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Jack Weiss, City Council District 5

This is a partial transcript of Jack Weiss’ interview with the L.A. Weekly’s editorial board. As with all of the candidate interviews, it has been only lightly edited and has not been fact-checked.



L.A. WEEKLY: So, does everybody know where the Fifth Council District is?

JACK WEISS: It’s the area that surrounds Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. It’s on the west side from the 405 to Highland, down to Palms Boulevard, in part, but basically down to the 10, sort of, the most recognizable boundary for that, West LA, Cheviot Hills, Beverlywoods, Westwood, Carthay Circle, everything in Fairfax, Melrose. There’s zigging and zagging that I’m leaving out.



L.A. WEEKLY: When was this district drawn up?

JACK WEISS: It was drawn up four years ago based on the one that Zev drew 10 years ago.



L.A. WEEKLY: What’s the population?

JACK WEISS: Mine is 258,000. About a quarter million.



L.A. WEEKLY: And your percentage of people who vote?

JACK WEISS: Extremely high. In my district, my guesstimate is 55,000 people will vote. So, I’ll have more than twice the number of voters. The district I just described to you, geographically, is almost entirely well-off parts of the city. There are people in the district who are not well off, but they still live in a well-off part of the city. For example, we have a lot of people on fixed incomes in the Fairfax area. Old folks. It’s still a really nice part of town. We get tons more phone calls in my office for potholes, and downed trees, and all sorts of basic city services than most other offices get. On the other hand, other offices need to spend a lot of time and attention trying to get people involved, and connect people with government. We don’t need to do that. They’re doing that on their own in my district.



L.A. WEEKLY: How many people do you figure are gonna vote in the 14th?

JACK WEISS: In Antonio’s district? It’s going to be in a 20-ish range. Maybe more people will come out to vote because it’s Antonio, and that’s his home area, but it’s still going to be very low numbers.



L.A. WEEKLY: It’s roughly 10 percent of the population out there? Is the low turnout in areas that really have a lot of the problems frustrating for politicians?

JACK WEISS: I think that’s right. City elections are different creatures from any other kind of election. They really are. They’re predominated by homeowners and people like that. This is an extreme statement, but you cannot count on renters to vote as much in a city election as you can on a homeowner. Now, when George Bush is running against John Kerry, renters feel as much at stake in that as a homeowner, and they’re going to vote. When it comes to city services it gets skewed. In parts of town where home ownership is the norm, those people come out and vote. You talk about a part of town such as the one Antonio represents, or Eric represents here, where you have so much density, so much poverty, so many people crammed into apartment buildings, it’s harder to get people to feel that they have an investment in their community. That’s part of why it is frustrating.



L.A. WEEKLY: What do you know about these guys who are running against you?

JACK WEISS: My district is one where there are just more people who are involved, or who want to be involved, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I actually saw the person that I beat four years ago. He and I get along pretty well. Tom Hayden. Tom and I ran in a field with nine other candidates, and, Tom and I were fully funded candidates with big rosters of support from people whose names you would recognize. The other candidates also raised close to the max, and also had support from some groups or another. We have a cookie-cutter approach to the campaign finance law. I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t, but we do. The fundraising limits and expenditure rules are the same in District 5, where there are 55,000 voters, as in District 1, where there might be 15,000 voters. Now, mathematically, that’s not logical, right, because, it’s three times more expensive to run in District 5. But you just get more people who get out there and know people with money.



L.A. WEEKLY: But the two men who are running against you have raised some money as well, although they haven’t come anywhere close to the million dollars that you’ve raised?

JACK WEISS: No.



L.A. WEEKLY: No?

JACK WEISS: No, you’re thinking of people running for mayor. I’m Jack Weiss. I’m not Jim Hahn.



L.A. WEEKLY: How much money have you raised?

JACK WEISS: I’m running for City Council. I’ve raised $300,000. I think one guy has raised about $100,000, and one guy’s raised about $25,000.



