Documents obtained by the Weekly prove Larry Agran's liberal, Democrat political machine, the one that has ruled over Republican-heavy Irvine for 12 consecutive years, already secretly stole next month's election so it can keep power for at least two more years.
The documents--a series of emails spanning a recent two-month period--outline how a Republican Agran ally and corporate lobbyist lured a decoy Republican candidate into the mayoral race to siphon critical votes away from legitimate Republican contender Steve Choi, a move that assures Agran of winning the Nov. 6 election.
A Republican businesswoman, Katherine Daigle's political claim to fame is that she won a slot on her neighborhood association board. Earlier this year, she announced she would seek a seat on the Irvine City Council. The odds of her grabbing public office weren't great, but they also weren't impossible. She was one of seven candidates vying for potentially three open council seats.
In early August, on the last day to officially declare candidacy, Daigle abruptly switched to the Choi-Agran race, a contest she has no chance of winning--or even grabbing second place. In addition to enjoying the get-out-the-vote resources of their respective parties, both men are political veterans who'll each spend significantly more than $200,000. Daigle's campaign, on the other hand, has received on average less than $16 per day for a contribution grand total of just $825. The one undeniable impact of her move to the mayor's race is to cripple Choi by robbing him of thousands of votes he needs to win.
The tactic isn't new to Irvine. In 2004, Agran wanted Beth Krom, a robotically loyal member of his machine, to capture the mayor's office over Republican Mike Ward, a distinguished conservative activist. The sly Democrat quietly employed Earle Zucht, an unknown character without any prior political activity in Irvine, to run for the city's top job as a Republican. He even ordered his Democrat allies to pay for Zucht's campaign mail.
As a result, instead of comfortably winning the election, Ward lost to Krom by 2,004 because Zucht's fake candidacy fooled nearly 5,000 voters. His mission accomplished, Zucht quickly disappeared.
Daigle adamantly denies she's the 2012 version of Zucht. To help bolster her alleged innocence, she has been telling people she never met Agran before announcing her mayoral candidacy. It's probably a true statement. But it's also misleading.
What Daigle has kept secret from the voters is that she switched races after intense, secret meetings with Starpointe Venture's Patrick B. Strader, a longtime Agran ally and campaign contributor who is a paid Republican lobbyist for FivePoint Communities, the real-estate developer seeking government entitlements to build a massive residential/commercial project around the proposed $1.6 billion Orange County Great Park, the most expensive public endeavor in the city's history. In July, Agran and his allies, Krom and Sukhee Kang, overruled city staff and Republican council member objections to prematurely issue an environmental-impact report favorable to the real-estate firm. In the aftermath, Emile Haddad, the man running FivePoint, has made no secret that he wants the Agran machine to remain in power. "Katherine hadn't once thought about running for mayor until she met Patrick," a source who knows both individuals told me.
At 10:26 a.m. on July 24, Daigle sent an email to Strader, who Agran appointed to the powerful Irvine Community Land Trust in 2006. "Good morning, Patrick," it read. "Thank you for your call."
Thirty minutes later, Strader replied that he wanted to "chat with you guys"--Daigle and Roger Lee, a veteran Washington, D.C.-based liberal consultant who worked for the Clinton-Gore campaigns, as well as the Democratic National Committee, pro-choice Emily's List, NAACP, AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union and the United Auto Workers.
At 10:08 p.m., Daigle told Strader in an email, "I enjoyed our discussion this morning. I am looking forward to seeing you again."
Three days later, on July 27, Daigle told him, "I appreciate you wanting to get involved. I am looking forward to working with you."
Strader replied, "It was my pleasure."
On Aug. 7, he emailed her again. "I had a nice conversation [with a consultant] and am waiting to see something in my email. In the meantime, I have some checks. Do you have a campaign account open yet? Can you send me the information? I will call to discuss something else tomorrow as well."
On Aug. 8, Daigle told a campaign staffer via email that Strader was writing her statement of candidacy with the aid of Marc O'Hara, a liberal strategist who insists that his "firm is as non-partisan as it gets," but has worked with Michael Dukakis' 1988 Democratic presidential campaign; the California Democratic Party; Montana Democratic Party, Colorado Democratic Party, Senator John Kerry (D-Massachussetts); the United Domestic Workers union; and former California State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a San Francisco Democrat.
O'Hara emailed his draft of the candidacy statement to Strader, who replied, "Really good. What about referencing her work with the seniors of Irvine?"
The Agran ally then asked O'Hara, "What ballot title are you going to use [for Daigle]?"
O'Hara answered, "Small Business Owner," continuing, "which, as you likely know, tests extremely well with California suburban voters. Please let me know what you think of the particulars of the ballot statement."
