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
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo suffered one last humiliation on his way out the door last week, when the City Council squashed his scheme to pack incoming City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s senior staff with Delgadillo’s cronies.
By his final act, Delgadillo made sure he left everyone a memento of his personal and political style: the too-clever-by-half, look-for-the-loophole style that marred his eight years as the city’s top prosecutor.
Despite his Highland Park-to-Harvard pedigree, political consultants say the man who once harbored presidential ambitions — his inner circle once called itself Team 1600 — and says he is definitely taking a second run at the post of California attorney general, faces an uphill battle.
Delgadillos’s two terms in City Hall were tarnished by backroom deals with billboard-industry lawyers, which fueled the billboard plague; political failure when he prematurely ran for attorney general; and credibility issues over his padded résumé and his family’s blatant misuse of official city cars.
The decisions he made and his stumbling explanations prompted the Los Angeles Times to formally call for his resignation in 2007. Several days ago, he brushed it all aside.
“I own my mistakes,” Delgadillo tells L.A. Weekly. “I’ve learned and grown from them. I’ve made amends. I’m stronger for them.”
Asked if he had any regrets over the controversies and criticisms heaped on him during the past eight years, Delgadillo couldn’t think of anything.
“When people in positions like mine take risks to protect the public, taking on the gangs and taking on the insurance companies, there will be others who try to take you down,” he said in a telephone interview. “But we didn’t back down from anybody.”
Termed out of office, he is leaving behind a successor stink-bomb disguised as a welcome-wagon present. The 49-year-old drew widespread scorn for his unusual decision to give job tenure to most of his top aides, thus forcing the newly elected city attorney, Trutanich, to rely on Delgadillo loyalists instead of his own picks, just as the city is facing a historic deficit and hiring freeze.
“It’s unprecedented, it’s shameful, it’s unprofessional, and it’s clearly designed to make life more difficult for his successor,” Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, Trutanich’s top supporter, tells the Weekly. “I’ve never seen anything like it ... never heard of anything like it.”
The City Council stepped in at the 11th hour on June 23, with a special funding plan to let Trutanich hire seven senior aides at a cost of $1.2 million. That didn’t resolve the issue of Delgadillo sticking Trutanich with job-protected workers in senior positions — and it added to the city’s huge deficit by duplicating several senior positions.
The Council condemned Delgadillo’s scheme as contemptuous of taxpayers and subverting the clear intent of the City Charter, with Councilman Richard Alarcon calling it “political gaming at its worst,” and Councilman Dennis Zine contending that Delgadillo had “abused the City Charter by locking those positions in.”
Then the very next day, the City Council spent a full hour extravagantly praising Delgadillo at a goodbye session that enraged many onlookers. For his part, Delgadillo insists the tenure he quietly handed to his inner circle would help taxpayers. “The city is fortunate to have these talented, skilled people staying on,” he says. “That’s why they were put on a tenure track.”
Trutanich doesn’t want those kind of favors, telling the Weekly that Delgadillo needs to ask all the political appointees placed on the tenure track to sign resignation letters. Says Trutanich: “I hope that Rocky will think it over and do the honorable thing.”
If Delgadillo balks, the City Attorney’s office is set up for an employment nightmare. Delgadillo’s director of communications, Nick Velasquez, has been put on a tenure track at $118,000 a year and says he expects Trutanich to find a suitable spot for him and his salary even though he is not a lawyer.
“I’m prepared to do whatever Mr. Trutanich wants me to do,” Velasquez says. “But I hope he uses all of us to our maximum effectiveness. ...Otherwise it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Trutanich says he is perplexed over how to handle such an unprecedented and unwanted situation. “That’s like Barack Obama walking into the White House and finding Karl Rove waiting for him,” he says. “I want to appoint my own press secretary. How am I going to do that with a press secretary making that kind of money already in the office? It’s a waste of government money.”
Delgadillo insists his move was not unprecedented and had Velasquez e-mail the Weekly a list of senior personnel he says were holdovers from the previous city attorney, James Hahn.