A Monday Story on the Remarkable Life of Michael Higby
The founder and editor of Mayor Sam’s Sister City, who had long grappled with a serious illness, was found unresponsive in his vehicle on Wednesday following a visit to the dentist, said Scott Johnson, principal blogger of the Mayor Sam’s site.
“Michael was the most devoted blogger on city affairs and through Mayor Sam, really helped generate a lot of blogging and community activism, which was a great contribution to the civic life of Los Angeles,” said Ron Kaye, former Daily News editor and blogger.
Higby’s blog was reflective of much of the Internet — “it was a loose cannon that sometimes hit home runs and sometimes did foul things but that’s what the public conversation is supposed to be about. It’s about everyone having their say,” Kaye said. “Mayor Sam was the first important site that brought attention to the fact that the public could speak up and be heard.”
Higby, a Sunland-Tujunga resident, was the principal blogger at the site for years and his populist blog has given many disaffected parties in the city a voice on important issues such as development, density, leadership and cronyism and the environment, said Bart Reed, executive director of the San Fernando Valley-based The Transit Coalition, a nonprofit dealing with land-use planning, transit advocacy and goods movement serving Southern California.
Higby, who took an interest in local politics and transportation issues, started the colorful Mayor Sam blog with City Hall insiders in 2004 and it soon earned itself a sizeable following, he said. Though Higby’s role and the blog’s following had diminished in recent years, the site was used as a platform by those who had information they wanted to get out that would not be published in traditional media, Reed said.
Activists used the blog, for example, to voice opposition to a proposed Home Depot store in Sunland, which was successfully blocked years ago. In 2010, Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale threatened legal action against Higby and Johnson for scathing reports about the politician that Gatto, who was then seeking a full two year term after winning a special election, said were defamatory. Higby yielded, saying he couldn’t afford a legal fight.
Higby was a San Fernando Valley influencer whose political opinions likely played a role in the victories of Councilman Paul Krekorian in 2009 as well as Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (D-San Fernando) last year, which was considered the biggest Assembly upset in the last two decades, said local political and cultural writer Joseph Mailander, a friend of Higby’s.
“He had a lot of influence ... in the Valley,” Mailander said. “He knew how to approach it at the right time and in the right kind of media.”
At a time that it was controversial, Higby also actively campaigned and worked to ensure the Metro Red Line came to the San Fernando Valley, Reed said.
Higby’s illness resulted in his large size and a dragging leg and while he could have easily considered himself disabled, he never wanted to, Mailander said. In fact, he had been the main caretaker of his mother, who died just weeks before he did, he said. And despite his challenges, Higby’s sense of humor, wit, self-reliance and courage made him a joy to be around, he said.
Higby worked as a senior business development manager for North Hollywood-based SADA Systems, Inc., was a former radio talk show host and served as the vice president of the Universal City-North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in 2008.
He also revived the Universal City-North Hollywood Jaycees or Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1998 after a nearly 25-year hiatus, said Liza Standish, former administrative assistant for the Universal City-North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and vice president of community outreach for the Jaycees, a civic organization for business and community leaders between the ages of 18 and 40.
“Michael was the funniest, sweetest guy ever,” Standish said. “He had a way of taking a very unfunny situation and he would find the humor in it and turn it around and make everyone feel better for a little while anyway...He could have been a very good stand-up comic had he focused on it but his heart wasn’t in it. His heart was in politics and the Valley.”
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