By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Big lies are perfect for people who can't handle the facts. Since they appeal to the lazy mind, big lies can go far. How easy it is to say that Steven Spielberg wants to build DreamWorks on endangered wetlands - it's not true, but it carries the validity of myth.
Big lies are usually born in darkness, far from public attention. I'd never been present at one's birth. And I could not have imagined that the man who'd deliver it would be council President John Ferraro, right on the City Council floor.
Big John is a likable guy with a keen sense of humor that he uses deftly to keep meetings tolerable. After 30 years on the council, he's the city's senior elected official. A football hall-of-famer, he looks the way most men would want to look in their 70s. He takes his civic umpire's job seriously, and rarely hands over his gavel to speak as a member; when he does, he usually has something important to say.
So you have to ask yourself: What on earth does he owe to Ted Stein that he so traduced the truth to defend Tedzilla last week against the detailed allegations in Controller Rick Tuttle's report, which finally came before the council a full year after it was first released?
In 1994, as Airports Commission president, Stein surreptitiously hired former Clinton crony Webb Hubbell for nearly $25,000 to lobby on behalf of the city for a $58 million federal airport funding transfer. According to Tuttle's own report, Hubbell actually took the assignment with the understanding that he would not bill "by the hour or on an itemized basis." (After all, it was his spurious billings at the Rose Law Firm that were soon to send him to prison.) The agreed-upon $49,000 maximum Hubbell was originally to be paid by the airports fell just under the $50,000 threshold at which the Airports Commission would have to be informed of his hiring. Stein's August 16, 1994, letter confirming Hubbell's employment was apparently prepared in the Mayor's Office, but - against city regulations - no official copy exists.
What did Hubbell actually do? According to Tuttle, "Hubbell's only contact with a [Department of Transportation] official was two five-minute conversations with the general counsel at DOT, Stephen Kaplan." According to Kaplan, the $58 million that finally came the city's way had nothing to do with Hubbell. In December 1994, Stein fired Hubbell after he decided to plead out on felony charges. Eight months later, after the controller rejected Hubbell's original payment request, airports manager Jack Driscoll assisted "Hubbell to create supporting documents" to persuade Tuttle to pay the confessed felon $24,750 for the work "done" for the airports. By the time the check was cut, Hubbell was in prison. Subsequent investigation revealed that "airport staff back-dated [their] approval of Hubbell's invoices to make it appear that they had been approved before it was reported Hubbell intended to plead guilty."
Tuttle's report also pointed to the fact that Stein, either as commission president or as a deputy to the mayor, had no authority to hire lawyers and lobbyists. The report recommended, among other things, that Stein's role in the mess be officially noted.
Ferraro and his minions were having none of it. On Wednesday last, in a speech beginning with the amazingly counterfactual words "You can't revise history," council President John Ferraro of the 4th District took the floor and did his livid goddamnedest to murder it.
Ferraro's new account differed in every particular from the sworn testimony in the case. Not only had Stein done the right thing by hiring Hubbell, but according to Ferraro, it was Hubbell who actually got the city its $58 million.
Like any public fibber, Ferraro tested prevarication's waters before he dived in. Initially noting that the city "did get the $58 million transfer," Ferraro added cautiously, "I don't know what he [Hubbell] had to do with this."
But just seconds later, Ferraro suddenly knew. "We paid him $25,000 to get us $58 million; that seems like a pretty good deal." And there it was. In a single glib moment, Ferraro had turned the major known blot on Tedzilla's past into his greatest career achievement. All it took was a single bold, outright lie.
As for Tuttle's suggestion that it be noted that Stein's deportment reflected poorly on the city, Ferraro recommended, "The only responsible action is to end it [this idea] today."
Ferraro's version carried the day. Joel Wachs acknowledged the wrong done by Stein, but shied away from singling out Tedzilla "when the system was really at fault." Hey, did anyone get the make and model of that system that just ran over us? Or even its license number?
Ferraro, however, maintained the opposite: He claimed that the Hubbell deal showed how well the system worked. His most ludicrous ally was Rudy "Kazootie" Svorinich of the 15th District. Svorinich, whose grasp of language is as feeble as his ethical sense, said, "I find it incredulous that it took so long" for the controller's report to get before the council. (Tuttle submitted it in June of 1997.)
Besides the complaisant ineffectuals like Wachs, there were the sharp operators, such as Hal Bernson and Richard Alarcon, who found much to defend in Stein's actions. This is the way we want to do things, they said; let no one tell us not to. The victory over Tuttle's proposal that Stein be admonished was a victory of pure, self-serving immorality over honesty. For years, I've opposed Valley secessionists and others who want to undo the city. But last week, John Ferraro and his allies were poster children for the abolition of the present Los Angeles city government.
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