Former Los Angeles City Council member Art Snyder, a U.S. Marines captain, lawyer and lobbyist whose political career was derailed by an influence-peddling scheme, died Wednesday. He was 79.
Snyder died in his sleep in Huntington Beach three days shy of his 80th birthday, according to the management of Don the Beachcomber, the Huntington Beach restaurant he owned.
"We are saddened to bring such news, but this morning November 7th at 1:10am owner, Arthur Snyder passed away in his sleep," a message posted on the restaurant's Facebook page said.
Snyder served on the City Council from July 6, 1967 to Oct. 4, 1985, representing the Eastside Council District 14, which included El Sereno, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Glassell Park and part of Los Feliz.
In a news statement from his office, CD14 Council member Josè Huizar mourned the news of Snyder's passing. “Art was a colorful character and a throwback politician who marched to the beat of his own drum," Huizar said. "Through it all, [he] faithfully represented an ever-changing Council District 14 for nearly two decades and for that, we all owe him a huge debt." Added Huizar: "My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, family and friends.”
Harvey Englander, a lobbyist who ran Snyder's fourth and final re-election to the city council, described the politician to the Los Angeles Times as “a character in the days when City Hall was filled with characters.” Snyder, said Englander, was “a red-haired, blue-eyed Irishman who spoke fluent Spanish and kept getting reelected even though his district became a mostly Latino district.”
Snyder was born in the Lincoln Heights area on Nov. 10, 1932. He attended Los Angeles City College as well as Pepperdine University before getting a law degree from the University of Southern California.
Shortly after Snyder ran uncussessfully for a seat in the state assembly in 1958, he worked as chief deputy to City Council member John C. Holland, succeeding him in office in 1967.
Snyder was known for working on public safety issues, including helicopter patrols, and for adding branch libraries, besides helping create affordable housing in his district. (The most notable of these affordable housing projects in Eagle Rock carries his name—Art Snyder Villas, located on 1536 Yosemite Dr., near Townsend Avenue.)
Snyder "cared deeply about his constituents and served them admirably,'' Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich said. "Fighting for increased patrols, emergency services and anti-gang programs, Art was a champion for law enforcement—and believed strongly that public safety should be a top priority."
Scandals frequently rocked Snyder's unconventional political career. In 1973, a year before surviving a recall attempt, he reportedly eloped with a 19-year-old aide. He was charged with drunk driving in 1980, but a jury deadlocked during his trial, according to the Times. Three years later, he survived a runoff by just three votes.
Eagle Rock photographer Henk Friezer, who photographed the colorful councilman on numerous occasions for a chain of Northeast LA newspapers (most recently with President Bill Clinton), recalls Snyder as a most free-spirited character but a terrible driver. During one assignment, said Friezer, he rode with Snyder in the councilman's car on their way to a heliport in Los Angeles. "I have a fear of heights," Friezer said. "But boy, was I glad to get out of that car and into the helicopter."
Snyder, who owned a house in Eagle Rock, became a successful lobbyist after leaving the council. But his career was derailed when he was accused of illicitly funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to state and city candidates through a network of associates and his law firm between 1989 and 1992.
To avoid a trial on felony conspiracy charges, Snyder pleaded guilty to nine misdemeanor counts involving the laundering of campaign contributions.
He was sentenced to six months in jail, fined $216,000 and banned from representing clients at City Hall for a four-year period.
Snyder appealed and won a stay of the sentence. A three-judge appellate panel subsequently dismissed the convictions, unanimously ruling that Snyder's failure to report all contributions he made through others could, at most, subjected him to civil fines.
In 2001, Snyder had his law license suspended for six months by the State Bar, which also put him on probation for three years. A U.S. Marine captain from 1952 to 1955, he admitted to "moral turpitude'' and cooperated with the State Bar's investigation and probation, according to the Bar's website.
Art The Beachcomber
That same year, Snyder purchased the Don the Beachcomber brand and in
2009 bought the Huntington Beach restaurant named after the famous, free-
spirited Donn Beach, the father of tiki restaurants and reputed inventor of the
mai tai cocktail.
The restaurant released a statement Wednesday, saying the thrice-married father of three "will leave a legacy for ages to come, but what he left in everyone's hearts will last a lifetime.''
Snyder was a regular presence at the restaurant and served as its "ambassador,'' said Mona Shah-Anderson, a former consultant for the eatery.
Snyder is survived by Delia Wu, his wife of 31 years, who hailed from a prominent shipping family, his children from two previous marriages, sons Neely and Miles, and a daughter, Erin-Marisol (after whom Via Marisol, a street in Highland Park, is evidently named). Burial plans were pending, but a celebration of his life is planned on Saturday, Nov. 10, at Don the Beachcomber in the Longboard Room from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
—City News Service contributed to this report.