendations for those involved.

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Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

The problem: Villaraigosa at first tried to fend off rumors that his marriage was failing, then, in a fashion uniquely his own, called a news conference to ask for privacy. That predictably backfired, and our esteemed colleagues across town at the Daily News broke the story of his affair with a reporter for Telemundo. As details poured out in the pages of this paper and others, the mayor tried to go about his business, but his heretofore frantic schedule looked less like the work of an energetic mayor than that of a manic one -- proof that it's hard to champion pothole repair when reporters are shouting questions about your girlfriend. He has yet to regain his footing, and now his critics, smelling panic, question whether he can ever completely recover.

The solution: Villaraigosa's focus and attention to detail have never been his long suits, and his commitment is now understandably at issue. But he has the opportunity amid all of this to demonstrate depth as well as energy. We recommend that he pick a few vital issues -- reducing traffic and presenting a thoughtful approach to gang crime would be a good start -- and begin registering real, measurable progress. It may be too late -- city business is piling up -- but a few successes might restore some of his luster.

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City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo

The problem: Delgadillo's troubles started small enough. His wife borrowed his city car and crashed it. Borrowing it was a violation of city rules, and Delgadillo compounded the error by letting the city pay for the repairs. Things quickly went from bad to worse. Delgadillo ducked questions about the incident, then started giving answers that turned out to be wrong. The scandal mushroomed in the way that scandals will, and he then faced new questions: The Times reported that Delgadillo and his wife had allowed their car insurance to lapse, and that her consulting business was operating without a city license and had failed to file state tax returns. Delgadillo even had aides baby-sitting his kids -- though, he insists, not on city time. Defending himself, he wobbled between apology and sanctimony, and lately has attempted to strike a lower profile.

The solution: In Delgadillo's case, the breadth of his misdeeds, his inability to be candid about them and his special obligations as a law enforcement officer and as the city's lawyer all render him unfit to hold his office. As we first suggested on July 3, he should resign.

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County Supervisor Yvonne B. Burke

The problem: Burke is a longtime fixture of Southern California politics who has built a reputation for intense devotion to her district, which she has represented for 15 years. Trouble is, she doesn't appear to live in her district. Instead, she passes through it daily, then returns to her posh home in Brentwood -- in Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's district -- at night. That's a violation of her office (the district attorney is reviewing the allegations), and it's one that is especially galling given that Burke has made the centerpiece of her recent tenure an ill-advised defense of Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, despite growing evidence that it has caused decades of misery for those she was elected to represent. She has been deferred to by her fellow supervisors because the hospital sits in her district -- the same district that she seems to have abandoned for nicer quarters.

The solution: Burke has a little more than a year left in office. She should move into her townhouse in Mar Vista and take the lead on the issue that would help her district the most: closing King-Harbor. In addition, she should devote her remaining tenure to providing safe and effective medical care to replace the failed hospital. With that, Burke could restore the faith of those she left behind for a swell house.

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