What the (Third) World Needs Now

Gaddi Vasquez led the county into the 1994 bankruptcy. Now hes poised to run the Bush-era Peace Corps

Former Orange County supervisor Guadalupe "Gaddi" Vasquez says he isn't granting interviews until Congress approves his July 25 presidential nomination to serve as director of the Peace Corps.

That's probably a wise strategy. Vasquez, you may recall, led the county into the $1.7 billion bankruptcy in 1994 and then refused to accept any responsibility for the largest municipal calamity in modern financial history. Though a self-described fiscal conservative, Vasquez hired (at public expense) a $285-per-hour public-relations guru from Los Angeles to spin favorable post-bankruptcy news stories for himself and the other four supervisors. That plan failed, too, and 10 months after the bankruptcy, Vasquez fled office, claiming he wanted to spend time with his family. He made no mention of the fact that he faced a recall election, a grand jury investigation and an 11 percent approval rating.

Politics does strange things to people's egos, and Vasquez—once the cocky "rising Latino star" of California Republicans—was no exception. For years, GOP power brokers had showered the right-winger from a Texas hellhole with dinners, limousine rides and talk of the governor's mansion or a U.S. Senate seat. Early in his political career, Merrill Lynch, one of the Wall Street bad boys in the bankruptcy, had privately deemed Vasquez a "good investment" and pampered him. It was understandable, if despicable, when the supervisor contemptuously stared down citizens who wanted answers about his role in the bankruptcy.

Vasquez names Richard Nixon as his hero; like Nixon, he had a hard time leaving his dream world. On his last day in office in September 1995, the two-term supervisor summarized his legacy this way: "When I leave this building, I can do so with a sense of fulfillment that I leave a house in very good order."

The man was disgraced—except among the corporate crowd he had served so single-mindedly in office. They helped Vasquez land a cushy, six-figure job in the public-relations department at Southern California Edison—a publicly subsidized company with close ties to the Republican Party. (In addition to Vasquez, company PR employees have included Bob Dornan's top congressional aide, Brian Bennett; the Irvine Co.'s Mike Stockstill; and Orange County GOP co-chairperson Jo Ellen Allen.) Within four months of his exit from public life, there were two fancy parties ("business attire only") for Vasquez. The people who paid for them—corporate lobbyists and Newport Beach real-estate developers—said they wanted to thank the ex-supe for his "public service."

Local taxpayers will be thanking Vasquez for at least another 27 years. That is how long it will take to pay off a bankruptcy debt he was instrumental in creating. Last year alone, residents shelled out an extra $45 million just for county interest payments on bankruptcy debt. In the not-so-distant future, we will pay more than $80 million per year. None of the money will ever go to improve roads, schools, public safety or health care.

But who wants to talk reality when it comes to the ex-supervisor? Certainly not The Orange County Register (which, without attribution or evidence, claimed Vasquez had re-established his credibility) or the Los Angeles Times (which inanely asserted that the new job will "ensure Vasquez a measure of global celebrity"). Hurrah!

Five daily reporters on the nomination story at both papers neglected to even hint that Vasquez—who has worked as a cop, a PR flack, a political fund-raiser and a failed supervisor—might not be qualified to manage an internationally renowned federal assistance agency with offices in 77 countries and an annual budget of $275 million. Combined, the papers published 15 quotations, all of which glowingly supported Vasquez. The most ludicrous line came in the Times from fellow Republican and Edison employee Allen: "It's a job tailor-made for Gaddi."

The Bush White House has made clear why it selected Vasquez. "Bush will appoint [a] Hispanic to head Peace Corps," an announcement said. They also described the Texan as "of Mexican origin." There was no mention of the bankruptcy or the fact that Vasquez has poured more than $106,216 into Bush campaign coffers in the past year. Despite the fact that Vasquez has shown himself singularly incapable of handling big budgets and though he has no Peace Corps experience, a Bush assistant said, "Gaddi Vasquez is a very qualified, strong candidate regardless."

But in an interview with The Washington Post, John Coyne, editor of the Peace Corps Writers magazine, may have the pulse of longtime Peace Corps volunteers: "Can you imagine the veterans accepting a leader who had no military experience?"

 
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