Thursday, June 7, 2001
Delgadillo Promises to Bring Inspiration To Deputy City Attorneys
By ROBERT GREENE, Staff Writer
City Attorney-elect Rocky Delgadillo vowed yesterday to inspire the 400 lawyers he will lead beginning in July, but he cautioned that he will strive to always put the interests of the people of Los Angeles first.
“I want to make them believe that every morning they come into the office that they are going to be able to change a neighborhood, that they are going to be able to save lives, that they’re going to be able to save our kids,” Delgadillo said.
He offered no hint on the extent to which he intends to reorganize the office that has been run for the last 16 years by Mayor-elect James Hahn.
“I’m looking to deliver top-flight legal services to the city of Los Angeles, and whatever it takes to do that, I’m going to do,” Delgadillo said.
The comments came at the victorious candidate’s first post-election news conference, held yesterday morning outside City Hall.
The deputy mayor for economic development under Mayor Richard Riordan, Delgadillo, 40, defeated City Councilman Mike Feuer, garnering nearly 53 percent of the runoff vote in Tuesday’s balloting.
Riordan spent $188,000 on Delgadillo’s behalf. The city attorney-elect was also aided by an endorsement from former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who mentored him at O’Melveny & Myers, and from basketball great Magic Johnson, who taped television commercials for Delgadillo.
He overcame Feuer’s first-place finish in the primary with support from the business community, who saw him as their point man at City Hall through much of the Riordan administration, and from the Latino community, which counts the East Los Angeles native and Franklin High School graduate as one of its own.
He also was the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of billboard space donated by advertising firms opposed to Feuer’s attempts to crack down on illegal signage.
The union of deputy city attorneys staunchly backed Feuer in the race.
Delgadillo said he had yet to meet formally with his deputies-to-be, aside from several who stopped by his victory party on election night. Decisions about bringing in new division chiefs and top management are a few days or weeks down the road, he said.
“We’re going to figure out the transition plans soon,” he said. “But as I think you’ve seen in my campaign, diversity is important.”
As for working with Hahn, whose leadership of the City Attorney’s Office he criticized during his campaign, Delgadillo said he expected a good working partnership.
“I have a great relationship with the new mayor-elect,” Delgadillo said. “I was in the mayor’s office so I can tell him about that. And he, of course, is the city attorney.”
Many veterans of the Hahn city attorney’s office had privately expressed concern through the course of the campaign about the prospect of a Delgadillo victory. Feuer criticized his opponent for focusing on schools, a subject not officially within the city attorney’s ambit, and for a track record that he said favored developers and business interests over neighborhood and environmental concerns.
But many deputies said yesterday that they were keeping an open mind.
“A number of people remain open and optimistic that change can be good,” one deputy said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “[Delgadillo] seemed very earnest in terms of wanting to work with people. I think most people are approaching it that way. I don’t see the trepidation.”
A large number of deputies supported Hahn’s mayoral campaign, with several taking time off from their duties to work for his election—leading to speculation that some long-time deputies would seek to move with Hahn to the mayor’s office on July 1.
“I was thinking about it,” one deputy said, “but frankly, I don’t want a pay cut.”
During his campaign, Delgadillo set three goals—cutting city liability by a third, assigning prosecutors to each Los Angeles neighborhood, and doing everything in his power to improve the safety and quality of the city’s schools. Those goals would remain the priorities of his office, he said.
“We are going to focus hard on all the issues I talked about in this campaign,” Delgadillo said.
He dismissed criticism by Feuer and others of his focus on schools.
“Some of the commentators were not at all excited by that,” he said. “Well, I’m excited by that.”
He said he had already called LAUSD Superintendent Roy Romer “to figure out ways the city attorney and the city of Los Angeles can help make the schools better, help make them safer, help make sure that kids are off the street after school.”
Delgadillo beamed as he walked to the microphone, stopping to share kisses with his wife, Michelle, and their six-day-old son, Christian Rockard Delgadillo.
The city attorney-elect called his first-born “the guy who gave me that great boost of energy at the end to make it happen.” He joked that his son’s first words were “Win, Daddy.’”
Michelle Delgadillo was an aide to City Councilman Joel Wachs when she and her future husband met. The couple live with their infant son in downtown Los Angeles.
Delgadillo grew up in Highland Park, then attended Harvard University, where he played football, and returned to coach at his old high school before going on to Columbia University in New York for his law degree.
He took a leave of absence from O’Melveny to help Rebuild L.A. after the 1992 Rodney King riots, then joined Riordan’s administration as an assistant deputy mayor for economic development. He moved to the top spot in that office after weathering a number of brief tenures by other deputy mayors.
Much of the nationwide media focus on the Los Angeles elections over the last several months has been on the mayoral candidacy of Antonio Villaraigosa who, had he been elected, would have been city’s the first Latino mayor since the 1870s. A former union organizer and ACLU official, Villaraigosa excited a coalition that included labor leaders, the Democratic Party and more business-oriented people like Riordan who saw in him a willingness to negotiate and work toward consensus.
Less noticed, in the wake of Villaraigosa’s loss to Hahn, has been the ascent of Delgadillo as Los Angeles’ first Latino citywide elected official in memory. Although a Democrat, Delgadillo brings a more conservative and a decidedly more pro-business orientation to the face of Latino politics in the city.