Mayor Sam scoops the Times—about itself *

HigbyThe political blog Mayor Sam's Sister City is not anonymous any longer. Two of the ring-leaders came out of the closet in a post today, after the Times asked them to confirm or deny that they were the secret bloggers. It turns out one, as some suspected, was a campaign operative for mayoral candidate and Villaraigosa campaign chair Bob Hertzberg. Hertzberg denied any knowledge of the connection and told the Times he probably would have stopped it if he knew. The poster who used the pseud "Mayor Sam" and who says he started the blog is Michael Higby, the Chairman and past president of the California Junior Chamber of Commerce. That's him in the pic. He Googles as a 40-year-old political and community volunteer in the Valley who is Corporate Communications Manager of Investors Management Trust, if his online resume is up to date. The more interesting name is Brian Hay, who says he was the site's "Mayor Frank." Hay was Chief Information Officer for Hertzberg's mayoral campaign and more recently has overseen Hertzberg's website BigIdeas4LA. As editor of the Hertzblog's news digest, he often promoted Mayor Sam's gossip. Today's post did not disclose any other identities, even though the blog has claimed to have four regular anonymous contributors. The early, web-only Times story by City Hall reporter Steve Hymon says that Mike Trujillo, a spokesman for Rob Reiner's school initiative, also confirmed that he had played a "key role." He is a Villaraigosa supporter who is active in the San Fernando Valley Young Democrats.

HertzbergIt will be interesting to see how this plays out. Higby posts that he intends to keep the site going, "continuing its mission of shedding light on local government." I wouldn't be surprised, however, if the bloggers get some personal and professional backlash. They didn't confine their posts to spinning issues and pursuing political agendas. They hid behind anonymity to—sometimes—insult people they have to work with if they intend to stay in the local political swirl. They also have tried to intimidate journalists. Hertzberg, too, may have some 'splaining to do. In the Times story, Hay confirmed that he was posting anonymous items while also working for Hertzberg, but he argues that it was high-minded: "A lot of times the mainstream media is under a lot of different pressures from editors, you have things that you can't do or things that would never make the L.A. Times, so we provided a location for those insiders and hacks to go and do what they like to do. The water cooler chat. That's all it is."

In an email reply this afternoon, Higby told me: "As of right now, only Brian and myself have agreed to out ourselves and leave it to all our other participants to make their own decisions as to what they wish to do." Coincidentally, Mayor Sam's Sister City just got a "web site of the month" nod in the September issue of Los Angeles magazine. From the Buzzcuts section: "For a crotchety perspective on local politics that stretches beyond the grave."

(Disclosure: I've been a target of personal insults and attempted attacks on my journalistic integrity by both Higby and Hay in their secret identities, as well as the subject of misinformation at their site. But I'm just glad to know who they aren't. When I interview City Hall aides, I prefer not to wonder if they are the one who keeps calling me "full of shit" online. Here's another reason I'm not a big fan of blogs that abuse anonymity: I've recently been having a pleasant and supportive email exchange with Hay about some issues in his life. While I didn't know that he was also the "Mayor Frank" who talks trash about me online, he did. A bit unfair, I'd say.)

* In print: In Friday's Daily News, Trujillo says he was one of several people to fill the blog's "Chief Parker" role and was involved only briefly. The story calls him an unpaid volunteer on the 2005 Villaraigosa campaign, and says a Reiner spokesman denied knowledge of the blog. Hay says in the DN story that he became active after Hertzberg lost the mayoral primary. In Friday's Times story, however, Hay says that he was active while running the Hertzberg campaign website. Hay, 29, also says that ten different bloggers have posted as Mayor Sam, Mayor Frank and Chief Parker. He argues that the loss of anonymity will be good for the site by letting its authors openly check out information at City Hall. Trujillo, 26, told the Times his stretch overlapped with the Villaraigosa campaign for mayor. 12:55 a.m. Friday

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