4 Brothers Wield Clout in Broad Range of City Affairs

Times Staff Writer

Tell someone in San Pedro that you're going to Los Angeles City Hall to see "McOsker," and you might be asked, "Which one?"

Is it Tim McOsker, chief of staff to Mayor James K. Hahn?

Would it be his brother, Patrick McOsker, a Fire Department engineer and president of the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City? Or his other brother Mike, also a Fire Department engineer, who is first vice president of the union?

Perhaps it's another brother, John, who is vice president of the city's Harbor Area Planning Commission?

Meet the McOsker boys, as friend and City Councilwoman Janice Hahn calls them, four brothers from a tight-knit Irish Catholic family with deep ties to San Pedro and unusual clout at City Hall.

"They are involved in everything," said the councilwoman, who, like her brother, Mayor Hahn, lives in San Pedro. "It's a good family.... They are firefighters. They are public servants."

The McOsker brothers are proud of their San Pedro roots and tradition of government service. Their grandfather moved from the Midwest to the harbor area in the 1930s to work as a facilities engineer at the federal prison on Terminal Island. Their father, Mack, was a Los Angeles firefighter for 27 years.

Three of the brothers still live in San Pedro near their parents.

"It's been a great country for the McOsker family, and we were taught to give back through civil service," said Tim, 41.

But family ties at City Hall can be complicated.

The fire union headed by Patrick and Mike is the last major employee group without a contract to replace the one that expired June 30. Though Tim McOsker has played a role in negotiations with other unions, he has had to stay out of the current talks.

"We know people are very concerned about it, so we've been very scrupulous" about keeping Tim out of the negotiations, Mayor Hahn said.

When union matters are discussed, the mayor said, "Tim excuses himself from the room and I don't talk to him about it."

Tim McOsker and his brothers said they are careful to avoid talking about the firefighters' contract and related issues, especially during frequent family get-togethers, which this time of year are likely to include watching Notre Dame football on TV.

Because the McOskers' rise has coincided with the rise to power of Jim and Janice Hahn, some observers see the two families as linked in a political alliance that inspires both admiration and suspicion.

"What's the probability that you would have four brothers all in positions of power at City Hall?" asked Andrew Mardesich, a neighbor of the mayor and head of the Harbor Study Foundation, a secession group. "It's virtually impossible. If it wasn't for Jim and Tim, I'm not sure they would all have done so well."

Tim McOsker and Mayor Hahn met in the late 1980s at a conference for city prosecutors and quickly took a liking to one another, McOsker said. Hahn was Los Angeles city attorney and McOsker worked as a contract lawyer for small cities in the area.

When Hahn was reelected as city attorney in 1997, he asked Tim to be his chief deputy.

The two carpooled together from San Pedro for several years, with Tim using the 25-mile commute to bring his boss up to speed on office operations.

When Hahn was elected mayor in 2001, he named McOsker his chief of staff.

Patrick and Mike, who are regulars these days at City Council meetings, beat their brother to Los Angeles City Hall.

Mike, the oldest brother at 44, joined the Fire Department 25 years ago; Patrick, who is a year younger, went to work for the fire agency 24 years ago.

Mike McOsker said it was no surprise that he and his brother Patrick joined the Fire Department.

(After high school, Tim filled out a Fire Department job application, but when months passed without a call, interest faded and he went off to Notre Dame University.)

"When you are raised by a firefighter and he comes home every day and seems to enjoy his job, and you see it as an honorable profession, it's natural to go into it," Mike said.

Ken Buzzell, who was the firefighters union president for years before losing the top spot to Patrick last November, said the family relationships were an issue in the election.

"Patrick went so far as to tell the members he had influence in the mayor's office and he and his baby brother Tim were going to sit down over a cold beer and work out the contract," Buzzell said. "That looks bad."

Patrick McOsker said he had never told members that he would have influence with his brother, and denied that his election to the union presidency 12 months ago had had anything to do with Tim.

"I don't think firefighters would have voted for me because of who my brother was," Patrick said. "Firefighters are not that way. You've got to earn their vote.

"We've both been involved in the union longer than Tim has been involved with Hahn as mayor and city attorney," Patrick added. "There is no connection."

Still, the McOskers and Hahns have helped each other over the years. Mike has been first vice president of the union for a decade, during which the union endorsed James K. Hahn for city attorney in 1993 and 1997 and for mayor in 2001, while also contributing to his campaigns.

The firefighters union also endorsed Janice Hahn for City Council in 2001 and contributed to her campaign.

Last year, when Mayor Hahn formed the group L.A. United to fight breakaway efforts by the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood, the firefighters union contributed $200,000 to the committee and sent dozens of firefighters door to door to campaign against secession. Union officials said they did so, in part, because they did not want the Fire Department broken up.

For his part, Mayor Hahn addressed the union's complaint that the agency was understaffed by adding hundreds of firefighters and paramedics to the ranks. He also is part of a city committee that in recent labor negotiations has offered the firefighters union 9% in raises over the next three years.

And when it came time to make appointments, Hahn named John McOsker to the Harbor Area Planning Commission in 2001.

John McOsker, 36, said he had briefly considered joining the Fire Department, but "I'm not that big a guy and I'm afraid of heights."

The attorney said he became a commissioner after mentioning to his brother Tim that "I wanted to be involved in whatever way I can help the city."

The McOskers' unusually strong representation at City Hall has engendered mixed feelings in their home community.

Noel Park, president of the San Pedro and Peninsula Homeowners Coalition, said he worries that it fosters the feeling that personal connections determine success in politics.

"It doesn't look that good," he said.

But Park said he was more concerned about the lack of responsiveness in the mayor's office to the concerns of San Pedro residents. "We have no interaction with Tim," Park said.

Others, including John Greenwood, president of the Northwest San Pedro Neighborhood Council, said the area has improved under Hahn.

Greenwood also said he feels a sense of community pride that the McOskers and Hahns play a major role at City Hall.

"For years, I think San Pedro felt neglected, but now the mayor lives here, the councilwoman lives here, the mayor's chief of staff lives here," Greenwood said.

"We've known we had talent here, and now finally people are recognizing that."

For The Record Los Angeles Times Saturday November 15, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 70 words Type of Material: Correction Janice Hahn campaign -- An article in Sunday's California section on the family of Tim McOsker, chief of staff to Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, incorrectly said the United Firefighters of Los Angeles City endorsed Janice Hahn for City Council in 2001. The union did not formally endorse her in the race and the union's $500 political contribution to Janice Hahn's 2001 election campaign was made after her election.
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