L.A. WEEKLY: Okay, but does that not suggest some dissatisfaction with your tenure as councilman, and what does it suggest to you?

JACK WEISS: I think it suggests that there are people who want to run, and that they know people who are their friends and are willing to support them to try to do what they want to do. I didn’t get into politics by being in politics. I was a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office. I was assistant United States attorney, and I quit that job, and ran for office. I hadn’t been an officer on a neighborhood council, or a homeowners association, or anything like that. When I ran before, I had support, but Tom Hayden had much more support than I did among local homeowners. I’m running for reelection with the endorsement of the president of 19 homeowner associations in my district. That might actually be a record in the 5th District. ’Cause the 5th District is the center of so much controversy over land use. The controversial Kasdan Development in Westwood. Certain homeowner reps, and certain activists hit me mercilessly for a long time. Over something that I did not do. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t take any campaign contributions improperly. But the people affiliated with the developer clearly did do something wrong, but I did not. What I did when that scandal broke was I empowered the homeowner leaders in the area. I said to the Kasdan people, your plan is off the table. You have to go back to the drawing board, and you have to take the community with you. They didn’t really believe me, but I meant it. I made that developer sit down with the leaders of the Westwood Homeowners Association, the Westwood Hills Association, uh, Friends of Westwood, et cetera, et cetera. They negotiated the deal that they supported. At the end of the day, those homeowner leaders came to the City Council, and said, we support the following new development in Westwood. That is amazing in the context of my district. My predecessor, Mike Feuer, was pilloried mercilessly for years. His predecessor, Zev Yaroslavsky, was pilloried for 10 years, over a variety of different proposals for development on that same piece of land in Westwood.



L.A. WEEKLY: Do you have any objection to the way big labor and the Democratic Party tries to run Los Angeles?

JACK WEISS: I’m not sure if the Democratic Party, whatever that is, tries to run Los Angeles. I’m a Democrat ...



L.A. WEEKLY: How about big labor?

JACK WEISS: You read what happened to me in the newspaper? I was disappointed in that because I have a good record when it comes to sticking up for the rights of workers. I’m a founding member of the Cesar Chavez Foundation. I don’t come from a labor background, personally or professionally, but my understanding of the basic tenets of the labor movement is fair play for workers. Equal rights, fair wages, benefits, so on and so forth. According to some members of labor, I have been too tough on developers in my district. I’ve been too tough on getting construction projects through my district. That actually is the charge from my constituents.



L.A. WEEKLY: You’re denying people jobs.

JACK WEISS: And that on LAX, I was against that boondoggle there. It’s a disaster waiting to happen, if it ever gets built, on several grounds. On community grounds. On airport and business grounds, and most importantly, on terrorism grounds. I have spent a good deal of my time in the past three-and-a-half years becoming something of an expert on counter-terrorism issues in Los Angeles. Jim Hahn’s plan to protect the airport from terrorism will not protect it from terrorism. It may make it more vulnerable to terrorism. I’ve been outspoken on that for several years. I arm wrestled Jim Hahn and his administration to the ground for over a year to try to bring the RAND Corporation in to study alleged safety and security plans for LAX. Let’s just stipulate that his plan is a bad plan for the purpose of security. I stood up for that in council. There were several labor leaders in the council at the vote. I don’t know whether you were there or not for the vote, but you obviously know if that’s true. All of my colleagues voted the other way. I would not change my vote. If I didn’t get the endorsement because my view is labor should not be about public works dollars, then so be it. Is that interesting enough?



L.A. WEEKLY: That’s very interesting. Why do your colleagues feel as they do on this?

JACK WEISS: Beats the hell out of me.



L.A. WEEKLY: Have you no explanation regarding why your colleagues chose to vote the way they did on this, such as Hahn or labor twisting their arm?

