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In L.A. controller's race, Zine turns an airport contract into a campaign ad

March 04, 2013|By Jon Healey
  • A screen shot from a campaign commercial that city controller candidate Dennis Zine began airing in late February.
A screen shot from a campaign commercial that city controller candidate… (YouTube.com and ZineForController.com )

If Dennis Zine wins Tuesday's race for Los Angeles controller, he may have to send a thank-you note to three public relations firms -- none of which worked on his campaign.

The three companies -- Phelps Group in Santa Monica, AdEase Inc. in San Diego and Nothing Films Inc. in Fountain Valley -- had won three-year contracts worth $3.9 million from the Board of Airport Commissioners to promote the improvements being made at Los Angeles International Airport. Zine, the soon-to-be-termed-out councilman for the 3rd District, made a stink about the contracts shortly after they were awarded in January, saying they were a waste of money. He and Councilman Bill Rosendahl also complained that the contracts were awarded without public input and that the money was going to companies not based in Los Angeles.

Happily for Zine, the airport board soon voted to rescind and renegotiate the contracts. That enabled Zine to run a television commercial in the final week of the campaign claiming credit for the reversal, saying he "put the brakes on this costly nonsense." In the ad, Zine looks into the camera and pledges, "I'll stop the misuse of our public funds before it starts." He has a mailer making a similar pitch.

ENDORSEMENTS: Los Angeles City Elections 2013

My colleague Dan Weikel reported last month that the airport authority is still expected to seek the board's approval for extra PR help, although when it resubmits the contracts, they'll be shorter and less expensive. So if it's waste, it will continue, just at a lower level.

Regardless, the episode played into the main theme of Zine's campaign: he's "tough" on spending. Yet excessive spending has been a focal point of the attacks on Zine by Cary Brazeman, a marketing executive and neighborhood activist who's one of Zine's five rivals in the race. Lately, Brazeman has been faulting Zine for suggesting that the developer of the bustling Village at Westfield Topanga in Woodland Hills be given a huge tax break in exchange for improvements around the site. Brazeman has also criticized Zine for "double dipping" out of city funds, collecting a council member's salary of close to $180,000 while also receiving a $100,000 pension from the Los Angeles Police Department.

Zine has defended the tax break, saying he'd merely called for the issue to be studied. He also says that he's given more than $300,000 from his pension checks to local charities.

VIDEO: Interviews with L.A.'s mayoral candidates

The main thrust of Brazeman's campaign has been his expansive vision for the controller's office. Brazeman has pledged to use the controller's performance audits to press the city for a more business-friendly permitting process, improvements to basic infrastructure and other steps to boost the economy and improve the local quality of life.

Candidate Ron Galperin, meanwhile, has focused on his work leading the city's ad-hoc Commission on Revenue Efficiency, which found ways for the city to increase collections and cut spending by more than $200 million. He's also counting on a bevy of endorsements he's received, including those from former Controllers Laura Chick and Rick Tuttle, The Times and the Daily News.

More important to Galperin may be the support he's lined up from Democratic Party organizations across the county, which he's counting on for help getting out the vote. The controller's race is nonpartisan, as are all city elections. Nevertheless, with Democrats easily outnumbering Republicans among the city's registered voters, Galperin and Braveman haven't been shy about revealing their affiliation with the majority party. Zine, by the way, was a Republican until 2011, when he changed his registration to "decline to state."

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Follow Jon Healey on Twitter @jcahealey

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