One of the greatest mysteries among Newport Beach developer types is why they consistently employ Machiavellian politico Dave Ellis in their political campaigns. Ellis is wily and slippery, but his brazen tactics sometimes get better press than his clients. The latest Ellis dust-up concerns a clever little dirty trick he played on failed Newport Beach City Council candidate Richard Taylor. One of four "Greenlight" environmental candidates in the Newport races, Taylor ran on a solidly anti-development platform against current Mayor Gary Adams. Television producer Ron Winship was also on the ballot.
According to the Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot, Ellis decided to help out Adams by recording an extremely deceptive phone message that was played for voters in the last days of the campaign. The message instructed people "to vote for the Greenlight candidate on Tuesday, Ron Winship. . . . He helped us defeat the Koll Project."
Taylor, not Winship, was the official Greenlight candidate in the race, which Adams eventually won by a 3,000-vote margin.
To the Pilot, Ellis admitted he ordered the message, but he said he never authorized its release. "For that," he said, "I apologize."
Ellis' little scam shows the distance he'll go to help his clients, even screwing over a longtime associate and employer like Taylor. For the past couple of decades, Taylor and Ellis have been close allies in Newport's fight to shift the county's air-travel burden from John Wayne Airport to the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
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For many years, Taylor has sat on the board of directors of the Newport-based Airport Working Group (AWG), one of the most shrill pro-El Toro groups around. AWG tax records from 1998 through 2000 show the group paid Ellis' consulting firm more than $626,000—an astonishing 60 percent of the total contributions the group took in during those years.
During the 1990s, the names Dave Ellis and AWG were interchangeable. Ellis did all kinds of political work for the AWG, including creating an extensive series of deceptive mailers and television ads portraying a future El Toro International as an inexpensive and safe airport.
After South County forces finally succeeded in killing the county's airport plans in March, Ellis wasted no time returning to his first political love: promoting commercial and residential developments wherever and whenever possible. That put Ellis at odds with Taylor and the rest of the anti-development Greenlight crew, which is also composed of many charter AWG members.
Of course, this is hardly the first time Ellis maneuvered against his "allies" for large sums of cash. During the hot times of the Measure W campaign in 2001, Ellis was acting as a middleman in ex-Seal Beach City Councilman Shawn Boyd's complex scheme to lobby local officials for affordable housing—not an airport—at El Toro. Ellis, who was never charged with a crime, did have to endure tense questioning from the district attorney's office, which was then looking into conflict-of-interest allegations against Boy.