JACK WEISS: There are two phases to the airport plan. Phase one is $3 billion. Phase two is now $8 billion. Expand the distance between the southern runways so planes don’t run into each other — that is a good thing. Build a consolidated rental car facility — that’s a good thing. Build a consolidated transit hub for the Green Line because the Green Line now doesn’t go to the airport. I put forward a motion in council to approve that, and kill the $8 billion Manchester Square boondoggle. There is no good public policy argument for that Manchester Square boondoggle. It will not protect the airport from terrorism. People got up said what they said. I shouldn’t spend my time here at the L.A. Weekly casting aspersions on that. It was a bad vote. It will never get built for legal reasons, for policy reasons, for political reasons. It was the wrong way to go.



L.A. WEEKLY: What was missing from yesterday’s debate, from your perspective?

JACK WEISS: We had an analogous debate two or three years ago, when Hahn put forward a proposal to put new cops in the budget without a dedicated way to pay for it. He wanted to pay for new cops, and we would have had to lay other people off, or lay other cops off. I don’t appreciate the demagogic tone of part of the debate yesterday; that it was either you’re for cops or against cops. It’s stupid; I mean it’s stupid. Everybody in the City Council, whether they’re in the pocket of labor or in the pocket of the homeowners, everyone is for cops. Um ...



L.A. WEEKLY: So what was missing yesterday?

JACK WEISS: What was missing? Here’s what’s really truly cynical about it. We all know why Jim Hahn wants this thing on the ballot, okay? Jim Hahn wants this thing on the ballot because he wants to be able to talk about what the L.A.P.D. has done right over the last two years. He wants to have this independent money out there behind Bratton and the L.A.P.D., boosting up that message when he’s running for reelection. He wants that story told on May 17th. The problem is it won’t pass on May 17th. How do I know it won’t pass? Because in November of 2004, when every Democrat and her brother came out from under the woodwork to vote for John Kerry in Los Angeles, and the numbers were astounding. The turnout on May 17th is going to be a very different electorate, and it’ll be a very conservative electorate. To raise the sales tax to pay for new cops, and new prosecutors, and new public defenders, and new jailers, and intervention programs, and so on. I think it’s the height of cynicism for the Hahn people to be willing to put this on, have it lose, doom its prospects in the future, just to help his reelection campaign.



L.A. WEEKLY: Considering that Hahn’s approach to the issue of more cops isn’t the only matter of concern, why was it so dominant as a topic? They’re saying that they want to change it and make it better.

JACK WEISS: My candidate for mayor is talking about the stuff we’re talking about, Antonio.



L.A. WEEKLY: I understand he had his reasons for sitting back and letting the debate go where it was going ...

JACK WEISS: Antonio has been very outspoken on this subject. Antonio has a plan, and it’s pretty comprehensive. So I don’t think he hasn’t been ...



L.A. WEEKLY: What is your understanding of his plan?

JACK WEISS: Part of it is what breaks from this proposal. To borrow against future income from the state, and to use that to jumpstart - Part of it is a half-cent sales tax in 2006 that pays for public safety, comprehensively in the county. Not just L.A. city cops, but everybody else, blah-blah-blah-blah. A large part of it is intervention. But for him it’s not an afterthought, it’s something he really believes in. I believe if he were the mayor, we would all get a better chance of it getting passed. Because we would have a dynamic person who really cares. I believe it would have a better chance of being successful once they get the money, which is one reason why I’m so passionate about him. I’ve been in this place for three years now, and I’m very fortunate to have the job. There is precious little inspiration that you see coming out of the mayor’s office. And a mayoralty is a terrible thing to waste. It is not just about rearranging the bureaucratic deck chairs. You have the bully pulpit, and you have the opportunity to influence what people talk about, and how people view life in Los Angeles and whether people feel any connectedness to the culture. One of the great things I’ve always believed about L.A., is that people don’t feel any obligation to have a connectedness to their civic culture. If you want to tune in, turn out, and drop out in L.A., you’re allowed to do that, right? That’s why a lot of people come here. That’s fine. But a great mayor is someone who can nonetheless reach out and touch people in L.A., and wants to get them connected to their city. Jim Hahn has completely failed at that. He hasn’t connected to anybody, and no one feels connected in this town. I feel Antonio really stands the best chance of anybody of having the promise to actually do that.



