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Aide Fired for Barb at Mayor, Says Galanter : Politics: Councilwoman’s top adviser on Playa Vista project is dismissed after a memo sharply critical of Riordan is published in a newsletter.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles Councilwoman Ruth Galanter last week defended the firing of a top aide, saying she had no choice after a memo he wrote sharply critical of Mayor Richard Riordan was published in a newsletter.

Jim Bickhart, a longtime Galanter associate and her principal adviser on planning issues, was dismissed after writing that “Riordan and his cronies” want to “do the bidding of developers’ attorneys” and “screw the neighborhoods.”

Galanter fired Bickhart after the memo was published in a monthly newsletter of the Neighborhood Councils Movement, which is circulated to several dozen civic and community leaders, including the mayor.

The dismissal, which occurred on July 30, was made public last week, along with the resignation last month of Susan Wagner, a longtime aide in the councilwoman’s Westchester field office.

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A third Galanter aide, Valerie Shaw, also plans to leave at the end of the month, but she said that her leaving has been in the works for a long time and that she was departing “on the best of terms.”

The departure of Bickhart and Wagner represents the second major shake-up of Galanter’s staff in less than two years.

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Bickhart played a key role in Galanter’s upset victory over former Councilwoman Pat Russell in 1987 and was the councilwoman’s top adviser on the vast Playa Vista project near Marina del Rey.

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His dismissal comes at an especially critical time for the $7-billion residential, office, retail and hotel project, prompting speculation among even some of Galanter’s supporters about her commitment to trying to scale down the development.

The Los Angeles Planning Commission gave its blessing to the project on July 29, and the city’s review of the plans are expected to intensify in the coming weeks as the City Council prepares to decide the project’s future.

A source close to Galanter said that the six years Bickhart spent on the project, including preparing the councilwoman’s comments for the gargantuan environmental impact report, make him impossible to replace.

“So he made a mistake,” said one longtime Galanter supporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “You don’t get rid of someone like that at a time like this.”

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Galanter said she had “no choice” but to dismiss Bickhart because he had exceeded his authority and had threatened to damage her relationship with Riordan and newly appointed Airport Commissioner Ted Stein.

Galanter said Riordan had seen the memo and “was not happy,” adding, “I have to work with these people.”

The memo, written on Galanter’s office letterhead, portrayed the new mayor as unfriendly to neighborhoods and characterized Stein as bossing Galanter around in his capacity as an airport commissioner. Galanter’s district includes Los Angeles International Airport.

Bickhart wrote that “Riordan and his cronies” will “do the bidding of developers’ attorneys, screw the neighborhoods” and “screw the other elected officials.”

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Referring to Riordan’s defeat of former Councilman Michael Woo, the memo said that “police-happy Westside and West Valley voters were sold a pig-in-a-poke,” and warned that “they’re not much going to like who and what Riordan really is when they find out just what that means.”

“We may be fortunate to be able to get back to ‘business as usual’ around here; a little gridlock between a wheeler-dealer mayor and the scrambling City Council looks real good right now,” the memo said.

In an interview, Bickhart said he never intended for the memo to be published and had apologized to Galanter for the embarrassment it had caused.

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He said the memo was intended as background information for the newsletter’s publisher, adding that he had “inadvertently omitted asking them not to publish it.”

Wagner, who also worked for Galanter for six years, could not be reached for comment.

Bickhart becomes the second principal adviser on the Playa Vista project to depart Galanter’s office.

Rubell Helgeson, another longtime Galanter associate, resigned in January, 1992, as part of an earlier staff shake-up in which two other aides, Linda Lucks, Galanter’s former field deputy for Venice, and Lance Diskan, a constituent deputy, were dismissed.

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Lucks said last week that the latest departures fit a “pattern of disregard” the councilwoman has shown to those loyal to her and accused Galanter of being “out of touch with the people who put her in office.”

Galanter dismissed the remarks as politically motivated. Lucks has said that she may challenge Galanter in 1995, when the councilwoman faces reelection.

On Thursday evening, Bickhart received a standing ovation during a community meeting in Venice, as well as warm wishes from several members of an advisory panel appointed by Galanter.

Several of the three dozen people who attended expressed disappointment that the councilwoman left early and did not make herself available to answer questions about the matter.

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Staff Writer John Schwada contributed to this story.


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