Mark Fabiani thrives on a good tussle. The tough-minded lawyer was former Mayor Tom Bradley's chief of staff during the high-profile probes of Bradley's finances that began in 1989. He endured a flurry of subpoenas, investigators and hard-hitting headlines from his third-floor office in City Hall, not far from the mayor's.
It's deja vu for Fabiani these days in his new setting at the Old Executive Office Building. His new boss is President Clinton and his new headache is Whitewater, that mishmash of charges that originally centered on alleged improprieties involving a failed real estate deal but has since veered off in a web of new directions.
Fabiani packed his bags for Washington two years ago when Bradley closed shop at Los Angeles City Hall, and he joined the very government department that had come up empty after a 2 1/2-year probe of alleged insider trading and political corruption involving the mayor.
Fabiani's stint as an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Policy Development was brief. Given his expertise in local affairs, he was tapped by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to run the empowerment zones program.
But as the months passed in the Clinton presidency, White House aides began searching for more help on the intensifying Whitewater mess. Who better than the battle-tested Fabiani? In this third job switch, he became a special counsel to the President, spending most of his time on Whitewater.
"It's a multifaceted issue," Fabiani said of his new obsession, in words that come close to describing the old. "You have an independent counsel. You have Republicans on the Hill holding hearings, and you have the media looking into it. It started as a real estate deal but is now a vague, ever-shifting matter."
Plenty of smoke, Fabiani said of the two investigations; not a flicker of fire.
Fabiani is not the only Clinton Administration official drawing on experiences culled in Bradley's City Hall. Not by a long shot. They run housing programs, feed the media hordes, craft international policy, mediate trade disputes and tackle innumerable other governmental chores.
The transfer was natural, said Bradley, now a corporate lawyer in Los Angeles and quite proud of the successes of his staff. "Problems and policies don't really change that much," he said in a recent interview, "when you step up from city to state to national."
So it was that Dee Dee Myers, Bradley's former press secretary, moved on to handle the White House press. And Bradley's housing expert, Wendy Greuel, joined HUD. And the former mayor's criminal justice planner, Rose Ochi, now works on national drug policies.
And that's not to mention Secretary of State Warren Christopher and U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, whom Bradley had appointed to key advisory positions long before Clinton did.
Months after becoming a private citizen again, Bradley recommended a former aide for an Administration job while chatting with a Cabinet secretary. "People from your Administration have already taken over in Washington," the secretary joked. Bradley laughed too. It was funny but true.
In all, at least two dozen officials have made the jump from Spring Street to Pennsylvania Avenue. At least.
The flow is partially attributable to good timing. Bradley retired in 1993, just after Clinton became the first Democrat in the White House in 12 years. That presented Bradley staffers with a golden opportunity. The political clout of California, and the presence of Los Angeles City. Atty. James Hahn's former aide, John Emerson, in the White House personnel office helped too.
Bradley said he offered recommendations when he was asked and assisted with FBI background checks for high-level appointees. But the former mayor takes no credit for the success of those who worked for years to make him look good. "It's their doing, not mine," he said.
Last year, during a trip to Washington, Bradley had dinner with a group of his former aides. The affair resembled a staff meeting from his City Hall years.
Fabiani was at the table, as were Myers, who recently left the White House for a public affairs talk show; Ali Webb, another former press secretary, now handling communications at the Department of Agriculture; Greuel, and others.
The group filled the reunion with hours of reminiscing.
"I thought the city was a bureaucracy," remembers Greuel, now HUD's Southern California director. "But in the mayor's office you could go in to see the mayor and say, 'I want to do this.' In Washington, it's a lot more complicated. It's harder to get things done."
Adds Ochi, now in Clinton's Office of Drug Policy: "Without criticizing Washington, I would say the local level is 90% governance and 10% politics and, in Washington, the ratio is reversed."
The dinner guests also congratulated Fabiani, who has managed to sandwich a wedding among his moves to various Administration posts. His new wife is June Grubbs, a former Bradley aide. She is, like so many others, now working for the Clinton Administration at Americorps, the President's national service program.