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
On a recent March evening, on South Irolo Street, there was no one hanging out and drinking beer in front of the Mark Wilshire Towers, now called the Sterling Ambassador Towers — a blockwide structure painted a strange, off-khaki color like a barracks. There were few blacks and Hispanics walking in and out of the 20-story complex. During this particular hour, as commuters returned from work, the people leaving and entering included 11 Asians, five whites and one elderly African-American woman. Her name is Marie Davis, and she was a plaintiff in the housing-discrimination case.
Standing on the sidewalk, Davis could not comment about specifics of the settlement she received from Sterling due to a strict confidentiality agreement. But when asked how things were going at Sterling Ambassador Towers, the gray-haired and smiling Davis rolled her eyes and said, “It’s a bitch,” renting from less-than-friendly building managers.
Davis has lived there for 11 years. Today, she says, “they don’t bother me anymore, because I tore them up in court.” Davis doesn’t plan to leave anytime soon: “Rents are very expensive, and it’s always hard to move.”
One of Davis’ co-plaintiffs, though, went through a more harrowing, and ultimately tragic, experience, according to court documents from the 2005 discrimination fight. In one of the most dramatic allegations made against Sterling, documents state that on July 12, 2002, “Kandynce Jones was under threat of eviction by [Sterling] even though she had never missed a rent payment. Ms. Jones, who is a senior citizen and a person with a disability, suffered a stroke caused by the stress by Defendants’ housing practices. On July 21, 2003, Ms. Jones passed away as a result of that stroke.”
Remarkably, during this press cycle, Sterling’s alleged comments about blacks and Latinos got only slightly more news play than his underplayed sex scandal. Some sports fans blogged about their outrage and even called for a boycott of the Clippers. On one sports blog, www.themightymjd.com, the writer came up with this roaring headline: “Donald Sterling Might Be a Huge, HUGE Douchebag.”
But it wasn’t over — yet. Sterling and his lawyers were almost certainly dreading an upcoming action by the U.S. Justice Department, which in 2006 was readying its own housing-discrimination lawsuit against the real estate tycoon and his wife. Two sex scandals and a housing-discrimination lawsuit within a 15-month span do not make for good publicity for any billionaire, but especially for someone like Sterling, who wants fans to pay top dollar for wholesome family entertainment at Staples Center in the form of Clippers basketball. Yet another discrimination lawsuit, this time from the feds, would be even worse.
In either February or March of 2006, the hard-working folks at the Midnight Mission on Skid Row heard from Brad Luster, the well-heeled president of a downtown real estate company. He was representing Donald T. Sterling, and Luster wanted to talk — about Sterling’s idea for creating a homeless center.
It was interesting timing for Sterling to be seeking what turned into a series of meetings with a homeless-program director. Later that year, the feds made it official, accusing him of refusing to rent to families, of claiming no vacancies in order to avoid accepting children, and of engaging in racial discrimination in Koreatown. An August 7, 2006, press release from the Department of Justice alleged that “Sterling Defendants made statements and published notices or advertisements in connection with the rental of apartment units that express a preference for Korean tenants in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles and express discrimination against African-Americans and families with children in Los Angeles County.”
The federal lawsuit had the potential to devastate his reputation. He could buy all the ads he wanted in the L.A. Times, announcing special humanitarian awards given to him by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation and Muscular Dystrophy Association, but none of that was going to repair the damage.
Luckily — at least, it seemed like luck — the Times sports section maintained its virtual silence on his woes. It was nothing like the way journalists would have responded in New York City if real estate magnates Donald Trump or Bruce Ratner made a fat payout over race discrimination. The Los Angeles print media weirdly gave their own billionaire what amounted to a free pass. Columnist Bomani Jones, writing on ESPN.com’s Page 2 about the apparent press blackout Sterling enjoyed during his racial-discrimination scandal, singled out ESPN, as well as the L.A. Times, pointedly complaining that “we have dropped the ball.” Today, the only piece in the online archives of the L.A. Times sports section regarding Sterling’s federal housing-discrimination scandal is a four-paragraph blurb written by Associated Press, while its news section managed only 729 words on the Sterlings’ alleged misconduct.
Among homeless-services operatorsin downtown Los Angeles, Midnight Mission is considered an aggressive player with a clear-cut goal. “Midnight Mission is there to make deals,” says Brady Westwater, vice president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council. “They are there to help, and they don’t let ideology, like some organizations, get in the way of their work.”