In nearly two decades as a state senator, Alan Robbins earned a reputation as one of the most disliked politicians in Sacramento, known for his cocky deal-making and willingness to skirt the edges of propriety.
Blending the public and the private, the Van Nuys Democrat became one of the Senate’s most powerful members while managing his extensive and complex personal investments.
“For years, the noise about Robbins was that he was bad news,” said state Sen. Bill Leonard (R-Big Bear). “The lobbyists were afraid to go see him. They would steel themselves for some kind of sleazy request.”
Robbins’ deal-making days came to a crashing halt on Tuesday as the 48-year-old lawmaker suddenly resigned his office after agreeing to plead guilty to federal racketeering and income tax evasion charges.
His colleagues were not surprised, noting that he had been the target of a federal political corruption investigation for two years.
State Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles), who often crossed swords with Robbins, said: “It’s hard to tell you what drives Alan Robbins, but I know there was a fascination with deal-making and I guess he made one deal too many.”
Indeed, in a resignation letter in which he displayed a rare humility, Robbins apologized to his constituents and acknowledged: “When you are willing to walk close to the line . . . you risk waking up one day to find out that you have long since crossed a boundary that you vowed you never would cross. That is where I find myself today.”
It was a dramatic admission for Robbins who, repeatedly asked about the federal investigation, had insisted that he did nothing illegal.
It was also a stunning end to the stormy political career of the San Fernando Valley’s most vocal champion in Sacramento. Robbins grew up in North Hollywood and cut his political teeth campaigning for a Los Angeles city councilman who had helped get his street paved.
His North Hollywood High School classmates recalled him as a “bookish” intellectual who edited the school paper. He went on to UCLA and UCLA Law School and then served a stint as a legislative aide before becoming a successful developer. Along the way he got married and had two children. He is now divorced.
In 1973, he won an upset victory in a special state Senate election in which he spent about $338,000, much of it his own money--at the time more than anyone had ever spent getting elected to the Legislature.
Four years later, Robbins lost a bitter race challenging Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.
In 1981, Robbins found himself facing charges that he had had sex with two 16-year-old high school students he met in the Capitol in 1978 and 1979. He was acquitted after a 36-day trial.
Despite the bad publicity, Robbins built a strong personal following in his heavily Democratic district. He was credited with helping get a new state building for Van Nuys and courthouses throughout the Valley. He championed opposition to mandatory school busing, a popular cause in the Valley.
But while he remained popular at home, he was among the most disliked senators in Sacramento, where he is viewed as a brash arm-twister and a champion of special-interest legislation. Robbins spent years unsuccessfully trying to land a committee chairmanship--until, that is, he helped David A. Roberti topple James R. Mills as Senate leader in 1980.
Appointed then by Roberti as chairman of the Senate Insurance, Claims and Corporations Committee, Robbins has been in a position to raise huge amounts of campaign contributions.
Along the way, Robbins continued to develop real estate from Marina del Rey to Ventura County. But in September, one of his real estate partnerships filed for bankruptcy. And just last week, in an unusual disclosure, the head of an Encino bank said his institution had made $26 million in “not kosher” loans to Robbins and asserted that the credit was granted largely without the usual collateral or financial review.
With his troubles mounting, Robbins still managed to juggle a wide variety of business and legislative projects. One former aide described Robbins as a workaholic who is “a pain in the ass to work for” because he spends many hours, including holidays, tending to business.
“He’d think nothing of calling you on a weekend to come in to work,” the former Senate staffer groused.