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‘Mayor Sam’ City Hall Blog Unmasked

Times Staff Writer

For 11 months, the tell-all blog Mayor Sam’s Sister City has both entertained and roiled the workers of City Hall.

In no particular order, the site has featured attacks on members of the Los Angeles City Council, stories of scandals that purportedly involved them, the posting of internal e-mails and regular polls asking who is the hottest city worker -- politically and physically.

One post from December: “Who would you like to wake up and find under your tree, menorah, that Kwanzaa candelabra, etc.? Post them here!”

Visitors to www.mayorsam.blogspot.com frequently found it to be an anything-goes site, with anonymous rants about micro-issues in council districts, profanity-laced tirades, personal attacks and gossip.

The most notable element of the site has been -- until Thursday -- its anonymity. The hosts of the site and those who posted there did not have to reveal their names, which have in their own right become the source of City Hall gossip.

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That ended Thursday morning when two of the key players on the site confirmed their identities after being asked by a Times reporter.

Brian Hay, 29, who has worked as a political consultant to former mayoral candidate Bob Hertzberg, said he has posted items as “Mayor Frank” since last year.

Mike Trujillo, 26, a spokesman for a preschool ballot initiative headed by Rob Reiner, said he was “Chief Parker” for several months during the mayoral campaign earlier this year.

The creator of the site is a community activist in the San Fernando Valley named Michael Higby, 40. Higby could not be reached Thursday morning, but later in the day he and Hay revealed their identities on the website.

“I only expected three or four people to read it, for it to last maybe a few weeks and that would be it,” Higby wrote on the site. “It has gone beyond my wildest expectations. I am quite proud of the service we provide to our city.”

Last year, another City Hall blog lasted several weeks, and shortly after its demise Higby started the Mayor Sam site.

The name was a reference to former Mayor Sam Yorty. Three main characters played host: “Mayor Sam,” “Mayor Frank” and “Chief Parker,” the latter two a nod to former Mayor Frank Shaw and former Police Chief William Parker.

The blog, Hay said, was a way to bypass reporters and disseminate information that he believed city residents deserved to know. He said that about 10 people have rotated through the characters of Sam, Frank and Parker, but that he did not know who all of them were.

Hay said he volunteered for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in his unsuccessful 2001 mayoral campaign and was on his paid staff for three weeks that year.

“A lot of times the mainstream media is under a lot of different pressures from editors; you have things that you can’t do or things that would never make the L.A. Times, so we provided a location for those insiders and hacks to go and do what they like to do,” Hay said. “The water-cooler chat. That’s all it is.”

Hay said he was posting to the Mayor Sam site at the same time he was also running the mayoral campaign blog for his boss, Hertzberg. On Thursday, Hertzberg said that he was unaware of Hay’s involvement in the anonymous blog and that he rarely looked at the site.

“I probably would have stopped him if I had known. I certainly believe in blogging and the Internet, and it’s doing fabulous things for political participation,” said Hertzberg, who was the chairman of Villaraigosa’s transition team.

Hertzberg said he understood the concern of many elected officials that no identified person could be held accountable for information on the blog.

Trujillo said that he was “Chief Parker” on the site for several months during the mayoral campaign and that he supported Villaraigosa. Trujillo added that Reiner, who also backed Villaraigosa, was unaware of his role. Reiner, through a spokesman, declined to comment.

“I think the folks that run the site probably shed light on dark corners in City Hall sometimes,” Trujillo said. “I think people give the site too much credit for knowing more than it should. I don’t know anything; all I know is the e-mails that I receive and would post. That was it. At no time was it me going around and looking for stuff.”

Villaraigosa has been both praised and pummeled on the site. Janelle Erickson, a mayoral press secretary, on Thursday said, “Anonymous blogs are not sources of credible information, and we pay very little attention to them.”

“It’s a very little surprise that one campaign had something to do with it,” said Bernard Parks Jr., chief of staff for Councilman Bernard C. Parks.

Parks Jr. said he felt obliged to check the site each day in case something was written about his father.

He said a major distinction between the Mayor Sam site and the mainstream media was that mainstream reporters usually called him to get a response for any story that was critical of his father. The blog did not.

“Therein lies the danger,” Parks Jr. said. “We support freedom of speech as much as anyone else. I think because the Internet is still relatively new, there aren’t a whole lot of laws to protect a name or reputation. You can say something as ridiculous as he has two left feet, and it gets blogged everywhere.”

The loss of anonymity may be a good thing, Hay said.

“This puts us on the map,” he said. “I can call [City Council President Alex] Padilla’s office now if I have a question about something.”


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