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February 19, 2013
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CRISIS IN THE LAPD: THE RODNEY KING CASE : Fabiani: The Quiet Man in a Bitter Controversy

April 06, 1991|DAVID FERRELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He has been a man in the shadows–seldom quoted by reporters, never seen on television despite the continuing furor over the police beating of Rodney G. King.

He was not in attendance when the Los Angeles Police Commission acted Thursday to put Chief Daryl F. Gates on 60-day leave; nor was he at a crowded City Council meeting on Friday, when angry council members moved to effectively reverse the commission action against Gates.

Yet Mark D. Fabiani, Mayor Tom Bradley’s chief of staff, has been an important combatant in a political fight that lately has been cast as a clash of just two heavyweights, Bradley and Gates.

“I think he’s calling about all of the shots,” an irate Councilwoman Joy Picus asserted on Friday, echoing what others at City Hall are saying about the No. 2 man in Bradley’s administration. At 33, Fabiani is seen as a brilliant intellect–who might also be an unsettling force in the delicate politics of trying to pull the city through such sensitive times.

With his slicked-back hair, Harvard Law School education and reputation for forceful behind-the-scenes politicking, Fabiani purposely shuns the spotlight, keeping Bradley’s name before the news cameras. Even so, the sharp-tongued, quick-witted Fabiani has made more than a few enemies at City Hall. He became embroiled in a long-running conflict with Gates long before anyone had ever heard of Rodney King or the beating that Los Angeles officers gave him on March 3.

The administrative feud began last fall when Fabiani joined the mayor in calling for a sweeping management audit of the 10,000-member Police Department.

A defensive Gates responded by blasting Fabiani as “a slick-haired . . . young kid” of unproven capability.

Fabiani also alienated City Council President John Ferraro several times last year, once by stepping in as mayor when Bradley was out of town–a duty that, under the City Charter, belongs to the council president.

The personal conflict appeared to deepen on Thursday when Ferraro stepped in as acting mayor while Bradley was in Sacramento to discuss the city budget. In his fill-in role, Ferraro asked the Police Commission to withhold any action on Gates until commission members could meet with the City Council in a closed-door session Friday.

The commission ignored the request and suspended Gates, a rebuff that Ferraro attributed largely to Fabiani’s lobbying.

“I think he and the mayor have orchestrated the whole thing,” said an angry Ferraro, who ran against Bradley in a mayoral race several years ago. Ferraro added that he has “no idea why there’s bad blood” between Fabiani and Gates.

“He’s just a little kid,” the council president said of Fabiani.

When asked about the timing of the Police Commission vote, Fabiani acknowledged that he spoke with commission president Dan Garcia before Thursday’s action, but denied influencing the panel to proceed with Gates’ suspension.

“I had no role in the decision,” Fabiani said. “Dan Garcia called from the middle of the commission meeting to let me know that he had just received a letter from Ferraro and, as acting mayor, that Ferraro had made a request. I told Dan . . . that he ought to regard that request in the same way he would regard a request from the mayor. He ought to do what he felt was in the commission’s best interest to do.”

Councilman Nate Holden, who said the vote “bothered the whole council,” attributed it to influence by Bradley or Fabiani. “There’s no bad blood in my book,” Holden said. “It’s called the art of politics, and that’s what everyone is playing.”

Several other council members, however, conceded that the commission might have taken action on Thursday even if Fabiani was not involved, since the City Council has no formal power over the appointed panel.

The extent of Fabiani’s influence over mayoral decisions has been an unanswered question since Fabiani was promoted from the mayor’s attorney to chief of staff late in 1989, replacing the media-bashing Mike Gage.

Critics, including a number of supporters of Gates, have accused Fabiani of orchestrating the drive to oust the embattled police chief. Picus said the mayor has taken a more aggressive, high-profile role in battling Gates than he might have without Fabiani’s persistent advice.

“The decisions have been wrong all along . . . (and) a lot of these things are unlike Tom,” Picus said.

Another council member, who asked not to be identified, said of Fabiani: “I think he’s spearheading the whole campaign and it’s detrimental to the mayor. I don’t think it could have been handled any worse.”

Councilman Michael Woo disagreed, saying Bradley calls his own shots. “I don’t think Mark Fabiani is the driving force here,” Woo said. “To say Mark Fabiani is the driving force (to oust Gates) makes the whole controversy sound like a conspiracy. . . .”

Woo added, however, that “there has been a track record of bad relationships between some council members and Fabiani,” which could continue to fuel the political fight. “It could make an uneasy situation more difficult.”

Fabiani, who has consistently denied shaping mayoral policy, said Friday that nothing has changed in that regard.

“The mayor calls on the advice of a lot of people both inside and outside the office and after hearing from people he makes a decision,” the deputy mayor said. “The mayor makes all of the decisions . . . and those who think otherwise are fooling themselves.”

Times staff writer Glenn F. Bunting contributed to this story.

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