Gang czar Jeff Carr got the top billing in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s shakeup in the leadership of his vast personal staff.
But the real play is the appointment of high-flying Jay Carson, the 32-year-old named to revive the mayor’s political fortunes in the newly-created post of Chief Deputy Mayor.
The shakeup announcement (CarrCarson.doc) stressed Carr’s role and downplayed Carson’s and for good reason. Carson will be in the center of where the power and money are, the missing link in Antonio’s circle of ‘friends.’
The link that matters in this case is Stephen Bing, heir to a vast fortune who has thrown nearly $100 million into Democratic causes and campaigns, including Villaraigosa’s, and even more into buying his way into Hollywood movie making.
It was Bing who brought Carson to LA early this year in a top post in his Shangri La business enterprises. And it’s the Bing connection that creates a huge ethical cloud over Carson’s role as Chief Deputy Mayor, one that the mayor glibly kissed off at his press conference last week although serious questions need to be answered.
Not long after Carson joined Bing, the mayor threw himself across the tracks as head of the board overseeing the MTA and kept the staff from eliminating AnseldoBreda as a competitor for a $300 million rail car manufacturing deal because of the Italian firm’s poor performance on a previous contract.
The key to keeping the deal alive is the partnership between AnseldoBreda and Bing’s Shangri La Construction to build a rail car manufacturing plant with heavy public subsidies in the five-mile strip near downtown that the mayor has dubbed LA’s Green Tech Corridor and made the centerpiece of his second term.
Bing stands to profit handsomely from the project which is just the first step in reaping billions of dollars in profits from construction of the California high-speed rail lines — deals where Bing’s political influence are sure to stand him in good stead.
Carson faces an almost impossible ethical dance since he worked for Bing and his duties as Chief Deputy Mayor include “Education, Housing & Economic
Development, Transportation, Energy & Environment, and Commercial
Residential Development,” according to the mayor’s press release.
Those are the most
controversy-laden areas of city government, the areas where special
interests with all their cash flow for politicians collide head-on with
the sentiments of many residents. Specifically, they are the areas of responsibility that come into play in Bing’s deals.
The mayor casually threw out that Bing will “recuse” himself from involvement in the Bing rail car deal.
But how is that possible?
He’s not a legislator recusing himself from voting on a measure because of a conflict of interest.
He’s the man in charge supervising the people developing strategies, cutting deals and implementing policies that affect Bing. How can they be insulated from being influenced by Carson and his clear connection to Bing?
Carson was on Bing’s payroll for seven months and involved in the
AnsaldoBreda/Green Tech Corridor deal and helped save the Italian firm
from being removed from consideration. Will he disclose how much he
was paid, all contracts, documents and promises he might have gotten
the mayor carefully examined the Bing relationship, would he care? Are
there written guidelines for how Carson is supposed to recuse himself
from involvement in deals directly or indirectly affecting Bing?
Has the Ethics Commission gotten involved and raised questions or set down rules that would protect the public interest?
Will the City Council or City Attorney take up the conflict of interest problems posed by Carson’s appointment?
are just a few of the questions that must be answered for the public to
have even the slightest confidence in the mayor’s office.
They are not small questions, and Carson is not a small-time player.
the Christian minister and do-gooder, is now the mayor’s organization
man, assuming the duties of Robin Kramer whose Jewish mother image
belied her long experience and skill at bringing order of chaos for the
likes of Richard Alatorre, Dick Riordan and Eli Broad.
is a very different sort entirely, a rising Democratic Party political
star who now holds the future of Antonio Villaraigosa in his hands —
and quite possibly the future of the City of Los Angeles as well.
He is an ambitious Southerner from Macon, Ga., who was branded the “hard-hitting hipster” in a lengthy New York Observer profile when he was press secretary for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
his youth, he has worked for and developed close relationships with a
virtual hall of fame of Democratic Party politics: Bill and Hillary
Clinton, Sen. Charles Schumer, former Sen. Tom Daschle, Party Chairman
Howard Dean, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Throw in links to George
Soros, George Stephanopoulos, Ron Burkle and numerous Democratic Party
operatives and big-time players and you get a picture of just how
connected, how seriously, Carson is taken.
On Aug. 10 — just
four days after Bing paid the $200,000 tab and provided his private jet
for Bill Clinton’s trip to North Korea — the New York Times noted the
names of six of the people who were among the guests at the former
President’s 63rd birthday party in a Las Vegas restaurant where 8 oz.
steaks go for $240: Bing, Terry McAuliffed, Haim Saban, John Podesta
The party was held in Las Vegas because Clinton
was there to keynote the National Clean Energy Summit, an event at
which Villaraigosa promoted the Green Tech Corridor (and was caught
napping with his girlfriend at a topless pool in a posh hotel).
what’s a guy like Carson doing in a job that pays him a fraction of
what he could be making in the world of the billionaires like Bing?
knowledge of the city, its people, or even City Hall and city
government does he bring to the task at a time when LA is facing a
worsening financial crisis and dealing with a multiplicity of policy
failures largely attributed to City Hall’s devotion to serving special
Serving as director of Bill Clinton’s Foundation,
which got $15 million from Bing, and strategic roles in Senate and
presidential campaigns are not the normal resume of a man crossing the
line into city governance.
Given the direction Villaraigosa’s
second term is taking, it’s pretty clear why the mayor has brought him
aboard. He plays hardball, has a keen political sense and completes the
circle of power and money for the mayor.
Where the people and the public interest fit in will become obvious enough in the weeks and months ahead.