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Juicy City Hall War: Delgadillo vs. Chick

Most Angelenos still don't realize that the "$4.2 million" DWP/Fleishman-Hillard scandal that led to Mayor Jimmy Hahn's defeat by Antonio Villaraigosa ended in a whimper in court last summer, raising serious questions about Hahns' key accusers -- City Controller Laura Chick and City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.

It's delicious to now see Delgadillo and Chick slamming, sliming and hammering one another.

Chick, who has major political aspirations, wants to use her City Controller office to audit her political enemies in other elected City Hall offices. This uberpower could make her more powerful than her close ally Villaraigosa -- or any future mayor. Delgadillo, another political climber just like Chick, sued in court on Monday to stop her.

This could be wonderful fun.

Don't forget, these two elected officials have played extreme hardball against their political enemies before. The shining example is what Chick and Delgadillo did, together, to help end the political career of Jimmy Hahn.

It was Chick and Delgadillo who publicly went after the Hahn Administration in 2004, claiming they had allowed the Fleishman-Hillard public relations firm to overbill the Department of Water and Power by a staggering $4.2 million.

That $4.2 million was a huge, huge dollar figure. Hahn, who had been using Fleishman-Hillard PR folks to promote his policies, was suddenly at the center of a political firestorm.

Hahn didn't help himself by appointing an airport commissioner, Leland Wong, who turned out to be corrupt and was convicted of bribery and embezzlement last month.

But Jimmy Hahn wasn't done in by Leland Wong. The "$4.2 million" claim made by Chick and Delgadillo was key to Hahn's downfall.

It was far too much money to ignore or explain away. Overbillings by outside contractors often reach into the hundreds of thousands of dollars at City Hall. It's not unheard of. It's unfortunate, yet rarely results in scandal. But the Chick-Delgadillo claim of $4.2 million was huge, attracting federal attention and international media coverage.

Honchos from Fleishman-Hillard reacted by doing a self-audit, and publicly admitted to overbilling the DWP by $652,457. Nobody -- especially the media --believed such a pathetically low figure. Because Hahn was using Fleishman-Hillard to promote his policies, $4.2 million looked like a blatant payout to his PR friends.

Then, last summer, a federal judge independent of all the warring cliques at City Hall forced the accusing parties to cough up their paperwork to prove who had overbilled the DWP -- and how much. The trial resulted in the conviction of former Fleishman-Hillard executive Doug Dowie, who continues to maintain his innocence after receiving a far lighter sentence than prosecutors sought.

The federal trial showed that the overbillings were not in the millions. Not even. As the Daily News reported in 2007, the DWP was overbilled $529,000.

That's a lot of money. But $529,000 would not have been enough to create the firestorm that unseated Mayor Jimmy Hahn. Only a scandal involving millions could do that.

The Los Angeles Times allowed itself to be manipulated by both Chick and Delgadillo in touting the $4.2 million figure. Later, the paper simply stopped mentioning the $4.2 million in its coverage, never ran stories explaining that the scandal was really over $529,000, and never got to the bottom of why the $4.2 million figure emerged from Chick's office just as her friend Villaraigosa ramped up his mayoral bid against Hahn.

Now, two key City Hall architects of the false "$4.2 million" claim that helped bring down a Los Angeles mayor are attacking each other -- over ethics.