History doesn’t repeat, but in Los Angeles sometimes it rhymes something fierce.
In the first verse, we’ve got Chicago émigré Raymond Chandler, the early 20th century downtown oil man who suppressed his literary ambitions while rising in the business world and taking careful note of the public corruption and private depravity that played out among the city’s rich and powerful. Later, he’d weave real life scandals into the cases investigated by his detective alter ego Philip Marlowe, and elegantly skewer people who probably deserved it.
In the second verse, it’s almost a century later, and Chinese émigré Raymond Chan is rising in Los Angeles city government, from LADWP structural engineer to LADBS General Manager to Deputy Mayor in the administration of Eric Garcetti, before he was indicted as “Individual 1” in the FBI’s investigation of councilman Jose Huizar and charged with RICO conspiracy, bribery, honest services fraud and lying to federal agents.
Earlier this month, City Hall critic Eric Preven shared vintage City Council video of what he called the Ray Chan Love Fest 2017, a fawning civic tribute to the outgoing administrator on the occasion of his delayed retirement. Unknown to all but a few, Operation Casino Loyale was then wrapping up, with some in the City Family being surveilled by the FBI, others wearing wires to trap their cronies in crimes and carve some time off their own prison sentences.
In the video, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s then Chief of Staff (and queen of the mean girls) Ana Guerrero gushed about Chan and how glad she was that his leadership wisdom had been captured for posterity in book form.
We immediately put in a public records request for Chan’s book, and today received What Successful LADBS Leaders Do and How to Do It in its original form, as a PowerPoint presentation. Produced with civic resources and on government time, it is yours to “enjoy.”
Although this presentation purports to instruct LADBS managers how to supervise, praise, empower and discipline their team the Ray Chan way, it can also be read as a how-to guide to psychologically profiling and manipulating underlings to elicit maximum loyalty and performance.
Did Ray Chan play his alleged co-conspirator Jose Huizar like a fiddle, using LADBS leadership strategies to reward the corrupt councilmember with low-value perks (money, women, gambling trips, ego strokes), receiving in return enormously lucrative land use votes for the benefit of Chan’s developer associates? Perhaps.
We’re glad we have a copy of What Successful LADBS Leaders Do and How to Do It, even though it’s mostly corny and boring, with mildly amusing oddities like the stock image of a criminal in stocks, leadership comparisons between Ghandi and Hitler, and the subtly scatological Ray’s Elephant metaphor. These corny, boring ideas are at the core of the massive public corruption scandal that has laid waste to the city we love, and they need to be dragged into the light and killed.
Plus there’s a bonus item that was also included in the materials we were sent: a PowerPoint on Ray’s TCB Calendar System. This is a guide for using a physical day planner to maximize efficiency—and perhaps not coincidentally keep one’s appointments away from pesky public records sleuths and CEQA attorneys—illustrated with Chan’s appointments for the week of September 7-14, 2015. Land use corruption watchers will spot some intriguing items, like the seismically unsound Millennium Project (whose counsel and lobbyist, Sheppard, Mullin employed Chan’s son Jeremy) and Mohamed Hadid’s since demolished 901 Strada Vecchia mega mansion. If you spot anything else, please let us know in the comments below.
“Ray Chan” is a fiction, a genial, hardworking leader with a hand-written day planner and a concierge-like approach to servicing the developers who juiced the city’s tax rolls and made it so hard to live here. She Wah Kwong rose to the highest level of Los Angeles city government bearing an Americanized name that deliberately referenced the L.A. Noir era when the rackets were run out of City Hall with police protection.
Maybe that’s just a coincidence. Maybe it’s a joke at the expense of Angelenos, who were once naive enough to trust the politicians who lied to us as their political appointees stripped this gorgeous city for parts. But that was before we read What Successful LADBS Leaders Do and How to Do It, or the RICO indictments. We know better now, and we won’t get fooled again.