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Garcetti stays within familiar territory on city appointments

At least 75% of those named to boards and commissions are friends, former staffers or campaign backers of Mayor Eric Garcetti. The practice is nothing new among Los Angeles mayors.

October 09, 2013|By David Zahniser
  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks at a news conference Tuesday to mark his 100th day in office and unveil a new city website.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks at a news conference Tuesday to mark… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

After he was elected mayor, Eric Garcetti put out a call to civic-minded Angelenos to serve on city boards and commissions.

"We are looking for people with new ideas, practical experience, policy expertise and, most of all, a true commitment to public service," Garcetti said on his website.

Four months later, a Times analysis has found that the vast majority of the appointments made so far have gone to people who already had ties to the mayor.

Of the 84 people chosen by Garcetti to serve on city and county boards and commissions, at least three-fourths are friends, former staffers, campaign backers or relatives of campaign backers. 

DATABASE: Garcetti appointees

More than two-thirds helped with Garcetti's mayoral bid, providing campaign donations, co-hosting fundraisers, giving high-profile endorsements or lending other forms of support. Half donated money directly to his campaign.

Garcetti's appointments follow a well-worn practice of Los Angeles mayors, including the man he replaced, Antonio Villaraigosa. The new commissioners will play a significant role for Garcetti, providing citizen oversight of major agencies such as the Police Department, airport and Department of Water and Power, said Raphael J. Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A.

The commission system provides "an opportunity for Garcetti to both reward people who have been tied to him," Sonenshein said, "but also tap people whose skills and experience can be valuable to the government."

Garcetti said in an interview that he is "unquestionably" seeking the best people for commission seats, most of which are volunteer positions. The mayor said he wants commissioners who support his agenda, so it shouldn't be a surprise to find that many favored him as a candidate.

"Are there plenty of people who supported me, who are going to be in important positions on my staff and on commissions? Absolutely, because they're attracted to the leadership and the values and the goals I've put out there," he said. "That's the natural progression of how politics works."

Garcetti has yet to choose more than 200 commission appointees. But with many of the most important panels being filled, Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, questioned whether the mayor is casting a wide enough net.

"An appointment process should really have the broadest reach possible, to draw on the talents that Los Angeles has to offer," she said. "If the search is limited to friends, family and donors of a mayor, that is too limited of a circle."

On the Board of Public Works, four of five appointees were either contributors or high-profile endorsers. On the DWP commission, four of five members gave to his campaign or helped with fundraising. Seven of the mayor's nine picks to serve on the City Planning Commission made campaign donations, including one who contributed $12,600 to two pro-Garcetti committees.

Roughly a third of Garcetti's appointees helped him during the campaign by lending their names to fundraising invitations, according to Ethics Commission records. Michael Fleming co-hosted at least four Garcetti events and is now on the DWP board. David Ambroz, picked to serve on the City Planning Commission, was involved in at least seven.

All four of the library commission's new members had their names appear on at least one Garcetti fundraising invitation. One of the new appointees, radio personality Josefa Salinas, will replace Eduardo Tinoco, an associate dean at the USC libraries who was appointed by Villaraigosa.

Salinas endorsed Garcetti and was billed as a special guest at a May 2012 fundraiser, according to Ethics Commission records.

"Had I known that in order for me to stay on the Board of Library Commissioners, I needed to donate or host a fundraiser, I would have invited candidate Garcetti to my 980-square-foot home in North Hollywood," Tinoco said.

Garcetti said he has no such litmus test, and pointed to two of his most recent Planning Commission appointments: civil rights leader John Mack and consultant Richard Katz — both major backers of Garcetti's opponent, Wendy Greuel. Still, he also made it clear that he finds it easier to select people he knows and trusts.

"Somebody will suggest somebody [for a commission seat] and they might look good on paper, but if you haven't worked with them, if you don't know the quality of their character ... it is more difficult to make that judgment," he said.

Among Garcetti's first major decisions as mayor was the selection of former mayoral candidate Kevin James, who endorsed him in March, to serve as president of the Board of Public Works, the only commission with a full-time salary.

James, a Republican, had expressed starkly different views from Garcetti on immigration and the environment during his years as a radio host. But he was also a key presence in the runoff campaign, attending events and serving as a co-host of one Garcetti fundraiser.

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