No free pass this time, mayor
Once upon a time in Los Angeles, we had an aggressively dull mayor who guarded his privacy, seldom emerged from his City Hall bunker, and took his sister with him when he went out on the town. Jim Hahn was so shy a guy, I set up a service to recruit potential dates for him.
In a big shakeup, the city made the switch to Antonio Villaraigosa, who seemed determined to prove that he didn’t need my help.
In 2007, Villaraigosa gave us the summer of love, in which the mayor’s weakness for on-air TV news talent led to a bizarre press conference about his troubled marriage.
In 2009, the city’s most eligible bachelor switched from a KVEA personality to a KTLA reporter who was once Miss U.S.A., and I don’t even have to make any of this up.
In his five-year crusade to prove that mayors just wanna have fun, Villaraigosa has been out on the town more than Lindsay Lohan. If there’s a ballgame, an awards show, a big concert, a bank of TV cameras anywhere in the metropolis, he’s there, looking sharp and ready to party.
Which brings us to this summer’s scandal — Ticketgate.
There’s actually another little brouhaha over the just-released news of the taxpayer cost of luxury hotels and fine dining the mayor and his staff enjoyed in Europe on city business last year, but let’s start with the tickets.
According to Villaraigosa’s staff, which had to cough up the goods when pressed by reporters, the mayor was offered a free pass to 100 sports and entertainment events, and may have attended as many as 85 of them, sometimes with family or associates.
Yeah, nice work if you can get it.
When this story broke, I e-mailed the mayor’s staff to see if he could get me tickets to the Lakers-Celtics games. Maybe his pal Jeffrey Katzenberg had an extra courtside seat with my name on it. But the mayor didn’t come through for me.
To be honest, I’m perfectly happy to have the mayor pop up in a nice suit every time a ballgame begins or a big show gets underway. Smiling, promoting and cheerleading aren’t nearly as important as leading the way on crime, traffic and delivery of services. But boosterism matters.
Unfortunately for Villaraigosa, there are laws about public officials accepting freebies, and the city Ethics Commission and the L.A. County district attorney’s office are looking into whether the mayor broke them.
Unless a mayor is performing official or ceremonial duties at an event, free tickets or passes are counted as gifts. And if a mayor is accepting gifts, there are limits on the allowed value of those freebies — $420 worth of tickets in one year from a single source.
A courtside Laker ticket goes for more than $3,000, and I don’t recall Villaraigosa singing the national anthem, introducing the Lakers, or handing Katzenberg an official city proclamation for being such a generous guy. So he’s got problems there.
I’d be happy to allow a broad interpretation of what counts as an official or ceremonial duty at an event, but the mayor was sloppy about that too. He and his staff didn’t keep very good records on those appearances, which is why they ended up scrambling for weeks to come up with something and then dumping a load of documents on the table Friday at City Hall, documents that answer a few questions but raise a few more.
Maybe it’s not corrupt, but at the very least, it’s bad judgment, especially when you consider that the bigger concern isn’t the value of the tickets, but the value of the access that was bought with those tickets.
Lots of the mayor’s generous friends, including the Dodger organization and the gang that runs the Staples Center and L.A. Live, have business before the city, so he’s got to either pay his own way or follow the letter of the law on freebies from them. This is a mayor, after all, who as a candidate said there was a pay-to-play culture at City Hall and it had to end.
As for the trip to Europe and the climate conference, KTLA reporter Eric Spillman reports that the mayor flew first class and stayed in five-star hotels. Look, when the city you run is in the midst of a budget crisis, drop the sense of entitlement and tone it down a bit.
As I write this Friday afternoon, I’m about to meet with the mayor at a Dodger game, where I’ll have a chance to talk to him about some of this. I’d like to know if indeed the mayor’s friend and campaign donor, Keith Brackpool — who could use the mayor’s support for a water storage plan his company is interested in — was along on the royal European tour. (Spillman found a travel document listing Brackpool’s name, but the mayor’s office isn’t saying whether he was on the trip).
In my hand is something the five-star, luxury box mayor hasn’t seen in years — a $12 ticket at the very top of Dodger stadium, where the hoi polloi sit.
I’ll let you know if he offers to pay for it.