Zahniser to Times

Now this should get interesting. LA Weekly political reporter David Zahniser, the hottest property on the City Hall beat, is jumping to the L.A. Times to cover Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. I don't know what it means for Duke Helfand, who has been on the Antonio beat for the Times, but the hire should mean sharper, deeper and less friendly coverage of the mayor. Zahniser's former editor at the Weekly, Alan Mittelstaedt, breaks the news at WitnessLA.

He’s had a wonderful run of stories in the Weekly and played a major role in efforts over the past several years to turn up the heat on political leaders of all stripes. Last October, David stunned L.A.’s power elite with a cover story that raised questions about the final hours of Miguel Contreras, whose death in 2005 was blamed on a heart attack. In fact, the labor boss collapsed and lost consciousness while visiting a South L.A. botanica, which would be closed down six months later during a prostitution raid. In one of the story’s more intense moments, David recreated the scene in the emergency room, where Contreras’ allies bullied doctors and coroner’s officials into not ordering an autopsy that would have made the circumstances surrounding his death a matter of public record....

What makes David so valuable is his depth, commitment and intense desire to be first with a story–all attributes that describe a good reporter, but to the millionth degree in his case. He chases down leads on weekends, to every part of the city. If someone won’t return a phone call, expect to see David paying a special home visit...

David not only breaks news, but his on-the-spot study of Los Angeles gives him a profound understanding of the various forces at play, political and otherwise, and he is often first to analyze a trend. Last month, in a 12,000-word cover package, “What’s So Smart about Smart Growth?” he examined the planning disasters, the unflagging congestion and the phony claims by developers and politicians that call into question the promise of the so-called smart growth movement in Los Angeles. Another cover story, “Welcome to Gentrification City,” showed David the urbanist and sociologist at work.

Great move for Zahniser, who reportedly chafed at working with Jill Stewart at the Weekly — and also a great move by the Times, which gets arguably the best reporter covering City Hall. Los Angeles magazine profiled Zahniser last year. The photo above shows Villaraigosa, press secretary Janelle Erickson and Zahniser at last weekend's Los Angeles Press Club awards dinner.

Photo: Alan Mittelstaedt

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