L.A. WEEKLY: Why did you differ from most of your colleagues in the vote on the Patriot Act, which you supported?

JACK WEISS: If ever there is something that the L.A. City Council knows next to nothing about is the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act is far too complicated a topic for the L.A. City Council to know what the hell it’s talking about. Howard Berman, who was one of my mentors in this business, had a really thoughtful proposal to modify the Patriot Act. I thought that was a good thing. I thought there are plenty of things in the Patriot Act that can’t be modified, that can’t be removed, that should be removed. The U.S. Attorney’s Office use provisions of the Patriot Act that probably none of you know about, and no one on the L.A. City Council knows about, to prosecute child pornography. They use provisions of the Patriot Act to subpoena certain Internet records. Let me just give you one seemingly minor but significant example. You were allowed to subpoena Internet records for Internet connections that use telephone, but not through cable modems. Why? Because cable was regulated by a different federal law, and you weren’t allowed to use the typical federal legal process to get these records. The Patriot Act changed that, and made those things rational. I’m not going to Mau Mau that stuff. It’s very complicated. Do you want me to rail for you about John Ashcroft? I can ...



L.A. WEEKLY: We can do that ourselves. Was city money in the DWP Fleishman affair used to lobby the city council?

JACK WEISS: I believe it was. You asked the question, so I’m going to say now what it is.



L.A. WEEKLY: Why don’t you rephrase it?

JACK WEISS: I am very proud of the fact that if you do a search on me, you will find that two-and-a-half years ago, Laura Chick came up with an audit on the DWP’s green power program which was intended to put a solar heater on top of your house. I want to teach you how to use your water heater, and all that good stuff. But how was that money used? The DWP gave the money to Fleishman Hillard, Fleishman-Hillard gave it to a subcontractor called the Lee Andrews Group - they went out and didn’t spend his money appropriately. We enlisted an auditor on this two-and-a-half years ago. I was the only person who stood up for her in the City Council, and I tried to overturn that contract because that money was not being spent correctly. And boy, did I get screwed. For me it was “Welcome to L.A. politics.” Because all of these environmental groups trooped in and denounced me for being anti-environment. Which flipped me out, ’cause I’m pro-environment. I’ve got a great environmental record, I’ve done all sorts of ...



L.A. WEEKLY: Do you believe the environmental groups were organized by money that was ...

JACK WEISS: Did Fleishman Hillard spend public money on a lobbying campaign to get the City Council to overturn the city’s comptroller’s recommendation against Fleishman Hillard? There’s tons of circumstantial evidence that happened. I don’t know how the hell those people got there. They were so organized, and all wrote the same letter and the same email to me and other members of the council. Laura says that there is no concrete proof of that, but there are some telltale signs in the billing record. She’s looking into that ...



L.A. WEEKLY: Could your former colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s Office do something with it?

JACK WEISS: Well, I’m not sure that would be what they would be doing.



L.A. WEEKLY: Isn’t it a crime for them to use public money to lobby in favor of their company being hired?

JACK WEISS: See, you’re asking a very technical legal question. That wouldn’t be the theory I would go with. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m just saying it’s not your best criminal theory. If there’s some fraud. It’s only a good theory if you could prove that it was fraud. But it is an outrage, yeah. Did I get screwed? Hell yeah. Did the public get screwed? Absolutely. You can ask Laura …are you interviewing Laura?



L.A. WEEKLY: We may.

JACK WEISS: You can ask her who in City Hall has been willing to stand up against the insidious sort of corruption and wrongdoing? That’s what I’ve been doing.



L.A. WEEKLY: Isn’t there anything that can be done in the meantime to raise the flag on it more?

