By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
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Yet in the white-hot election cycle, the media seized on that thin evidence to create the impression Hahn and Dowie were close.
Bill Carrick, the political consultant who tried to defend Hahn from a storm of innuendo, says, “Dowie was being portrayed as a political confidant who was getting [PR] contracts because he knew Hahn personally — and there was no truth to that.” Dowie “had almost no private contact with him, period.”
Some point to a $5.7 million settlement paid to the city by Fleishman-Hillard as proof that the firm took millions from City Hall. But the trial revealed the actual fraud to be one-tenth that, and the $5.7 million now looks to some like the firm’s business cost — of buying back its name.
Dowie remains bitter and outspoken. On the widely read blogsite Patterico’s Pontifications (www.patterico.com), written by an L.A. County prosecutor, Dowie’s attorney, Michael Faber, posted a letter in August pointing out that L.A. Times’ coverage failed to disclose the paper’s tight links to key players in the drama— an editorial omission now considered a journalistic no-no at some newspapers.
Faber fumes over the role of former Times editor Fred Muir, who had taken a job at Fleishman-Hillard, where he clashed with Dowie. Muir quietly helped Times reporters prepare the Page One story that broke the scandal, Faber writes. At least two other former Times editors were also involved, directly or indirectly, with Fleishman-Hillard, the attorney adds. Muir, now at the marketing firm of Burson-Marsteller, declined to comment.
Despite Hahn’s placid exterior, he suffered enormous anguish, as the scandal began to bring down his administration.
“He was frustrated, very distraught,” says Carrick, who recalls Hahn venting in private over false information that kept surfacing in the Times and other papers — seemingly out of nowhere. “It was coming at [him] from blind spots. There was so little about it that was true, it was impossible to deal with.”
But the damage created the opening Villaraigosa needed. James Hahn became the first L.A. mayor ousted after just one term by voters since 1933, when Mayor John Porter was blamed for the city’s economic collapse. “The question is, would [Hahn] have had serious opposition if that wasn’t kicking around?” Carrick says. “At the time, Antonio Villaraigosa was wrestling with whether he would run or not.”
Some observers believe Hahn lost because he upset his San Fernando Valley voter base by successfully turning back Valley Secession, and at the same time lost his longtime black base over a single decision: dropping black Police Chief Bernard Parks for a white replacement, William Bratton.
“He knew there had to be a change [from Parks to Bratton], and he made the change at great political cost to himself,” says former police commissioner and uber mall developer Rick Caruso, who recently abandoned his own thoughts of taking on Villaraigosa for the mayor’s seat.
Caruso sees Hahn’s act of political hara-kiri in dumping Parks as evidence that Hahn was not primarily driven by racial or other political winds, a trait prized in judges. “I think he’ll be terrific as a judge,” Caruso says. “He’s always been regarded as a very stand-up, moral kind of guy. That’s my view of him.”