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Former Councilman Art Snyder, a City Hall 'character,' dead at 79

November 7, 2012 |  5:02 pm

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Former Los Angeles City Councilman Arthur K. Snyder, a famously colorful figure who spent nearly two decades in office while contending with an array of personal, legal and political troubles, died Wednesday in Huntington Beach at the age of 79.

Snyder died in his sleep, according to Emerson Duque, a family friend. A cause of death has not yet been determined.

Snyder represented a swath of northeast Los Angeles neighborhoods from 1967 to 1985, only to see his career as a lobbyist marred by a campaign money-laundering scandal after he left office. Harvey Englander, a lobbyist who ran Snyder’s final council race, described him as “a character in the days when City Hall was filled with characters.”

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“He was a red-haired, blue-eyed Irishman who spoke fluent Spanish and kept getting reelected even though his district became a mostly Latino district,” Englander said. “He was always back-slapping, always jovial, always making a deal.”

Snyder was born Nov. 10, 1932, in Los Angeles. He attended Los Angeles City College, Pepperdine University and USC. He tried without success to win a seat in the state Assembly in 1958 and got a job soon afterward as chief deputy to Councilman John C. Holland. After Holland retired from office, Snyder ran for the seat himself, winning in 1967. He was reelected four times.

From almost the beginning, Snyder charted a path atypical for most politicians. In 1973, he made headlines by eloping with a 19-year-old aide. A year later, he survived a recall attempt. In 1980, a jury deadlocked on drunk driving charges that had been filed against him. And three years after that, Snyder managed to avoid a runoff by just 3 votes.

Snyder prided himself on his work on public safety issues, pushing for the initiation of helicopter patrols, paramedic service and anti-gang programs. He also touted his record of adding branch libraries, recreational facilities and affordable housing projects to his Eastside district, which stretched from Boyle Heights to Eagle Rock.

Snyder’s political luck ran out in 1985, when he faced a formidable opponent in then-Assemblyman Richard Alatorre. Instead of running for another term, Snyder abruptly stepped down. By then, he was embroiled in a brutal child custody battle that included allegations of child molestation. Although law enforcement looked into those allegations, charges were never filed, said his lawyer, Mark Geragos.

Once out of office, Snyder set up a lobbying practice at City Hall. But that work was disrupted in 1995, when Snyder faced conspiracy and money-laundering charges. His misdemeanor criminal convictions were upheld by the California Supreme Court five years later.

Geragos, who defended Snyder against the money-laundering charges, said Snyder maintained his upbeat nature even in the midst of scandal.

“He always had a delightful positive outlook on life,” Geragos said. “In the face of all of that, he still was quite an incredible force of nature.”

Geragos, whose father represented Snyder during his child custody and divorce proceedings, called the former politician a “larger-than-life character in every way.”

In recent years, Snyder shifted away from the political world and became the proprietor of a Huntington Beach tiki lounge, Don the Beachcomber.

Snyder would have turned 80 on Saturday. He is survived by Delia, his wife of 31 years, and his children from two previous marriages, sons Neely and Miles, and a daughter, Erin.

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-- Kate Linthcum and David Zahniser at Los Angeles City Hall

twitter.com/katelinthicum

twitter.com/DavidZahniser

Photo: Los Angeles City Councilman Art Snyder in 1984. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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