Official works his wizardry on L.A. Marathon route

Times Staff Writer

The following will make a lot more sense if you understand a few things about Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge.

The first is that he truly believes Los Angeles is the best city on the planet. The second is that "The Wizard of Oz" is his favorite movie.

So, imagine LaBonge's reaction over the summer when someone handed him the new route for the Los Angeles Marathon and LaBonge noticed that the course didn't visit many quarters of his beloved city.

At a subsequent meeting with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LaBonge complained. The mayor told LaBonge to fix it.

His first attempt at redrawing the race course came up short -- literally -- at only 25 miles. Marathons need to be 26.2 miles.

So LaBonge went back to the drawing board. And that's where we begin.

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Did he succeed?

Yes. LaBonge's new route spends much less time in the environs of Hollywood and Los Feliz but now visits Boyle Heights.

As it turned out, that was the ingredient that LaBonge craved.

"All those runners are going to be crossing the 6th Street Bridge from Boyle Heights into downtown," LaBonge told me at last Wednesday's council meeting after his colleagues approved the route. "It's just like in 'The Wizard of Oz' when the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, Tin Man, Dorothy and Toto are going down the Yellow Brick Road toward Emerald City."

But of course.

And LaBonge wouldn't hear any of it when I suggested to him that at that late stage of the marathon -- with only a couple miles to go -- most competitors will be more worried about controlling their bodily functions than taking in the view.

The city skyline, he insisted, would provide the inspiration the runners needed.

So, coming into work on Friday, I took a detour through Boyle Heights and drove across the bridge.

There were no flying monkeys, sadly, but it does offer a sweeping view of the downtown skyline -- behind a maze of utility wires. But Emerald City?

On the other hand, LaBonge is probably on to something. Thousands of runners pouring across the bridge will probably make for a photo so dandy that even the Mayor of Munchkinland would proudly hang it on his wall -- should LaBonge ever arrange for a meeting.

You can find the new route on the marathon's website: www.lamarathon.com/maps.118.0.html (The race is in March).

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How are the City Council and the city attorney getting along these days?

Not so good. If City Hall was a sandbox, one imagines they'd be pouring buckets over one another's heads.

The latest conflict is over the $2.7-million settlement that the city attorney recommended and the council approved in the lawsuit brought by Tennie Pierce, the black firefighter who alleged that his colleagues fed him spaghetti sauce laced with dog food in a racist stunt in 2004.

After photos emerged of Pierce engaging in firehouse pranks of his own, Villaraigosa vetoed the settlement last Monday, setting the blame game in motion.

Some council members, such as Bernard C. Parks, said that the settlement was in the best interest of city coffers and that Pierce's prankster ways were discussed. Other members of the council -- most notably Jack Weiss -- said that they would never have approved the settlement had the city attorney shown them the photos and told them about the extent of Pierce's pranks in the past.

The city attorney's office countered that the photos were indeed discussed in June during a council session that was closed to the public because the subject involved city legal strategy. And, said the city attorney, they've got a snippet of audiotape to prove it.

Thus, the Thanksgiving Day press release: "Did the council know there were photos? ... We continue to urge the council to waive attorney-client privilege in this matter to put these questions to rest, once and for all." That would free Delgadillo to reveal the discussion, which he otherwise could not do without breaching legal ethics.

Weiss' stance is interesting. Even when the Pierce photos came out, Weiss was rounding up votes against reconsidering the settlement. It wasn't until Villaraigosa began mulling a veto of the settlement that Weiss changed his tune; Weiss plans to run for city attorney in 2009 when Delgadillo is forced from office by term limits and wants the mayor's backing.

"Look, all I can tell you is that I readily admit that I was wrong," Weiss said after the veto. "But when I made these initial decisions, the council didn't have all the evidence in front of it."

The standoff continues, with the council due to take up the issue at its meeting Tuesday. Weiss has asked that Delgadillo turn over all evidence in the case for the council's review. Delgadillo's office, meanwhile, continues to push for the release of the partial transcript of the June closed session.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the Pierce case is that no one in City Hall seemingly anticipated that awarding millions of dollars to a man who unknowingly ate dog food would cause such a public flap.

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So did council President Eric Garcetti survive his marathon trip from Los Angeles to Seoul to Boston and back to L.A.?

Garcetti made the trip over the span of 5 1/2 days and arrived home Tuesday in time for the council's morning meeting. He was in Seoul for a leadership conference and then traveled to Boston to pick up a public service award from the John F. Kennedy library.

A transcript of the speech is online at www.jfklibrary.org. A sampling:

"Let us restore the virtue of national sacrifice and national service, and call young people from across our whole society to serve their world and to serve their communities.

"Let us demand that Americans sacrifice for one another and for the world again -- through service by every young American in our armed forces, the Peace Corps, and in local communities as teachers and service providers.

"As an officer in the Reserve component of the United States Navy, I proudly wear the uniform of our nation's armed forces. We should be equally proud of those who are teaching at struggling schools or helping stem the spread of AIDS in Africa."

Hmmm. Think Garcetti is going to run for national office one day?

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Is the campaign for the 14th Council District seat between incumbent Jose Huizar and his former staffer Alvin Parra going to be nasty?

Yes. Parra called Huizar on Nov. 11 and informed him that he was both quitting his job and running against him. As mindful readers of this column are aware, that's exactly the kind of "Rollerball" politics this column deeply appreciates.

Parra then fired the opening salvo in the campaign this week when he said he was filing an ethics complaint over Huizar's use of a nonresident to collect signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Yawn.

Signature-gatherers are supposed to reside in the city.

"Our response is that had we had nonresidents out" collecting signatures "and they were paired up with residents for safety and language reasons," said Parke Skelton, Huizar's campaign consultant. "The resident was always collecting the signatures."

The episode jogged this column's memory about an incident last year involving Parra when Huizar was running for his seat against former council member Nick Pacheco.

At the time, Parra was involved in distributing unflattering newspaper stories about controversies involving Pacheco. Parra was so good at it that Huizar eventually hired him.

The problem is that the articles were old and none mentioned that Pacheco was ultimately cleared by authorities of any wrongdoing.

When asked by a reporter last year to explain that, Parra declined to say whom he was working for or with.

Now that's ethics!

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

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