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Weiss campaign is a crucial test of Villaraigosa's clout

The mayor, weighing a gubernatorial run, has raised funds and rallied supporters to the side of his closest ally on the City Council, who is now running for city attorney.

May 15, 2009|David Zahniser and Maeve Reston

Neighborhood activists considered Weiss imperious and unresponsive. In response, Swiller met with them at least three times -- with Weiss in tow -- to ask how the councilman could make amends, said Mike Eveloff, president of the Tract 7260 Homeowners Assn.

Introducing himself as a friend of Weiss, Swiller warned that a recall campaign could get uncomfortable if it moved forward, said Eveloff, a longtime Weiss critic. "He said, 'You know, these recalls can get really personal,' " Eveloff said. "And I said, 'Ari, that sounds like a threat.' And he said 'No, it's not a threat. These things can get really personal.' "

Swiller did not return a call seeking comment. But Smith said it was Eveloff who posed the question about the tenor of prior recall campaigns. Swiller also sought repeated assurances from Eveloff that he understood that he was talking about recalls in a historical context, Smith said.

With Villaraigosa as his campaign chairman, Weiss built up a $700,000 fundraising advantage over Trutanich in the March 3 primary campaign. That advantage was erased, however, after Weiss received 36% of the vote and Trutanich came in second.

Since then, Trutanich received a huge boost from law enforcement employee unions, which have spent more than $845,000 on his behalf.

Durazo's labor coalition has provided a counterweight for Weiss, running television spots that stress the central themes of his campaign -- Trutanich's legal work representing polluters.

Villaraigosa recently said he played no role in securing that support. "They didn't need to be asked," he said.

Durazo also weighed in in another way. Weeks before the election, she met privately with Councilman Bill Rosendahl -- who has not masked his disdain for Weiss -- to make clear that she did not want him to endorse Trutanich.

Rosendahl would not discuss his conversation with Durazo.

But during the one-on-one meeting, according to two city officials familiar with the details, Durazo told Rosendahl that a Weiss victory was critical for Villaraigosa to show that he has clout in a potential race for governor. The sources spoke on the condition that they not be identified for fear of retaliation.

Durazo denied making such comments but confirmed that she has spoken to Rosendahl and other council members about the need for a Weiss win.

Even as they seek to stay neutral publicly, Rosendahl and Councilwoman Janice Hahn have shown up for Trutanich fundraisers. Eight council members have endorsed Weiss. Others declined to take a side. The lone exception is Councilman Dennis Zine, who endorsed Trutanich and repeatedly has gone on radio shows to criticize Weiss. "People were told it wouldn't be smart to go against Jack," he said. "But . . . you've got to have some integrity and stand up for what you believe is right."

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

maeve.reston@latimes.com

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