Monday, April 20, 2009
Los Angeles has not had an outstanding city attorney since Burt Pines. His successor, Ira Reiner, was, well, adequate; the next two—James Hahn and incumbent Rocky Delgadillo—have been sorry excuses for leaders of a major government law office.
Morale within the office has been at a markedly low level under both Hahn, who was lazy, and Delgadillo, a grandstander who is more concerned about garnering the limelight than with optimizing the performance of the office.
A change is needed, and there can be no doubt as to which candidate has the determination and skill to revive and reform the office. It’s attorney Carmen Trutanich.
He’s ambitious—but the ambition is directed at getting the City Attorney’s Office in working order again, and is not the self-serving ambition the post-Pines trio had of furthering their political futures.
Trutanich is a civil practitioner; he’s been a prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office. He has perspective, knowledge, and concrete plans. We believe he can do the job with distinction.
If Los Angeles City Council member Jack Weiss is elected, it is unlikely there would be a change in the office for the better.
While we believe that the Los Angeles Times, in endorsing Trutanich, chose the right candidate, we respectfully disagree with this reasoning in its Feb. 15 editorial:
“There are a lot of bad reasons to oppose Weiss, including the fact that he is one of the least popular members of the City Council. Truth be told, Weiss’ somewhat combative relationship with his council colleagues is one of the more comforting aspects of his candidacy, and would help avert the too-cozy relationship that his opponents complain would rule if he becomes city attorney.”
Nonsense. Weiss’s inability to get along with colleagues and others signals a lack of capacity to head a major city agency which must interact with other agencies at the city and county levels.
A city attorney must be on cordial terms with members of the City Council. After all, he’s their legal advisor. It would be an unfortunate situation if the city attorney were spatting with his clients. Yet, Weiss has shown that he simply cannot work in harmony with the city’s lawmakers.
We’re convinced that Trutanich could. This ability on his part does not presage a “too-cozy relationship” with the council. The city attorney is an independently elected public official, and there would be no reason for him to cater to council members or to give them legal advice that conformed to their druthers rather than ladling a realistic assessment of what the law requires. Being able to work cooperatively does not mean collusively; it means being able to work effectively.
The city attorney must be able to coordinate efforts with other agencies. Just as Pines had a sound working relationship with then-District Attorney John Van de Kamp, Trutanich would work closely with the current DA, Steve Cooley—who has strongly endorsed him—as well as with the sheriff, Lee Baca, who is also backing him. His good-natured approach would no doubt enable him to work agreeably with Los Angeles City Police Chief William Bratton and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who have given their support to Weiss.
By contrast, Weiss’s propensity for holding grudges would preclude him from working with the district attorney or the sheriff.
He can’t even get along with his own constituents. In 2007, there were about 20,000 signatures on a recall petition, about 8,000 short of the number estimated to be needed to force an election.
With this statement by the Times we agree:
“[T]he impatience with constituent service that Weiss has often displayed does raise doubt about how carefully and how long he would focus on his duties as city attorney. While being candid and generally on-target in his critique of Delgadillo’s tenure, Weiss has not articulated a clear direction for the office. Trutanich has, laying out an approach that focuses on fiscal prudence, environmental prosecution and public safety.”
It is rare for this newspaper to make an endorsement other than in a judicial race. We make an exception here because the contest is a close one, in the sense that it could go either way, but is far from close in the context of the respective qualifications of the candidates.
In our view, the election of Trutanich as city attorney would mean a dramatic uplifting of an ailing office; the election of Weiss would mean the office continuing to suffer a lack of esprit de corps and antipathy of the troops toward the leader, and would spawn intra-agency and inter-agency bickering and feuding, and consequent diversion of time and attention from essential tasks.
Vigorously, we urge the election of Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich as Los Angeles city attorney on May 19.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company