Does Joe Carchio's candidacy for the Huntington Beach City Council represent the second coming of disgraced former mayor Dave Garofalo? It kinda looks that way, and not only because the two share the same East Coast roots, passion-for-pasta physique and inimitably fractured writing style.
Garofalo is a familiar face at Carchio's downtown Huntington Beach restaurant, Jersey Joe's, which doubles as campaign headquarters. Meanwhile, Carchio's face has become increasingly familiar to readers of Garofalo's twice-monthly newspaper, the Local News, which has been a tool of political funny business before.
In 2002, Garofalo was driven from the Huntington Beach City Council and banned for life from elected office for political corruption after an 18-month investigation by the Weeklyresulted in his guilty pleas to one felony and 15 misdemeanors. While he was in office, Garofalo distributed a two-sided business card—the Huntington Beach city seal was on one side, and the logo for the Local News paper he published was on the other—and regularly sold advertising to businesses and developers that had items on the council agenda. Garofalo also voted to fund the city's Visitor's Guide—which he published via a no-bid contract—and illegally sold ads to people with active business before the council in that publication, too. In addition to his permanent disqualification from public office, Garofalo was fined $47,000 and ordered to perform 246 hours of community service.
Nearly five years later, however, Garofalo is associating so closely with Carchio that their relationship is almost always the first thing anybody in Huntington Beach mentions when Carchio's city council candidacy comes up. People half-laughingly refer to Carchio as "Garofalo II," "Garofalo Lite" and "Garofalo's Clone," but their discomfort is obvious.
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The friendship between Garofalo and Carchio goes back a few years, and their compatibility might be based in the fact that they migrated to Huntington Beach from similar places—Garofalo from Providence, RI, and Carchio from New Jersey (thus, the "Jersey" designation in Jersey Joe's name). The two men constituted the brain trust of another downtown restaurant project that failed before its 2003 opening, although not before two of their investors lost tens of thousands of dollars. At that time, Carchio seemed to think nothing of Garofalo's criminal history. "Look, what he's done is behind him. Long gone. Yesterday's news," Carchio told the Times Orange County in April 2003. "When are you people going to give him a break?"
Although Garofalo's name does not appear on Carchio's list of campaign contributors, Carchio's candidacy has been getting lots of space in the Local News.The current issue features him prominently three times—in a front-page news story, in Carchio's own three-quarter-page column inside and in a huge ad for Jersey Joe's Restaurant.
More significantly, the list of people who have contributed to Carchio's campaign includes many of the same business owners and property developers who buttressed Garofalo's campaigns. The group includes Robert Mayer of the Newport Beach development corporation that bears his name, Waterfront Hilton president Steve Bone, Jeff Laird of Coatings Resources, Ron Shenkman of Rainbow Disposal, Fred Speaker of S&S Auto, and Bill Borden, whom Garofalo appointed planning commissioner and who remained Garofalo's most enduring apologist. Additionally, Carchio is endorsed by the Orange County Republican Party Central Committee, just as its chairman, Scott Baugh, endorsed Garofalo and began grooming him for higher office.
A just-arrived campaign mailer from a group calling itself "Women For Joe Carchio" has the same Garofalo cross-pollination. The membership includes Rhonda Mayer, Patricia Bone, Emily Sanford of the OC Republican Central Committee, Wendy Baugh and Nancy Gray, who is Garofalo's daughter.
Some of these Carchio supporters also factored into Garofalo's political corruption convictions in 2002 by purchasing advertising in the Local Newsand the Huntington Beach Visitor's Guide when they had business before the city council—upon which Garofalo voted.
Even Huntington Beach's current mayor, Dave Sullivan, a veteran councilmember who is retiring when his term expires in December and has endorsed Carchio, acknowledged without prompting that "a lot of people have concerns that he is very friendly with Garofalo . . . that this is Garofalo's way of getting back in the game." Sullivan doesn't agree with those people, however. Carchio, he says, "seems to be a decent, honest, straightforward guy who is trying to do the right thing."
Carchio's positions on local issues are difficult to find. One contribution to a candidates' forum on the Huntington Beach website consisted of a folksy "Dear Neighbors" letter in which he mentioned he is an Army veteran, a husband and parent, a former coach at Ocean View High and a businessman who pays his taxes and employs others—but gives no specific proposals for the city.
Carchio reveals a little more in his answers to questions on the Register website, where he argues that most problems are better solved by enforcing existing laws than by passing new ones, that at least part of Main Street should be closed to vehicular traffic some day and, perhaps, it's time to combine the Chamber of Commerce with the Visitors Bureau.
However, the image of Carchio that comes across in Garofalo's Local News is somewhat disturbing—beginning with the lead news story in the current edition, which suggests Carchio should already be a member of the Huntington Beach City Council; it insinuates that Carchio was somehow cheated of an Election Day victory when he finished fourth behind Keith Bohr in the 2004 race for three available seats. Here is the third paragraph of the story, which carries no byline but is written and punctuated in Garofalo's unmistakable style:
Actual data . . . real facts . . . substantiated by the Registrar: 2004 Huntington Beach Election results were different than what became reality. See why Joe Carchio actually won the election!
When the story continues on an inside page, it turns out that Garofalo's paper has a problem with the legitimacy of votes cast via absentee ballot:
Joe Carchio actually beat contender Keith Bohr in the "popular" portion of the election—all those men and women who got out of bed early, or used their lunch hour or who stopped by on the way home to vote. Keith came in 4th on Election Day, 6th in the early voting . . . but 3rd in the Absentee Ballots. Sorry, Joe, better luck next time."
A few pages later, however, a column written by "Jersey" Joe Carchio beneath a big mug shot and a fat headline reading "Taxes!" doesn't inspire much confidence in the candidate. Carchio marvels at how large a number one billion is, questions the exorbitant cost of rebuilding New Orleans, prints somebody else's poem on excessive taxation as if it were his own and then finishes up by railing against taxes, excessive spending on education, the poor state of public education, potholes and broken sidewalks. He finishes up with a terrifying passage that echoes 1980's Houston rappers Public Enemy:
The City (sic) is under siege . . . infrastructure repairs, alleys in the Downtown (sic), Bushard – Help U All…where is the leadership to make these special districts who tear up our streets do their work at night? OK, I'm better now. I think I need a sandwich . . . perhaps I will try Jersey Joe's in Downtown HB.
Carchio did not return any of several phone calls requesting an interview for this story. He answered one call placed to his restaurant but quickly begged off, insisting he was late to an appointment and promising to make time to talk the next day. His appointment: a dinner at the Boy's and Girl's Club—Garofalo's favorite charity.
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