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
There’s something about the Westside politician Jack Weiss — who is giving up his District 5 City Council seat to run for City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s job — that some people simply do not like. Weiss is educated, clean and well-spoken. Yet he’s privately derided by his own city colleagues as the most insufferable member of the council — quite a feat on a City Council that critics see as one of the most arrogant in years. (See L.A. Weekly’s feature story today, “Los Angeles on $300,000 a Year.”)
A recent city-attorney candidate forum at the Westchester Christian Church brought out a handful of elderly couples and a few guys in baseball hats, there to see what all the fuss was about. As a ferocious rain pelted down outside, the topics inside were illegal billboards, corruption in City Hall, gang crime — and Weiss.
One candidate for city attorney, David Berger, had been there only a few minutes when he declared, “I attack [Weiss] for his appalling record” — and that was before Berger even started speaking before the small crowd of 18 at the event, put on by the Westchester/Playa del Rey Neighborhood Council.
Berger, a Londoner who moved here in 1989, is a 12-year veteran of the Major Fraud Division at the L.A. County Deputy District Attorney’s Office. He is sharp-witted and well-mannered — except when it comes to Weiss. He wants anyone but Weiss to win. A long-shot in this race, Berger hopes a much better-funded candidate than he, Carmen Trutanich, will win. Berger gathered his 700 signatures to qualify for the March 3 ballot by chatting up Starbucks customers.
And now the mere mention of Weiss’ name causes the dapper Berger to get visibly irked. A YouTube video of Berger features him holding a large photo of Weiss, exclaiming: “You need to know what the enemy looks like!” A few weeks ago, he convinced a local radio station to play Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road, Jack.”
Berger is irked at more than just Weiss. He finds Delgadillo’s record as city attorney an embarrassment. Commenting on the huge monetary settlement handed to black firefighter Tennie Pierce, who claimed racism after being fed dog food in a firehouse prank by his Los Angeles Fire Department colleagues (L.A. Weekly showed in its 2007 investigation, “What Really Happened at Fire Station 5?” that racism did not play a role): “I would have eaten a spoonful of dog food for $1 million. I would have taken that case to trial.”
The downpour outside is causing the other candidates to run late. The next to arrive is Harbor City attorney Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich, who looks a bit like Chazz Palminteri. He delivers a passionate speech about growing up in San Pedro, his turn as a hardcore gang prosecutor, and his role starting up the Los Angeles County Toxic Waste Force with the district attorney’s office.
In private practice for 21 years, Trutanich, like Berger, is no slouch — and his plan for slapping down the city’s illegal billboard industry is far more hard-hitting than anything the Los Angeles City Council is contemplating. Trutanich says, “You have 90 days. If it is illegal, you better get rid of it. So far we are pussyfooting around with billboard companies because we are afraid to take them down. We get sued and we settle.”
Trutanich is more buttoned-down than the effusive Berger. His friend District Attorney Steve Cooley urged him to run, and, a few days ago, introduced Trutanich at a Hancock Park fund-raiser co-hosted by former City Planning Commission president Jane Usher. In a widely distributed public e-mail, Usher endorsed Trutanich and — yes — expressed her dislike for Weiss, who, she wrote, “is undermined by his antagonism to neighborhoods.” (Weiss’ campaign adviser dismisses Usher’s slams, saying, “It goes under the category of not accounting for taste.”)
Unknown just four months ago, Trutanich won the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times, calling it “an earthquake that shocked City Hall,” although these days a newspaper endorsement doesn’t go that far.
Weiss has gotten worried, and has accused some private companies Trutanich has represented of polluting San Pedro Bay or improperly disposing of hazardous waste. Weiss has even suggested that Trutanich is a National Rifle Association sympathizer because another person at his law firm represented the NRA, and Trutanich once defended a man charged with shooting sea lions.
Trutanich’s best chance for an upset seems to be Weiss’ unpopularity among those who know him. Voters, however, are another matter. So Trutanich has been hitting hard on Weiss’ many years at City Hall, accusing him of allowing overdevelopment and failing to attend council meetings 32 percent of the time in 2008 — a common complaint against the very frequently absent Weiss.
Weiss had not expected such a tough race. He had raised more than $1.6 million as of February 14, and earned what some call “hold your nose” endorsements from his council colleagues, as well as from the mayor, Magic Johnson and LAPD Chief William Bratton.