The Daily News, long an editorial advocate of increased San Fernando Valley autonomy, has contributed $60,000 to the group circulating petitions as the first step in the legal sequence that could result in the Valley’s secession from Los Angeles.
Jeff Brain, president of Valley Voters Organized Toward Empowerment, said the Woodland Hills-based newspaper is the group’s biggest financial backer and has contributed nearly a third of the $200,000 it has raised in an effort to collect 135,000 petition signatures by Aug. 27. Valley civic leaders Herbert Boeckmann and David Fleming have contributed $10,000 each and have pledged to give more, Brain and Fleming said.
Until this week, Valley VOTE has refused to identify its major donors or reveal financial information. As recently as Thursday, the group’s leaders refused to confirm to The Times that the Daily News was a contributor.
Daily News Publisher Ike Massey and Editor David J. Butler declined to comment on their newspaper’s donations. Thursday, Daily News Managing Editor Ron Kaye said he was unaware of any contributions made by the paper, and referred all questions to the publisher.
In its Friday editions, however, the Daily News reported its donation, along with those of Boeckmann and Fleming, as well as $9,000 from businessman and political activist Guy Weddington McCreary and $1,000 from former Atlantic Richfield Co. Chairman Lodwrick Cook.
Valley VOTE Chairman Richard Close confirmed that those figures were accurate, and called on The Times to match the Daily News’ contribution. Close noted that Mark Willes, The Times’ publisher and chairman of Times Mirror Co., is a member of the Los Angeles Business Advisors. On Thursday, that group said it would finance a campaign to block any effort by the City Charter reform commission to create elected neighborhood councils.
Laura Morgan, spokeswoman for The Times, said Friday the newspaper would not donate money to Valley VOTE. She said Willes’ involvement with the Los Angeles Business Advisors is part of Times Mirror’s role as a “corporate citizen” in the community.
If successful, the Valley VOTE petition would require the Local Agency Formation Commission--an independent state authority whose members are appointed by local governments--to study the feasibility of Valley secession and decide whether to place the measure on the ballot for a citywide vote.
Although Mayor Richard Riordan is the most vocal opponent of the petition drive, he did not criticize the Daily News, Fleming or Boeckmann for contributing to Valley VOTE. Riordan appointed Fleming to the city’s Fire Commission and Boeckmann to the Police Commission.
“In a democracy, people have the right to choose up sides,” said Riordan spokeswoman Noelia Rodriguez.
“He is not going to demonize them just as he hopes they don’t demonize him for what he is doing to oppose secession,” Rodriguez said.
Jim Naughton, director of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., called the Daily News’ contribution unusual.
“I think that we should be as careful as possible about keeping journalism separate from civic ventures trying to influence public opinion,” said Naughton, a former New York Times reporter and an editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer.