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HMOs Have Contributed to the Health of City Officials’ Coffers

Five big HMOs who are threatening to flee the city because of burdensome tax rates apparently love Los Angeles enough to make contributions to city officials.

Included in their generosity are Mayor Richard Riordan and Councilwoman Laura Chick, both of whom have advocated $15 million in tax breaks for the firms.

So far, Riordan has received the most among officials at City Hall. Three of the HMOs--HealthNet, Maxicare and CareAmerica--have donated a total of $5,250 to the mayor since 1993, according to campaign statements.

Chick has received $2,000 from Care-America, HealthNet and Maxicare for her officeholder account and reelection bid.

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The tax break proposal was brought before the council last week by Chick, whose west San Fernando Valley district is home to four of the five HMOs.

City Atty. James K. Hahn received $3,000 from the same three HMOs, while Councilmen Richard Alarcon and Rudy Svorinich Jr. each have received $1,000 from CareAmerica and HealthNet.

HealthNet, Maxicare and CareAmerica also gave $1,500 to Councilwoman Rita Walters.

The council has balked at the tax break proposal, sending it to a committee for further study.

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Complaint Department

Rep. Howard L. Berman of Mission Hills, named the top Democrat on the House Ethics Committee this week, will have a couple of months to ease into his new role.

Leaders of both parties have agreed to a moratorium on new ethics complaints until April 11.

Why have more cases, the thinking goes, when the system itself is so deeply flawed?

Party officials plan to name a task force to examine the committee’s procedures to avoid the partisan meltdown ignited by the probe of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). The moratorium will give task force members a chance to develop recommendations.

Although the committee officially starts with a clean slate, Berman and Rep. James V. Hansen (R-Utah) will have to decide whether to carry over ethics complaints lodged last year against Gingrich, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster (R-Pa.) and Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Technically, the cases expired at the end of the last Congress, but such complaints are usually taken up again in the subsequent session.

Berman’s reputation as a shrewd, behind-the-tapestries partisan led some commentators to wonder how he would coexist with Hansen, a conservative Mormon. Observed the Capitol Hill newspaper “Roll Call”: “These two could be Congress’ own Starsky and Hutch.”

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Speaking of dynamic duos, Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman of Los Angeles, half of the famed “Waxman-Berman machine,” is teaming up again with the other half. Sort of.

Waxman is the top Democrat on the Government Reform and Oversight Committee, which has broad powers to investigate all manner of government malfeasance and ineptitude. Berman will police sinful members of Congress.

The mind reels at the possibilities.

Assigning Tasks

Amid GOP grumbling that the decision was long overdue, Assembly Speaker Cruz Bustamante (D-Fresno) finally got around to appointing members of the various policy committees.

Members of the Valley delegation did not always get their way--Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) did not, for example, receive a spot on the Budget Committee he had sought. But he was named vice chairman of the Housing and Community Development Committee.

It also appears that Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), the speaker pro tem of the Assembly, did not take a pared-down committee schedule because of her leadership duties.

Instead, she’s all over the place, including the Human Services Committee, which will have a high profile this year because of welfare reform.

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Kuehl is also on two other highly visible panels--the Public Safety and Judiciary. She was thrown off the Judiciary Committee last year by then-Speaker Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove).

By virtue of his close ties with the Latino Caucus, including Bustamante, freshman Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks) also hit the jackpot, getting almost all the assignments he sought.

Hertzberg is also chairman of the Public Safety Committee, which, he says, is planning to hold its first two hearings jointly with its Senate counterpart.

“It sends the signal I want to send,” Hertzberg said.

That way the two houses can work together rather than at cross-purposes, he said. One of those first hearings will be held at Folsom Prison.

Here’s who landed where:

Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar): Appropriations, Budget, Natural Resources, Transportation, Water, Parks and Wildlife.

Hertzberg: Governmental Organization, Health, International Trade and Development, Local Government, Public Safety (chairman).

Wally Knox (D-Los Angeles): Budget, Higher Education, Labor and Employment, Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security (chairman), Revenue and Taxation.

Kuehl: Appropriations, Higher Education, Human Services, Judiciary, Public Safety, Televising the Assembly and Information Technology.

McClintock: Housing and Community Development (vice chairman), Judiciary, Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security, Transportation.

George Runner Jr. (R-Lancaster): Local Government, Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security, Transportation, Utilities and Commerce.

Jack Scott (D-Altadena): Budget, Education, Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security, Transportation.

Scott Wildman (D-Los Angeles): Consumer Protection, Governmental Efficiency and Economic Development, Education, Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security.

Charter Members

The City Hall rumor mill has been rife lately with speculation about whom Mayor Richard Riordan will support for a proposed 15-member charter reform panel.

An April 8 measure--which qualified for the ballot thanks to a Riordan-funded petition drive--will ask voters to create the panel to overhaul the 72-year-old charter that many city officials say is out of date.

Riordan has already helped raise $556,500 from corporate donors to support his handpicked candidates. But he has declined to name his slate of candidates until they have submitted nominating petitions later this month.

Meanwhile, a coalition of homeowner groups and labor unions has endorsed a slate of 13 candidates “who are involved in empowering neighborhoods,” said coalition spokeswoman Julie Butcher.

The slate includes Anne Finn, widow of former Councilman Howard Finn; Police Protective League Director Dennis Zine; USC law professor Erwin Chemerinsky; Marcos Castaneda, an aide to Councilman Richard Alarcon; and former Assemblywoman Marguerite Archie-Hudson, among others. The panel is interviewing candidates for the two remaining slots.

Butcher said she does not know how much money the slate will raise, but she added: “There is no way we can compete with the mayor’s millions.”

Seal of Approval

In an election year, the lines between campaign events and official city business can get blurry.

Take Councilman Richard Alarcon’s news conference Thursday during which he called for additional funding for a crackdown on bars that sell alcohol to minors and drunk patrons and allow prostitution, drug trafficking and other criminal activities.

A news advisory on the event was emblazoned with the city’s official seal but was sent out by the “Committee to Re-elect Richard Alarcon.”

The phone number on the news release connected reporters to Alarcon’s campaign manager, Sue Gold.

Alarcon said there was no conflict over using his campaign staff on an official city event. He argued that the conflict would only occur if his council staff were to help on a campaign event on city time.

Part of Gold’s duties were to dig up drug paraphernalia for Alarcon to use at the event to demonstrate the type of items found during raids of the problem bars.

Gold was able to get an empty beer keg, pills, bags of crack and crack pipes and scales to weigh cocaine. But these were not things she had lying around the house.

The items were provided by the Los Angeles Police Department, which uses the material to train officers to recognize drug paraphernalia.

Alarcon said that at first, he thought the drugs were fake, until he noticed that a detective “was there keeping a close eye on it.”

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QUOTABLE: “When the public learns about this, I will be the mayor of Los Angeles.”

--Candidate Tom Hayden, accusing Mayor Riordan of violating campaign finance laws.


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