Man Most Likely to Succeed

How Joe Carchios inexperience, shaky business sense, tax trouble and connection with a political criminal made him the Republican Partys choice for the Huntington Beach City Council

Carchio says he was unaware that Speaker was one of the most public, forceful and enduring defenders of Garofalo's behavior. He says he didn't realize that some people fear Speaker's appointment signals the return of sleaze to Huntington Beach government. Not that it really left when a judge sent Garofalo into the political wilderness: former mayor Pam Houchen, who pleaded guilty to massive real-estate fraud in a phony condominium-conversion scheme, began serving a 37-month prison sentence on Nov. 6, one day before Carchio was elected.

"With all the problems this city has had with crooked City Council people, it seems to me that someone newly elected would do everything they could to separate themselves from that, to be above reproach when it comes to public perception," says Joe Shaw, a downtown businessman who failed in a November run for the council. "It will hurt Huntington Beach further if we give the impression that we are still associating ourselves with our past felons."

Carchio says he never suspected that people would draw those kinds of connections. Oh, and he was also surprised to hear that Speaker filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy the last time he was on the planning commission.

"You're telling me stuff I didn't even know," Carchio says, frustrated. "I had no idea of any of that stuff. All I went by was what I heard from people, then I made my choice. When you go to Vegas and roll the dice, sometimes they come up seven and sometimes they come up boxcars. Maybe if I would have taken it from that standpoint, maybe I would not have appointed Fred Speaker. I don't know. I don't know."

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So how does a simple guy with no political experience, shaky business acumen, a precarious economic situation, a history of tax troubles and a close relationship with a political criminal get selected by the Republican establishment as the man Most Likely to Succeed?

Is it diabolical? Are candidates like these supported because their characteristics create the kind of officeholder who is easy to manipulate?

Garofalo showed up with basically the same credentials, or lack of them—a scattered and mostly unsuccessful business career and no political experience (none since 1963, when he was senior class president at Cranston High School in Providence, Rhode Island), but a gregarious personality and self-promoting ambition—and was embraced by the same Republican Party movers and shakers. They helped him get elected—twice—to the Huntington Beach City Council, and he responded by consistently supporting their business and development interests. By 1999, political heavyweights like then-Assemblyman Baugh, Congressman Rohrabacher, gazillionaire developer George Argyros (who went on to become the Bush administration's ambassador to Spain) and the ever-present Ed Laird were grooming Garofalo for higher office—county supervisor or even state assemblyman. They threw him a lavish fundraising breakfast in the Waterfront Hilton, which of course was developed by Robert L. Mayer.

Or is it just dumb?

"The goal of the Republican Party is to get out the vote and elect Republicans," says Baugh. "Joe Carchio is a Republican. He ran for council once before and he did well. We supported Joe that time, and there was no reason not to support him again."

Not even the many tax liens against him over the years?

"I'm not aware of any tax liens," Baugh acknowledges. "We didn't do any research on the guy. Typically, we rely on our opponents to do that—and like I said, Joe previously ran for council and nothing came up. True, a tax lien could be important. But just having one against you doesn't automatically mean you did anything wrong. A lot of people get screwed by the government."

Can it be both diabolical and dumb? That is, could it have been calculatedly advantageous to spend big money portraying Carchio as a "responsible taxpayer" without ever bothering to find out if it were true?

That was the effect of a mass campaign mailer from a group calling itself "Women for Joe Carchio," which was signed by Carol Speaker—yes, wife of the just-appointed planning commissioner—and listed 26 other prominent Orange County names, most of them the wives of politicians and wealthy businessmen and developers. Among them were Rhonda Mayer, Laurie Mola and Patricia Bone, wives of developers Robert L. Mayer and Frank Mola and Waterfront Hilton president Steve Bone; Connie Silva, wife of Assemblyman Jim Silva; and Nancy Gray, who is Dave Garofalo's daughter. At the top of the list? Wendy Baugh. That would be Scott's wife.

"I'm not immediately familiar with that mailer," Baugh says. "But I would assume it was a tactical piece of an overall strategy that turned out to be effective. I mean, Joe Carchio won by something like 1,000 votes, didn't he?"

Actually, 864.

As for Carchio?

"I don't know why I attracted people of that stature," he says. "Maybe they liked what I had to say."

Maybe, but somehow we're drawn to something that we had to say five years ago this week, when Garofalo stood in open court answering "guilty" over and over—16 times, altogether—as the clerk read the list of political corruption charges against him.

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