STEIN RESIGNS FROM AIRPORT COMMISSION EMBATTLED PRESIDENT LASHES OUT AT CHICK, OTHER CRITICS.
Airport Commission President Ted Stein ended a tumultuous 12 years of city service with his resignation Tuesday, denouncing allegations of ``pay-to-play'' contracting practices against him as ``false,'' ``defamatory'' and ``mean-spirited.''
It marked the second time that Stein, an Encino attorney and real estate developer, has left the Airport Commission with a cloud over his conduct. The first time involved overstepping his authority to hire Whitewater investigation figure Webster Hubbell to squeeze money out of the federal government. This time it involves an investigation of whether he coerced campaign contributions from a contractor.
In a strongly worded defense of his actions and an attack on Controller Laura Chick and other critics, Stein portrayed himself as a victim of unfair politics who was stepping down because the continuing controversy was jeopardizing Mayor James Hahn's $9.1 billion plan to rebuild LAX.
``I have been subjected to an array of false, defamatory and unsubstantiated accusations suggesting that I engaged in or orchestrated a plan to force URS (an airport contractor) to make political contributions in order to continue doing business at Los Angeles International Airport - what has been dubbed 'pay to play.'
``While the URS allegations seem to change with each new 'unnamed source' or politically motivated leak, they all have one thing in common: they are patently false. I have never solicited political contributions from anyone at URS,'' he said in a statement.
Both the district attorney's and U.S. attorney's offices have asked separate grand juries to look at contracting procedures at the departments of Airports, Harbor and Water and Power.
The inquiries were prompted in part by Chick, whose audit of the Department of Airports included a request for criminal investigations.
Responding to Stein's attack, Chick issued a one-sentence response: ``This is not about one airport commissioner or about a blue ribbon commission's report, it is about leadership from the top.''
Stein accused her of ignoring the facts to ``cast doubt through unsubstantiated innuendo, speculation and rumor.'' He said he was upset that Chick - whom he once supported and even helped raise campaign money for - refused to make corrections.
``The tactics employed by the controller - including publicly implying that the (Airport) Commission may have engaged in wrongdoing yet refusing to produce any evidence to support her claim - represent the worst traits in government,'' Stein said.
``A public official should not be permitted to ignore research material, timelines, emails and other information simply because it exposes flaws in her work product and demonstrates her attacks were unwarranted.''
The resignation came as several critics at City Hall were demanding that the mayor get rid of Stein.
``I'm hoping that this is the end of this kind of conduct,'' Councilman Antonio Villaraigosa, a Stein critic and Hahn rival, told KFWB-AM (980) radio. ``But if it's not, we need to ferret it out wherever there's any appearance of impropriety.''
Hahn, who appointed his one-time rival for city attorney to the panel, said he appreciated the years of work, service and support from Stein.
``I know it's been difficult for Ted,'' Hahn said. ``Here's a guy who has been volunteering his time, devoting as many hours as if it was a full-time job for no pay at all. But, I think he realizes all his good work is being lost because of this.
``We haven't lost our focus on the need to move forward and make LAX a safer, more modern airport. I commend Ted for all the hard work he did in getting us to this point.''
Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, who represents the airport area, said she believed Stein's resignation will help the city move forward.
``I think it clears the air for the mayor to begin with a clean slate without all this other stuff interfering. The issues that have been out there for the past several months have stymied the mayor at a time when the clock is ticking on moving this plan forward.''
Stein long has been a lightning rod at City Hall - from his days as president of the Planning Commission under former Mayor Tom Bradley when no growth issues were being advanced -to his various posts with former Mayor Richard Riordan.
Stein served as a special adviser to Riordan, working in a City Hall office, as well as president of the Airport Commission and later the Harbor Commission. His wife, Ellen, has long served on the Board of Public Works, one of the few paid commission posts.
As Airport Commission president, Stein backed Riordan's plan to expand LAX to handle nearly 100 million passengers a year and double the amount of cargo coming into the facility.
Stein also took the lead in Riordan's efforts to increase landing fees - a move later blocked by the Federal Aviation Administration - and he hired Hubbell, who had just been fired by the Clinton White House as the Whitewater scandal worsened, to try to get $50 million in federal funds.
``It was a case where Ted thought he was acting in the best interests of the city, but he did it in secrecy,'' former Controller Rick Tuttle said in an interview. ``If he had done it publicly, there would have been a chance to review the recommendation and debate it.''
Stein on his own hired Hubbell, who was under investigation for overcharging clients from his work at a law firm with now-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
As a result, Stein - who was then running against Hahn for city attorney - was called to Arkansas to appear before a federal grand jury. Stein later lost badly to Hahn.
Riordan, who had removed Stein from the Airport Commission when he announced his candidacy for city attorney, then appointed him to the Harbor Commission.
However, Riordan removed Stein again when the two had a falling out over Hahn's mayoral race in 2001. Riordan was backing another of his advisers, businessman Steve Soboroff, and Stein had decided to support Hahn and became a key fund-raiser in the campaign and later in the campaign against San Fernando Valley secession, which is what gave rise to accusations of pay-to-play fund-raising tactics.
Stein said he resigned in recognition of the controversy surrounding him that was holding up adoption of the new master plan.
``It is now apparent to me that the distraction associated with these false allegations are interfering with the important work of LAWA,'' Stein said.
Rick Orlov, (213) 978-0390
Dear Mayor Hahn:
As we discussed on the telephone, I have made the difficult personal decision to resign from the Board of Airport Commissioners, effective immediately. I am attaching to this letter a statement I will release to the news media in connection with my resignation.
I have been committed to helping you and Los Angeles World Airports develop a master plan that would ensure the safety and security of LAX in a post-9/11 world. By all objective accounts, the plan we are bringing to completion fulfills your vision to make LAX the safety and security model for all U.S. airports in the 21st century. It is also consistent with your goal of making Los Angeles the safest big city in America.
Getting the master plan implemented with all deliberate speed, and despite political opposition, has been my top priority. It is now apparent to me that the distractions associated with the totally unfounded and malicious ``pay-to-play'' allegations against me are interfering with the important work of Los Angeles World Airports and complicating speedy approval of the LAX Master Plan.
I want to thank you for providing me with the opportunity to serve the citizens of Los Angeles as president of the commission. I believe deeply in public service, having started my career as a deputy district attorney and having served as an unpaid, volunteer commissioner for more than 12 years of my life, the past 2 1/2 years as president of the Airport Commission. I am grateful and proud to have been part of a team that set the standard for dealing with the post-9/11 world. LAX was the first large U.S. airport to fully comply with the new federal security regulations. During this period, LAX earned the highest S&P rating ever bestowed on an airport. I also want to express my appreciation to my fellow commissioners and all the hard-working members of the airport staff. I wish you, the airport department and the city the very best.
Sincerely, Theodore Stein Jr.
(color) Airport Commission President Ted Stein resigned from the board Tuesday, denouncing as ``mean-spirited'' allegations against him.
STEIN LETTER (see text)