Sacramento Bee reporter Aurelio Rojas visits with Doug Dowie (his former boss at UPI) in today's paper and says the story of the ex-editor and Fleishman-Hillard power broker "has parallels to that of the fictional Jay Gatsby, but challenges another construct of author F. Scott Fitzgerald -- that there are no second acts in American lives." That's a reference to Dowie's sale of a screenplay and his wish to complete another — both of them set in the world of local politics and blogs — before he reports to federal prison. In the Bee story, Dowie contends he is innocent of any crimes in the over-billing of PR services to the city's Department of Water and Power: "I didn't do anything that Fleishman-Hillard didn't know I was doing. In fact, most of the time I was following their instructions." In the excerpts I've posted after the jump, journalists remember what it was like working for Dowie, and Villaraigosa adviser Richard Katz says that Dowie got a bum deal from the feds. Via email to LA Observed, Dowie calls the piece "over wrought...I was never that powerful."
At Fleishman-Hillard, Dowie built a lucrative public affairs practice by trading on his close ties to the mayor and hiring mayoral aides and newspaper reporters. His critics accuse him of creating a revolving door at City Hall, a charge he denies. But to the scores of people in media, public relations and politics who have worked for Dowie, his case has taken on cinematic proportions.
Central casting could not have created a more polarizing figure. With his blowtorch voice, Dowie could be as gruff as Tony Soprano -- and as charming.
His critics call him a demeaning taskmaster who ran his offices like a drill sergeant and, in the end, got his comeuppance.
"He could be unbelievably brutal, both in an interpersonal sense and a professional sense," said Catherine Gewertz, who worked for Dowie in the 1980s -- as did this reporter -- when he ran the Los Angeles bureau of United Press International.
In sentencing Dowie, U.S. District Judge Gary Feess called Dowie "an extremely calculating man" who used intimidation and humiliation to get his way.
But Deirdre Childress, who worked for Dowie at UPI and at the Daily News, said he was one of the "smartest and hardest-working" journalists she has met.
"People who consider him brusque have to consider that part that's because he was a perfectionist about their work," said Childress, now an editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Former Democratic Assemblyman Richard Katz, who hired Dowie to run his Los Angeles office for a year after he left journalism, said Dowie tackled political assignments "like Marines see taking a hill."
Katz calls Dowie a victim of City Hall politics intended to weaken Hahn, unseated in 2005 by former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.
"This was a billing dispute that got caught up in the whole pay-to-play investigations that were going after Mayor Hahn," Katz said. "And frankly, the feds needed a scalp."
Dowie said the allegations swirling around Hahn, who until then had a reputation as a boring but honest elected official, paved the way for Villaraigosa to become the city's first Latino mayor in modern times.
"Antonio was able to accuse Hahn of being the most investigated mayor in City Hall history," Dowie said. "Not the most corrupt, (but) the most investigated."
Dowie contends he was the victim of similar spurious allegations by anonymous sources in newspaper stories and political blogs -- thus his screenplay's title.
Photo: Sacramento Bee/Brian Baer