Ace Smith, the strategist behind Antonio Villaraigosa's win in 2005, is now working on the presidential campaign of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. The weekend San Francisco Chronicle called him a pro at digging up dirt who is feared by Democrats and resented by Republicans. The piece by Carla Marinucci sheds perhaps some light on how the "ethics issue" was turned against then-mayor Jim Hahn in 2005 through the investigation of DWP overbilling by Fleishman-Hillard.
Smith, 48, is genteel, soft-spoken and bespectacled -- but also is the epitome of a take-no-prisoners political operative who has built a reputation as a dogged researcher and, more recently, a winning California campaign manager, political allies and opponents agree....
"He's extremely experienced, bright and aggressive ... but he's frequently over the top," said GOP strategist Kevin Spillane, the former spokesman for Poochigian's campaign. "Ace won't let the truth get in the way of his attacks, and he was always willing to say for Jerry [Brown] that up is down and down is up."
Poochigian adviser Ken Khachigian, an attorney and an aide to former President Ronald Reagan, agrees. He lauds Smith as "very skilled," but adds, "Ace fits in with the boiler-room attack mentality of the Hillary crowd. The strategy there is rip your lungs out."
It was a bare-knuckled strategy that marked the race for Villaraigosa, a candidate whose first try at the mayor's office in Los Angeles was derailed by intensely personal attacks from Hahn that included a famous TV ad featuring a grainy image of Villaraigosa and a crack pipe.
Sean Clegg, a former SCN partner who is now Villaraigosa's deputy mayor for communications, said Smith was fearless about fighting back for his client in the rematch. He said he was skeptical when Smith unearthed "an obscure billing scandal in the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power" and predicted -- correctly, it turned out -- that it would have a corrosive effect on Hahn's support.
"He saw the power of that issue because Antonio ran a race centered on the issues of ethics and trust,'' Clegg said.
Smith, the son of former San Francisco DA Arlo Smith, also worked here for Richard Riordan's campaign for mayor.
Photo: San Francisco Chronicle / Mark Costantini