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Zine won't vote on LAX contract because he's dating employee of a bidder

December 30, 2010 |  3:51 pm

Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine said Thursday that he would recuse himself from voting on a controversial $271- million airport contract to avoid “any appearance of impropriety” regarding his romantic relationship with a woman who works for one of the companies that sought the contract.

In a prepared statement, Zine said he sees no conflict of interest stemming from his relationship with Veronica Becerra, who works for Tutor Perini, which tried without success to secure the contract to build the Central Utility Plant at Los Angeles International Airport.

Becerra’s relationship was first reported by the Daily Breeze. Zine said he made his decision after consulting the city attorney’s office, which advised him that “the law is not entirely clear on whether or not a legal conflict of interest exists.”

“My hope is that by voluntarily removing myself from this discussion, it will not distract from the importance of this multi-million-dollar contract,” he said.

Mike Molina, deputy executive director for Los Angeles World Airports, said he respects Zine’s decision on the contract, which comes up for a vote Tuesday. The airport agency has recommended that the construction contract go to the joint venture known as Clark/McCarthy, not Tutor Perini.

Despite his plan for a recusal, Zine has already voted on the issue once, persuading his colleagues on Dec. 17 to delay a decision on the lucrative deal for two weeks. He cast that vote while Becerra was sitting in the audience.

Minutes after he did so, Becerra said she was, at least on some level, romantically linked to the councilman. “We date. It’s not a big thing,” she said.

During her interview with The Times, she also said she did not see any reason for him to recuse himself on the issue.

“He dates a lot of women in this building. He would have to back out of a lot of things” if he began stepping aside on matters involving those women, she said.

During that interview, Becerra described herself as a public relations representative of Tutor Perini. She told The Times that she had asked for the delay on her own behalf, not her client. Becerra sharply criticized the bidding process for the utility plant contract and said she asked eight council members, including Zine, for a postponement.

[Updated at 7:10 p.m.: On the Ethics Commission website, Becerra is listed as a lobbyist with Rabuild Commercial. That firm, in turn, was listed as one of Tutor Perini’s lobbying firms in 2010.]

[Correction: A previous version of this post said: Despite those conversations, Becerra has not registered as a lobbyist for Tutor Perini, according to the city’s Ethics Commission website. That site lists her as a lobbyist for Rabuild Commercial.]

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-- David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

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