Blowing Smoke, Breathing Fire (Part I)

The Fang family rides tabloid journalism and hardball politics to the winner's circle

Regardless, the hit pieces paid off for Ted Fang. Hallinan won -- by a thin margin -- and made Fang co-chair of his transition team where the newspaperman is now advising the DA on hiring and firing. Fang played a key role in the hiring of the No. 2 assistant in the office, former private attorney and federal prosecutor Marla Miller.

And while Ted Fang rewarded his friends, he apparently sought to punish his enemies.

The first to be shown the door by Hallinan was John Majka, the chief investigator for the office. Ted Fang says that during the race, he requested information on Fazio from Majka, and that the investigator was rude to him.

"He acted very unprofessionally," Fang says. The publisher admits to conveying this impression to Hallinan before Hallinan fired Majka.

Majka did not return phone calls seeking comment. But two sources in the DA's Office to whom Majka has spoken confirm that he believes he was fired as a result of the conversation with Fang.

Fang's influence on the nonsalaried transition team extends beyond his appointment. Also on the Hallinan transition team are the following Fang associates:

* David Balibanian, the Fangs' longtime attorney whose law firm, McCutchen, Doyle, Brown & Enersen, has represented the family in its two suits against the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, the business arm of the Examiner and the Chronicle. The firm has also represented the Fangs in their real estate purchases and in a lawsuit resulting from alleged campaign finance violations in the 1991 mayor's race.

* Samson Wong, the Independent's field manager and former organizer of the Asian-American Voters Project. The Common Cause complaint alleges that far from being an independent committee, the AAVP was established by James Fang in 1991 to illegally funnel contributions to the "Frank Jordan for Mayor" campaign.

* Capt. Richard Cairns, a friend of the family and a close associate of Jack Davis, the local political consultant who ran Willie Brown's mayoral campaign. Davis takes a yearly vacation with Ted Fang and calls the Fangs "my family in San Francisco." (Cairns was Davis' pick for police chief and the flash point of the recent rumble between Davis and Brown's choice for chief, Fred Lau.)

What Fang is hoping to gain from his cozy relationship with the new DA is open to question. He says he's just making sure the new DA pays attention to the needs of San Francisco's neighborhoods. After all, Fang notes, looking out for San Francisco's neighborhoods is his newspaper's mission.

But Fazio has a different theory.
"The Fangs obviously thought they would help Hallinan by bringing me down, and why they helped Hallinan is they thought, maybe, that Hallinan would guarantee that nothing would happen to them if there was any investigation [into the Fangs]," Fazio says.

Given Hallinan's long-standing pledges to get tough on pols who violate the Political Reform Act and other election laws, it's inconceivable that the Fangs could purchase immunity from the new DA.

Hallinan dismisses the suggestion that he'd go light on the Fangs if they do run afoul of the law. "I will discharge my duty," he says firmly.

Hallinan defends the Fazio series in the Independent.
"Listen, I'm not so cavalier about Fazio's behavior," Hallinan adds. "I'm not going to tell you why because of my position. But I wouldn't make any accusations about the Independent if I were you."

The district attorney's race is only the latest in a string of political and business successes for the Fang family.

The Fangs intensified their involvement in local politics in 1990, when James Fang ran for the BART board. Suddenly he became the subject of Page One Independent stories, and his campaign literature depicted him in the paper's newsroom posed before a desk and plaque saying "comptroller," even though, a source says, he had nothing to do with the running of the paper.

It wasn't until the 1991 Jordan campaign for mayor that the Fangs revealed their willingness to play for keeps. According to Ted Fang, Jordan campaign manager Jack Davis mediated the hiring of Warren Hinckle, whom the paper unleashed on Art Agnos. The first column was edited by Davis and Jordan campaign press secretary Dee Dee Myers, an eyewitness says. Ted Fang then compiled the series in The Agnos Years booklet and distributed it just days prior to the runoff election.

In 1993, Pan Asia Venture Capital Corp., the family's business arm, bought seven weekly newspapers on the Peninsula, giving the Fangs immense power to shape public opinion and affect political contests from Redwood City in the south to San Bruno in the north.

The next year, James Fang won his re-election bid for the BART board, even as he had to pay his $22,000 FPPC fine, and the family won at the ballot box with Proposition J, the initiative wresting from the Examiner a quarter-of-a-million-dollar contract to publish public notices. Prop. J was so specifically written to benefit the Independent that it could have been called the Independent Relief Act of 1994. (Sources at the Independent say the public notices contract is the difference between breaking even and making money for the newspaper.)

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