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Stein Confirmed for Harbor Panel

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He’s controversial. Abrasive. An aggressive, tough-talking lawyer-developer who has already served as a planning commissioner, an unpaid senior advisor to the mayor and an airport commissioner.

On Wednesday, the City Council approved the mayor’s nomination of Theodore O. Stein to serve on the Board of Harbor Commissioners, but only after an intense lobbying effort waged by Stein and his supporters over the last several weeks.

The move left City Hall critics and observers in disbelief. In a city with more than 3 million people, they say, can’t Mayor Richard Riordan find someone else?

“I believe in recycling, but this is ridiculous,” said one critic.

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“If the purpose of the commission system is to involve civic-minded citizens, it would seem to make sense to try to involve as many as possible,” said Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who opposed the nomination. “If the purpose is to have a tight, little cabal, that is different.”

But the council’s 11-3 vote for Stein’s nomination may say less about Stein or the mayor who nominated him than it does about the next chapter in the city’s politics. Perhaps some members of the council, this theory goes, are looking toward their own political--read mayoral--futures.

Under that reasoning, council members who might someday like to occupy the mayor’s office may have felt obliged to vote for Stein so that Riordan would owe them one. And because Riordan’s political and financial help would be valuable for just about any mayoral candidate, why incur his wrath now over a single nomination to a single commission?

“The race is on,” said one City Hall official. “The jockeying has definitely begun.”

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Regardless of the council members motivations, Stein’s nomination went swiftly, with only Councilwoman Rita Walters speaking publicly about her opposition. She raised concerns about his “behavior,” citing his failure to pay property taxes on a couple of apartment buildings and his hiring of controversial Whitewater figure Webster Hubbell. Both of those issues were raised during Stein’s unsuccessful bid for city attorney last year.

Stein dismissed Walters’ comments, saying: “I’m done running for city attorney. . . . That campaign was a year ago.”

Seeking a new place in city politics, Stein personally lobbied council members for their votes in favor of his Harbor Commission appointment, seeking telephone conversations and meetings and attempting to ease concerns about his association with Riordan and his past accusations of misdeeds.

Some council allies, impressed with Stein’s intelligence and commitment, needed little convincing, and he calmed enough others to win. But he didn’t persuade them all. Galanter and Walters wouldn’t even return his calls.

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“I thought it was wasting his time and mine,” Galanter said. “We take chances on a lot of commissioners that we don’t know well but this one has a track record. But he does have friends on this council.”

Among them: Councilman Rudy Svorinich Jr., who represents the San Pedro area. Svorinich said he asked the mayor to delay a news conference scheduled for Wednesday morning so that he wouldn’t miss the council meeting--and the confirmation vote. Riordan agreed.

“I look forward to working with Ted Stein at the Port of Los Angeles,” Svorinich said. “He’s known for his assertive management style, his can-do spirit. . . . I find his approach to solving problems refreshing.”

Stein is also viewed as a true mayoral ally who can be counted on to take on the tough issues--as he did at the airport, and as Riordan expects him to at the harbor.

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“No question that at the airport, the harbor and the DWP . . . they’re all in and of themselves comparable to major corporations,” said Noelia Rodriguez, the mayor’s spokeswoman. “You need to have able, tough-minded decision-makers in those key roles so they can be the visionaries not just for their terms but for the terms thereafter.”

To Stein’s critics, however, that is exactly the legacy they worry about.

“Look,” said one lawmaker who voted for Stein, “it’s about money and contracts at these proprietary agencies. It’s patronage.”

Councilman Mike Feuer, who dissented along with Galanter and Walters, said the Hubbell incident showed “extremely poor judgment” by Stein. In that embarrassing case for the city, Stein was accused of improperly hiring the controversial Washington lobbyist and then submitting late payment requests after Hubbell had been indicted.

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“I think that Mr. Stein is very sharp, and I think he cares about the city,” Feuer said. “But I think that city commissioners need to exercise exemplary judgment.”

Galanter went further, citing a litany of problems at the airport when Stein was there. She said that the former Airport Commission president helped to single-handedly dissolve relationships between the city and the airlines and that he changed commission meetings to purposefully coincide with City Council meetings.

“He completely upstaged me as the wicked witch of the west,” Galanter said.


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