When the city of Maywood's finances and staffing started to come unglued, the call went out for a veteran to team with Vives, who had been assigned just months before to cover the working-class cities of Southeast Los Angeles County — cities filled with a lot of people with backgrounds just like his. The match was made.
Last July, Vives and Gottlieb walked into Bell City Hall. The city administrator, Robert Rizzo, wouldn't see them, which seemed a bit odd. They instead met with City Clerk Rebecca Valdez. Gottlieb whipped through a list of documents the duo demanded to see. Valdez talked about taking the full 10 days to fulfill the request. Gottlieb talked about suing and making the city pay court costs, when it lost.
Rizzo finally relented and agreed to a meeting. The community room where he joined the reporters was not only jammed with documents but packed with a welter of staff members.
When Gottlieb asked Rizzo how much he made per year, the answer came out with a cough: "$700,000" (actually closer to $800,000). The veteran reporter had to ask a second time, to be sure he heard correctly. When Rizzo confirmed the price tag, which made him the highest paid city administrator in the nation, Vives responded, "Jesus Christ!"
Within days, The Times swarmed the story with a platoon of reporters: Paloma Esquivel, Richard Winton, Kim Christensen, Robert J. Lopez, Scott Gold, Hector Becerra, Evan Halper, Paul Pringle, Corina Knoll, Kim Murphy, Jack Leonard and Christopher Goffard, among others.
Each helped color in an ugly picture: Public officials run amok, impounding cars, taxing citizens, citing business people, anything, it seemed, to swell the city treasury so the administrators and council members could fatten their own bank accounts. Authorities indicted eight people on corruption charges.
At future meetings in the city, the locals greeted Vives and Gottlieb with back slaps and autograph requests. When the City Council once dawdled in what seemed like an illicit closed session, the audience began chanting: "Ruben, Ruben!" They wanted their hero let in on the closed-door discussions.
Times Editor Stanton closed his remarks Monday urging the newsroom to use the Pulitzer win as inspiration to find the next Bell. A couple of weeks before, it appeared Vives already had found the inspiration. Rising from his cubicle near mine one day, he grabbed a notebook and strode toward the stairs. Quietly, mostly to himself, he said: "OK, off to catch more bad guys."
On days like that one and days like Monday — when a homeboy from North Hollywood and a homeboy from Echo Park made Pulitzer music together — there felt like no better place to be than inside the newsroom at 1st and Spring.