Later on Aug. 8, O'Hara emailed Strader that he'd edited the statement. He wrote, "I have completely reoriented my approach to Katherine's ballot statement this evening based on new information that convinced me of the error of my 'Great Park' one-issue messaging."
On Aug. 9, Strader urged Daigle to seek endorsements "ASAP."
On Aug. 10, Daigle filed for the mayor's race.
Four days later, Strader and Daigle discussed ways to win the support of the Orange County Republican Party and the conservative, powerful Lincoln Club.
On Aug. 15, Daigle worried to Strader in an email that she might be publicly tagged as a fake candidate for Agran. She asked him if he was "retreating" from promised assistance.
"Absolutely not," he replied. "Can we have a phone call today?"
On Aug. 20, Daigle advised Strader about the status of her campaign printing costs, logo and brochure design. "I neglected to ask you for a donation of $440 from you and your spouse," she wrote. "I would really appreciate your contribution. Please, one more favor, would you provide five or six other names that I may meet over coffee or I can approach for a similar donation? We could use it."
But after she'd placed her name on the ballot, Daigle didn't enjoy quite the same respect or attention from Strader. On Aug. 24, he shortchanged her on a maximum contribution, giving her just $250 and not sending any money from his spouse or other relatives. By comparison, he and his family gave at least $1,500 to Agran's campaign on Sept. 24.
According to professional polling information reviewed by the Weekly, Daigle's candidacy is pulling thousands of votes away from Choi and will block him from winning.
Confident the public would never learn that his political machine already secretly stole next month's election, a jovial, backslapping Agran walked into the Irvine City Council chambers for a rigged Oct. 10 mayoral candidate's forum.
Adam Probolsky, a Republican pollster and campaign consultant, organized the event. Until about a few years ago, Probolsky openly despised Agran, but that has changed. Nowadays, Probolsky routinely uses his forum as a part-time Orange County Register columnist at the paper's Irvine World News to brazenly shill for Agran's machine and its tainted Great Park machinations that have funneled tens of millions of public dollars into the hands of Agran campaign consultants on questionable, no-bid city contracts.
He is also, you should know, a close associate of Strader.
Probolsky's candidate forum was a ruse from the start because Choi, who fired Probolsky as an aid several years ago and knows well that he's now in Agran's camp, refused to participate because of the conflict of interest. Nevertheless, Probolsky disingenuously continued to publicly bill the event as a three-way candidate's forum. His sole purpose was to assist Agran's jump from councilman to mayor by holding a major event that could do what Daigle couldn't do on her own: raise her name identification for voters.
Indeed, though there was never any chance Choi was going to play dupe in the forum scheme, Probolsky placed the councilman's name on a placard in front of an empty seat at the council chamber dais and told the audience he was waiting for him to appear.
Once the forum began, Probolsky admitted he knew Choi wasn't going to show, mocked him as a conspiracy-theory loon, and then gave Agran and Daigle 10 minutes each to speak uninterrupted. He then paused, announced without warning that he wanted an audience question, squinted his eyes as though he were searching the room for a questioner and quickly picked a lady wearing a purple outfit who was sitting in a front row.
She was a plant.
"I have a question for the empty chair," the woman said, reading from a notecard prepared before the start of the debate when nobody supposedly knew Choi wouldn't attend. "Mr. Choi, how can I trust you to represent me and others when your absence indicts that you are probably not a person who listens well to others, especially to those who disagree with you. Thank you!"
Daigle smirked. Agran cocked his head back, smiled and nodded in agreement.
Probolsky made a joke at Choi's expense, refused to take any more audience questions at the time and returned to a format that gave the two candidates a whopping 10 minutes each to answer a softball question. Not surprisingly, Agran appeared to be a wise elder statesman compared to Daigle, who gave rambling, disjointed answers and acknowledged that she enthusiastically supports Agran's alleged leadership on issues such as education.
But Agran--one of the best jugular-piercing experts in modern California politics--saved his best for Choi. After hailing Probolsky's "objectivity" and calling him a "good moderator," he pounced.
"Uh, you mentioned Adam, the fact that, uh, Council Member Choi wasn't here," said Agran, pretending once more for the audience that he's not a sneaky bastard. "His loss, maybe. But it's the community's loss. I believe in the old Woody Allen saying repeated on Sex and the City and in other forums that 80 percent of life is showing up. And certainly, if you're a candidate for public office, you should show up. . . . I want, maybe, to begin tonight just asking everyone here to give a round of applause for everyone who showed up, including yourselves."
Agran probably doesn't know there's a fitting Woody Allen quote for him, too.
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"Some guy hit my fender," the entertainment star once said. "And I told him, 'Be fruitful and multiply.' But not in those words."
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly
(rscottmoxley at ocweekly dot com)