JACK WEISS: I’ve been doing everything I can. I would be glad to do something else. I haven’t hesitated. When this stuff first broke a year ago, I immediately wrote Jim Hahn a letter and I said, “I want you to issue an executive order to every city employee.” Imploring them to cooperate with the feds. And give them the FBI’s phone number, and tell people to cooperate. He never did that. He never told people not to cooperate, but he never did what I wanted him to do, which would be issue an executive order reminding people that the city has whistleblower protection.



L.A. WEEKLY: Is there anything the council can do about the audit of the attorney that we’re billing?

JACK WEISS: It’s a tricky situation because of the attorney-client privilege issue. Um ...



L.A. WEEKLY: Are you expecting a forceful audit to take place?

JACK WEISS: I have no idea, maybe. But I think you’re right...



L.A. WEEKLY: Does anybody care about this issue?

JACK WEISS: I’m just trying to understand what I could do.



L.A. WEEKLY: If you were to be unseated, what would you do next in your career?

JACK WEISS: I’m not going to be unseated.



L.A. WEEKLY: Of course not, but if you were, what would interest you next?

JACK WEISS: Well, I will find myself out of a job at some point. I haven’t given it a lot of thought. But what I’ve always enjoyed most is being a public lawyer. There’s no greater feeling than being able to stand up and say you represent the United States of America. That would just be an extraordinary, extraordinary job.



L.A. WEEKLY: At the U.S. Attorney’s Office?

JACK WEISS: I don’t know what I would do.



L.A. WEEKLY: Do you have mayoral aspirations?

JACK WEISS: Hell no.



L.A. WEEKLY: Do you have City Attorney aspirations?

JACK WEISS: I enjoy being a public lawyer. I can see wanting to be a public lawyer in the future. I was asked by the county Democratic Party over a year ago to consider running against the incumbent Republican district attorney. I always believed that the Fleishman Hillard part of the case was the keys to the kingdom. And to play part of the case for a prosecutor was extremely hard. I’m just not excusing that conduct, it’s just saying that as a legal matter — proving a quid pro quo is extremely hard. “Did you promise that to me? I’m not sure I heard you say promise.” It’s very challenging for a prosecutor. Fleishman’s stuff’s just a tradeoff for us. I used to find ways to bring mail fraud and wire fraud charges. One of the cases I’m most proud of is when I prosecuted a judge who had corruptly coerced sex from a female defendant by threatening to give a higher sentence to her husband, who was awaiting sentencing. I ...



L.A. WEEKLY: You’re going to have to pay the price, he said.

JACK WEISS: Well done. I figured out how to turn that into mail fraud. I’m proud of that. Because the D.A. couldn’t bring traditional rape charges. So the point is when you’re a prosecutor, and you can find fraud, you do it as fraud. They will roll up the chain of command at Fleishman Hillard. It does not seem to be terribly demanding task for prosecutors to be able to do that. There clearly are a number of witnesses who are independent of one another. Who don’t seem to have axes to grind. Their claims are buttressed by external evidence. Have you read the indictment? You probably have. I don’t know if the rest of you have read the Fleishman indictment. The most interesting part to that indictment are the parts of it that are in direct quotes, that are quote marked ... I would never have put a direct quote in my indictment, if it were just based on Robert’s testimony - But if it’s based on your emails, I would feel very comfortable putting a direct quote in the indictment. So obviously the emails were very productive for the prosecutors. I would expect them to continue to roll up the chain of command at Fleishman. And then the question from there is whether they can make any other leaps from there.



L.A. WEEKLY: Does this contribute to the idea, which I believe Antonio supported, of changing the rules?

JACK WEISS: I think it does. But here’s what’s particular insidious about this Fleishman stuff, and you need to understand this, and everyone needs to. Contractor reform, campaign reform, good, fine. The Fleishman stuff is different. This is a contractor, whether it’s a PR contractor, or they’re a pothole filler, I don’t care. That was, on the side, pro bono, he said in quote marks, providing all sorts of expertise and resources to the mayor politically. That’s what’s so insidious about it. It’s not so much how they get the contract, it’s how they kept it. And what sort of services they’re providing to the mayor. And that web of political relationships. That’s what’s so awful about it.