"Listen! I am all for openness in government. I am for letting the people see how this place works," crowed Carmen Trutanich, fresh from winning the Los Angeles City Attorney's post in 2009. Seemed like a breath of fresh air in an office where transparency had never been legendary. But when a slew of issues engulfed him, Trutanich vanished — for months.
I was a reporter for KABC Radio at the time, but my interview requests were denied daily by his handlers. "Press conferences aren’t Carmen’s thing," they said. Odd, since there were so many issues in the air.
Why did Trutanich claim there was criminal activity surrounding Michael Jackson’s memorial service? Why wouldn't he drop that stale, expensive, intramural lawsuit against the City Controller left over from from Delgadillo days? Why threaten to throw City Councilwoman Jan Perry in jail? What’s up with that?
Still, Trutanich demurred. His first news conference, held within hours of taking office, was looking like it might be his last. So I called him on it in late October of that year on John Phillips' show, saying that trying to find Trutanich was like playing Where's Waldo? We know he's in City Hall someplace. But where? Trutanich went ballistic.
Within hours, L.A.'s City Attorney summoned KABC's Vice President and General Manager, and its programmer, to his office in City Hall East where he ranted for the better part of an hour about his splendid achievements, how he was a paragon of virtue in a city that had lost its way, and that any criticism of his record was irresponsible and unjustified.
My bosses sat quietly, enduring the tirade, declining to defend their news operation's First Amendment rights or challenging Trutanich's trampling of them. Seemed pointless given the ferocity of the Trutanich's bluster.
My programmer had heard blowhard politicos rail before, knew instinctively that his reporter was on to something, and brushed it off with a wink and a nod. But KABC's now-departed general manager had been cowed.
Covering Carmen became tricky business from that day forward. Who knew what mischief the City Attorney might make for the station? Trutanich demanded air time and got it — but insisted I was to be excluded from participating in the conversation in which in he praised himself lavishly.
All of this came roaring back after Trutanich's humiliating defeat in his run for the D.A.'s office this week. My skirmish with the power of Trutanich's bully pulpit went unreported among a series of fatal missteps that spelled the end of his candidacy. Thankfully, other journalists, talk show hosts and Fox 11 challenged the guy with the backing of admirably courageous management.
Waldo Carmen says he'll be back for a second term as City Attorney, but he won't be a district attorney any time soon. Given my experience, I say voters made a very good call.