Hahn's Top Aide a Seasoned Administrator, New to Politics

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before the campaign that ended in James K. Hahn's election as the city's next mayor, he and his chief deputy, Tim McOsker, used to carpool to work together from their homes in San Pedro. Like a collegian prepping his roommate for exams, McOsker would read notes to the city attorney off index cards he keeps in his front shirt pocket.

He and Hahn are close, so much so that their children play together. And Thursday, a scant 36 hours after Hahn claimed victory over Antonio Villaraigosa, he named McOsker to one of the most powerful jobs in Los Angeles. As Hahn's chief of staff, McOsker will be the gatekeeper, the top aide to the mayor of the nation's second-largest city.

As Hahn's first appointment, McOsker will have to assemble the rest of the mayor-elect's new staff before his inauguration July 1.

Those familiar with his work say McOsker is an ideal pick for chief of staff--a dedicated aide whom Hahn trusts, known for his straightforwardness and unflappable manner. They praise his tenure as Hahn's chief deputy, giving him high marks for strengthening the city attorney's office and shepherding complicated initiatives, like the new City Charter and the Police Department consent decree.

McOsker himself admits to a little "trepidation" about his new role, but says he's eager to continue the kind of work he has done for Hahn during the last four years.

"I really feel this is exciting, because when people think of what government is, how government touches them, they don't think about what happens on the federal level and the state level," said McOsker, 38. "They think about what happens in local government."

A San Pedro native and son of a city firefighter, McOsker is an unassuming family man and self-proclaimed political amateur who apologizes if he sounds "corny" as he talks idealistically about public service.

But one of his predecessors in the chief of staff's office suggested that he strikes exactly the right tone.

"I think he has the outstanding qualities that a good chief of staff needs, because he doesn't like to sleep, he's solid as a rock and he obviously has the faith of the new mayor," said Robin Kramer, who was Mayor Richard Riordan's chief of staff for five years. "He is a wonderful listener and an effective and engaging problem-solver."

In key ways, McOsker is similar to Hahn, who has telegraphed the importance of his family life. Neither strayed far from his roots.

McOsker, who lives in the neighborhood where his father grew up, went to a Catholic high school in Torrance and the University of Notre Dame. He returned to Los Angeles to attend UCLA Law School.

He met his wife, Connie--a public school teacher who instructs adults in English--in junior high. Their children range from age 4 to 13. McOsker lists camping with his family and attending his kids' sports events and choir performances as his favorite hobbies.

After law school, McOsker worked for a downtown firm that specialized in municipal law, then as deputy city attorney in Long Beach. He returned to private practice before Hahn hired him in 1997. The two had met through law conferences and other business functions.

As chief deputy, McOsker has overseen the office of 450 attorneys.

Praised for Work on Consent Decree

"He has a great ability to get a large staff moving all in one direction," said Matt Middlebrook, Hahn's chief administrative officer and a probable member of the new administration.

Shortly after McOsker joined the city attorney's office, two gargantuan tasks landed in his lap: helping craft the new charter and negotiating the LAPD consent decree.

Those familiar with the consent decree process say McOsker was invaluable in piecing together the agreement during six tense months of negotiations. During the campaign, the assertive role that Hahn's office took on the consent decree issue was prominently touted by the city attorney as an indication that he was up to the job of mayor.

"He's someone whose words you can trust," said former Police Commission President Gerald Chaleff of McOsker. "I have such respect for him, I think it's a tribute to Jim Hahn that he can attract people like Tim McOsker to work for him."

McOsker said he loves his current job, which has involved running much of the office for Hahn while he campaigned to be mayor.

"There are very few lawyers that get the opportunity on a daily basis to do public service, to do real hard law, to deal with constitutional issues," McOsker said. "It's humbling. It's a very large office with a lot of responsibility, and things that we do really make a difference in people's lives."

Had Hahn not won, McOsker said, he would not have considered leaving the field of law. But, he added, he's eager to approach city issues from a different perspective than that of L.A.'s lawyer.

McOsker said he is far from a political strategist and even has a running joke with Hahn about his supposed naivete. Before he offers the city attorney political counsel, he couches it with: "You didn't hire me for political advice, but. . . ."

But observers say McOsker actually has very good political instincts and is attuned to both the dramas playing out in City Hall and complex issues around the city.

Kelly Martin, Riordan's current chief of staff, said McOsker will thrive in his new job because of his knowledge of the mechanics of government. "He is very, very smart. He is calm when all around him are not. He is very seasoned, and he has delightful sense of humor," she said. "He has the capacity to handle 10 exceedingly complex projects at once, which is sort of the average day for this job."

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