By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It’s taken a while, but Manatt Etc. now has a clear successor as L.A.’s Most-Wired Power Center. Like Manatt, the firm of Freeman Spogli & Co. is on the Westside; unlike Manatt, there’s no pretense that anyone is practicing law or doing anything not related to money. Freeman Spogli is an investment firm pure-and-simple — it’s a ’90s kind of thing. Up to now, its best-known partner has been Bill Wardlaw — consiglierefor Mayor Riordan, City Hall’s éminence grise, California chair of Bill Clinton’s ’92 and ’96 presidential campaigns, chair of Kathleen Brown’s ’94 gubernatorial bid, husband of federal Judge Kim Wardlaw, Lincoln Bedroom sleepover guest and all-around grand pooh-bah of the California Democratic establishment, subspecies center-right. But it turns out that the latest Republican power brokers on the scene are none other than Wardlaw’s partners, the eponymous Freeman and Spogli. Ron Spogli’s roommate at the Harvard Business School was some third- (or is that fourth?) generation preppy named George W. Bush, and Spogli’s partner, Bradford Freeman, has been a Bush buddy since the ’70s. Freeman is also the key California fund-raiser for the Texas governor and GOP front-runner, whose campaign is already breaking all records for most-money-raised-absent-a-single-appearance-or-statement-from-the-candidate. Last year, Freeman hosted a $320,000 fund-raiser for George Dubyuh; this year, he is reportedly devoting the majority of his time to raising many times that.
So we’ve gone from one high-dollar Westside firm, with a tenuous connection to public policy, steering the course of the Democratic Party, to another Westside firm, with an up-front commitment to making vast fortunes, steering the course of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Geographers call L.A. a polycentric city — but then, geographers don’t try to map political clout.—Harold Meyerson
CRUNCH TIME AT THE TIMES
Captain Crunch’s quixotic campaign to remake the doddering Los Angeles Timesis in disarray, The New York Timesreported last week. The problem is not, as once feared, the assault by former cereal magnate Mark Willes (a.k.a. Crunch) on the traditional wall that protects writers and editors from advertising pressures. Rather, it’s poor business performance on Times Mirror CEO Willes’ watch, the NYT’s Felicity Barringer wrote in her article.
Two-thirds of the senior executives have been forced out or are sprinting for the exit, Barringer reported. Willes’ controversial system of giving each newspaper section a general manager to meld business and editorial matters is in a shambles, she said. Worse, circulation growth, the Holy Grail of the Willes era, flatlined last year and actually declined in April. Profits in 1998, projected to grow by 3.6 percent, instead came in reduced by about 15 percent, to about $165 million, two insiders told the NYT.
Seven of 15 managers who quit recently spoke to Barringer and told her that the problem was "helter-skelter" management strategies pursued in a serial fashion.
"New people are coming in who have to learn what the old people knew already," said Leo Wolinsky, one of the LAT’s four managing editors. "It’s hard to get a head of steam up."
Willes acknowledged problems, but suggested that the paper was about to turn the corner. "All of the agony we’re going through," he said, "is because we’re determined to grow." Hey, you want to talk agony? Agony is reading the turgid niche-market copy in the Willes-era "soft" sections (lifestyle and entertainment) of the paper. Like the health section, with its "duh?" pop quizzes. (Example: Teeth. What would we do without them?) Barringer reported that a recent editorial space cut is coming largely out of the front and Metro news sections. We’ve got a suggestion: If you’re not going to make buckets of money anyway, Captain, how about going back to what newspapers do best: news?