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Ethical Appointee for Ethics Job : Zelman is a good choice to head an important new city panel

The city of Los Angeles’ new ethics-in-government law, enacted by the voters when ballot Measure H was approved last June, is widely regarded as a model for the rest of the nation. But if the far-reaching new code is to work as well as everyone hopes, it will have to be enforced by someone with the high standards to match. Walter Zelman, whose appointment was announced Friday, fits the bill.

A former political science professor, Zelman is best-known to the general public as the former California director of Common Cause, the citizens’ lobby. He held the post for 12 years before resigning in 1990 to run for insurance commissioner, losing in the Democratic primary to John Garamendi.

Zelman’s candidacy for insurance commissioner was distinctly quixotic. He refused campaign contributions from the many wealthy interest groups that are involved with insurance issues, so he had none of the mass-media advertising a candidate needs to run a successful campaign in a big state like California. Yet, revealingly, most major newspapers in the state concluded that Zelman was the best person for the job and endorsed him. They frequently cited not just his background as a consumer advocate, but his high ethical standards.

Zelman seems to have just the right mix of all the qualifications required for what will be a pivotal and closely watched job: management experience, personal knowledge of what it’s like to be in politics and an idealistic--yet clear-eyed--sense of the kind of ethics people expect from government officials. He is an inspired choice.

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