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Villaraigosa expected to attend girlfriend's charity fundraiser

Recovering from a bike accident in which he fractured an elbow, he is still scheduled to be on hand for the launch of Lu Parker's new organization dedicated to helping animals and at-risk youths.

July 18, 2010|By Rich Connell, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, recovering from a weekend bicycle accident that left him with a fractured right elbow, is scheduled to appear Monday at an event launching his girlfriend's fledgling charity to help animals and at-risk young people.

The Lu Parker Project, created by the KTLA-TV Channel 5 news reporter who has been dating the mayor since early last year, is organizing young community volunteers to repaint the lobby at the city's South Los Angeles Animal Shelter.

It is the first in a series of events and fundraisers the group hopes to sponsor, according to representatives at It Girl Public Relations, which handles publicity for Parker.

Although the mayor is scheduled to appear with Parker at Monday's kickoff event, he has no role in the organization, said Juliette Harris, It Girl's chief executive.

The mayor underwent surgery Sunday to repair his elbow, which was fractured when he collided with a taxi Saturday. His office said Sunday night that he was expected to make a full recovery and would "make every effort to resume a full schedule this week," including attending the pets event.

The mayor's office said Villaraigosa was riding in a bike lane along Venice Boulevard in the Mid-City area early Saturday evening when a taxi driver suddenly pulled in front of him, causing him to fall off his bike. Police said Sunday that the driver left the scene before help arrived and that he had not been identified.

Nonprofits seen as being associated with politicians and those close to them warrant scrutiny, some government watchdogs say.

Speaking generally, Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, said vigilance is needed with such charities to "make sure they are not a back-channel way for special interests to find special access to electeds that regular constituents don't have."

The motivation for Parker, a longtime animal advocate, is to beautify the city and help animals and children in the process, according to a news release.

"As a former high school teacher, I have always believed children crave an outlet to express love and compassion," she said in a statement. "My dream is to help them find that outlet through [the] Lu Parker Project by introducing them to animals who otherwise would never have a shot at knowing what love feels like."

According to the project's website, which describes how financial donations can be made, the organization's federal tax-exempt status is pending and expected to be approved this year.

Among those on the new nonprofit's board of directors is Villaraigosa appointee Melanie Ramsayer, president of the board of Animal Services Commissioners, according to the group's website and interviews.

Harris, the publicist, said the charity hopes to hold an annual fundraising event to cover operating costs. A projected three-year budget is being prepared for the Internal Revenue Service but is not yet available publicly, said the group's attorney, Jessica Shofler.

Monday's painting project, involving groups that work with former gang members and children at risk, is being put together entirely with volunteers and donated supplies, Harris said.

Asked if Parker had considered restricting donations from those seeking business or permits from City Hall, Harris said that sort of question will be considered when fundraising activity begins.

In response to questions about the mayor's appearance and possible future support of the charity's fundraising efforts, Villaraigosa press secretary Sarah Hamilton issued a statement. The mayor "attends numerous community events like this each year and is happy to support the Lu Parker Project and its efforts to give at-risk youth the opportunity to volunteer their time to beautify their local animal shelter and help homeless animals."

Times staff writers Gale Holland and Carla Rivera contributed to this report.

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