Former Los Angeles City Councilman Arthur K. Snyder, a famously colorful figure who spent nearly two decades in office while contending with an array of personal, legal and political troubles, died Wednesday. He was 79.
Snyder died in his sleep at his Huntington Beach home, said Emerson Duque, a family friend. A cause of death has not yet been determined.
From 1967 to 1985, Snyder represented a swath of neighborhoods that included Boyle Heights, El Sereno and Eagle Rock. After leaving office, he saw his career as a high-flying lobbyist marred by a campaign money-laundering scandal that resulted in misdemeanor convictions.
Snyder was “a character in the days when City Hall was filled with characters,” said lobbyist Harvey Englander, who ran Snyder’s final City Council race.
“He was a red-haired, blue-eyed Irishman who spoke fluent Spanish and kept getting reelected even though his district became a mostly Latino district,” Englander said. “He was always backslapping, always jovial, always making a deal.”
Arthur Kress Snyder was born Nov. 10, 1932, in Los Angeles to parents who had moved here from the Appalachian mountain region of Ohio.
He received his bachelor’s degree from Pepperdine University in 1953 and five years later earned a law degree from USC.
In the late 1950s, he became chief deputy to Councilman John C. Holland, and when Holland retired Snyder won the seat in 1967. He was reelected four times.
From almost the beginning, Snyder charted a path atypical for most politicians.
While he was a councilman, he was involved in multiple car accidents in city vehicles, faced misdemeanor drunk driving charges and made headlines in 1973 after eloping with a 19-year-old aide. A year later, he survived a recall attempt. And in 1983, Snyder managed to avoid a runoff by 3 votes.
Yet Snyder, who was nicknamed “the Artful Dodger” by some, prevailed as an influential City Hall insider and as a successful fund-raiser.
A Marine who had served during the Korean War, Snyder prided himself on his work on public safety issues, pushing for helicopter patrols, city paramedic service and anti-gang programs. He also brought branch libraries, recreational facilities and affordable housing projects to his Eastside district.
Snyder abruptly stepped down in 1985 after facing the prospect of a challenge from then-Assemblyman Richard Alatorre. By then, he was embroiled in a bitter child custody battle that included allegations of child molestation. Charges were never filed in the case, said his lawyer, Mark Geragos.
Once out of office, Snyder set up a lobbying practice at City Hall. But that work was disrupted in the mid-1990s, when he faced conspiracy and money-laundering charges. His misdemeanor criminal convictions were upheld by the California Supreme Court five years later.
The former councilman maintained his upbeat nature even in the midst of scandal said Geragos, who defended Snyder against those charges. The former politician was a “larger-than-life character in every way,” Geragos said.
Alatorre had a darker view, calling him a polarizing figure within his district.
“People feared him, they loved him, they hated him,” said Alatorre, who described Snyder as a skilled politician who delivered for his constituents.
Councilman Jose Huizar, who occupies Snyder’s old seat, described Snyder as “a throwback politician who marched to the beat of his own drum.”
In 2009, Snyder realized a dream, according to Duque, when he became the proprietor of a Don the Beachcomber restaurant in Huntington Beach.
Snyder is survived by Delia, his wife of 31 years; his children from two previous marriages, sons Neely and Miles, and daughter Erin; and nine grandchildren.
A celebration of his life will begin at 3 p.m. Saturday at Don the Beachcomber, 16278 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach.