Delgadillo’s Spending Stirs Speculation

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo has spent more than $1 million on his reelection campaign. He’s paid for polling, consultants, mailers and television ads that tout his efforts to put prosecutors in the city’s neighborhoods, curtail gang crimes and protect schoolchildren.

But Delgadillo, the city’s top prosecutor, faces no opposition at the polls Tuesday.

His vigorous and costly campaign has political observers speculating that Delgadillo is positioning himself to run for state attorney general next year, or for mayor in four years.

“I am running for city attorney. I love being the public’s lawyer,” Delgadillo said, declining to discuss his political plans.


But in the last two months, he has spent $457,000 on television commercials that will reach Southern California viewers far beyond the city limits.

“It’s an investment in the future,” said Raphael Sonenshein, a political scientist at Cal State Fullerton. “He’s creating product identification for a future mayor’s race or a race for statewide office.”

Sonenshein said he had heard Delgadillo mentioned as a prospect for next year’s attorney general race. Delgadillo, who was elected city attorney in June 2001, is a protege of former Mayor Richard Riordan and served as his deputy mayor for economic development.

Sonenshein said Delgadillo, 44, would be a credible candidate for attorney general, but could face stiff competition. Other potential candidates include Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, the widely known former governor, who has raised $1.7 million.

Political consultant Larry Levine, who was surprised to hear how much Delgadillo had spent, said there also was talk that the city attorney might run for lieutenant governor because Brown would be tough to beat.

“Rocky has done an excellent job keeping people talking about which higher office he will run for,” Levine said.


In contrast to Delgadillo, city Controller Laura Chick, who also is up for election, has raised only $8,200 for her campaign. She does have a challenger, Mervin Evans, a management consultant who has run unsuccessfully for several offices.

Larry Berg, retired director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said there was “just no reason whatsoever” for Delgadillo to run such an expensive campaign if his only intention was to serve as city attorney for the next four years.

“If he wants to run for attorney general, fine,” Berg said. “But don’t use your position to do this.”

Delgadillo defended his campaign, saying it gave him a chance to tell Los Angeles what he was working to accomplish.

“I’m raising money to talk to people about what is going on in this city and to tell underserved communities what resources are available to them,” he said.

Delgadillo has raised some of his funds from private attorneys and law firms that were awarded city contracts and from companies that seek favorable decisions from his office.


More than $141,000 of the $1.2 million he has raised came from law firms that have been given city contracts and from 297 attorneys who work for those firms.

The city’s biggest legal contractor, O’Melveny and Myers, also gave Delgadillo the most money. Delgadillo, who once worked at the politically connected firm, received $19,000 from its political action committee and 39 of its attorneys.

The role that city contractors have played in bankrolling Los Angeles campaigns has come under increased scrutiny. Local and federal investigators are still looking into whether city contracts were awarded in return for donations to Mayor James K. Hahn’s political causes.

Hahn has proposed a ban on contributions from city contractors, but the City Council has not acted on it.

Delgadillo’s acceptance of money from firms that have an interest in his decision-making “may not be prohibited, but unfortunately it creates the appearance at the very least that there is some kind of quid pro quo,” said Tracy Westen, chief executive of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles. “The money comes from people who have something to gain.”

Delgadillo denied that there was any link between the contributions he received from law firms and the legal contracts he approved.


Other contributors with an interest in Delgadillo’s decisions include:

* Affiliated Computer Services, which gave $1,000 and is negotiating with the city attorney to avoid returning $23 million in parking fines that officials say is owed to the city.

* Regency Outdoor, which Delgadillo is opposing in a court challenge to the city’s billboard rules, contributed $1,000.

* Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm that Delgadillo has sued, accusing it of inflating its bills to the city Department of Water and Power. The firm and an executive gave $2,000.

Delgadillo said the contributions did not affect his views on legal matters or his decisions in hiring outside attorneys, whom he credited with driving down payouts in lawsuits against the city.

“I’ve hired the best people for the job, and I think the results speak for themselves,” Delgadillo said.

Payouts on judgments and settlements went from $92 million the year before he took office to $44.5 million last year and $15.7 million for the first six months of this fiscal year.


Still, Chick recently asked the state auditor to look at Delgadillo’s use of outside attorneys after the bill hit $29.6 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, an increase of 20% over the year before. The tab is more than twice what the city spent four years earlier.

“A lot of those cases he is giving to outside attorneys should be handled in-house,” said Etan Z. Lorant, an Encino attorney who briefly considered running against Delgadillo. “They have the attorneys in-house. It’s totally wrong to farm it out.”

Some of the money Delgadillo has raised has gone to polling, which he said was issue- oriented. He said it found that the most important issue for residents was public safety, so he will continue to focus on that goal.

“We’ve tripled the number of gang injunctions,” Delgadillo said, adding that they now include one out of every four gang members known to police.

The 23 injunctions prohibit gang members from congregating in targeted areas and have had an impact on high-crime neighborhoods, said Police Chief William J. Bratton.

“They are extraordinarily effective tools,” he said.

The results have been seen in areas such as Gilbert Lindsey Park, which once was a gathering and recruiting area for the Crips.


Bratton also said crime had been reduced because of Delgadillo’s neighborhood prosecutor program, which assigns two prosecutors to each of the city’s 18 police stations to focus on quality-of-life offenses, from loitering and prostitution to drug sales and vandalism.

“That is probably one of the best things we can do as partners to work on neighborhood nuisance issues,” Bratton said.

Those prosecutors have worked with neighborhood councils to identify problems that require attention.

“It’s brought this office closer to the neighborhoods,” Delgadillo said. “It has tapped the power of the neighborhoods. It has prevented crime.”

The city attorney said that once arrests were made, his office had been winning convictions 91% of the time.

Delgadillo said a second term would see him continuing to pursue these same successful programs.


“My goal is to continue to push the envelope with public safety,” he said.