Larry Agran's Sabotage Squad
Having remained silent during a major scandal—the attempted theft of a city during the November election—Orange County Register columnist Frank Mickadeit has tried to make up for his transgression by camping out in Irvine. To get back in the game, he published eight columns on Irvine politics in the past nine weeks. Superb is how I'd describe most of his reporting on the Republican takeover. He even appropriately used his mainstream-media perch to cast Beth Krom and Larry Agran, two Democrats whose alliance had corruptly run the city for 12 consecutive years, as scoundrels.
Good stuff, indeed; but, hey, what about that scandal?
Agran—a lefty who believes in nanny-state government—had kept power in a city where Republicans outnumber Democrats while secretly running fake Republican candidates to siphon votes from the legitimate, party-backed Republicans.
In the weeks before the election, I revealed evidence that Agran's team was up to its old tricks. This time, it involved Katherine Daigle, who'd been quietly approached to enter as a Republican in what had been a two-person mayoral race between Republican Steven Choi and Agran. No matter that she had no chance of winning; adding a second Republican would drain vital votes from Choi.
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I alerted the public to the scandal in progress. Republican campaign operatives republished portions of the news in mailers sent to Irvine voters. Daigle insisted she was a legitimate candidate on the verge of winning. A hilariously fake debate without Choi was organized. Republicans clandestinely funneled money to aid the Democrats. A frantic Agran poured more than $200,000 of his wife's money into the race to lessen the damage of the Daigle revelations, and his blogosphere buddies aimed their knee-jerk cannon fodder at my head.
Through it all, Mickadeit sat paralyzed. He knows all about Earl Zucht, one of Agran's prior fake Republican candidates. In 2004, an unknown Zucht entered the mayor's race, stole nearly 5,000 valuable votes from real Republican Mike Ward, allowed Krom (who, to this day, ridiculously thinks she won on her own) to narrowly grab the mayor's office, and then disappeared back into obscurity.
While the grotesque 2012 déjà vu played out, the Register columnist stood mum. There was no outrage that Agran's allies had secretly helped to write Daigle's ballot statement, coached her on strategy and were spending tens of thousands of dollars on her candidacy—all dead giveaways that the goal was only to sabotage Choi and keep Agran in power.
The day after the election, Mickadeit ended his self-imposed gag order, cheered Agran's loss and cryptically credited the Republican victory to the fact that "the public increasingly caught onto [Agran's] shenanigans." Yes, and no thanks to the Register, whose pre-election contributions on the topic were nefarious. The paper touted the sham Agran-Daigle debate (moderated by Register columnist and Agran ally Adam Probolsky), designed to give Daigle the appearance of credibility, and then published a poorly reported and written news article by the gullible Thomas Martinez, who made no secret he couldn't fathom that Mickadeit's aforementioned shenanigans actually occurred.
So what paralyzed Mickadeit?
Patrick Strader is a Newport Beach lobbyist who represents FivePoint Communities, a firm hoping to build as many homes as possible around the proposed Orange County Great Park. The company's managers calculated last year they could get more lucrative public concessions if Agran's regime remained in power. They also decided to use their resources to tilt the election against Irvine Republicans, who have demanded more transparency in Great Park operations.
Strader is Mickadeit's buddy, too. Over the years, the men have together visited Elks lodges, dined, taken a trip to a local zoo, attended flag-football games, and countless times drank booze and smoked cigars at Gulfstream, a popular watering hole at which members of the county's GOP elite regale one another. For more than seven years, Strader has appeared as a loveable buddy in Mickadeit's columns.
But Strader also is the man I exposed in my pre-election coverage as the Agran ally who, records prove, helped entice Daigle to enter the mayor's race. An Agran appointee to a powerful city agency, he insisted I was mistaken and that he was neutral in the election—a laughable claim given that his employer flooded Agran's coffers with huge donations.
But Strader had problems. To aid Agran, he couldn't be content to hope that a dizzyingly inept rookie such as Daigle would on her own raise her nonexistent, pre-election persona or effectively target Choi with negative ads. The third problem was the Weekly; I'd exposed the lobbyist's maneuverings, so any so-called "independent" campaign expenditures for Daigle's campaign couldn't be tied back to him, FivePoint Communities or his family's enterprise, Starpointe Ventures.
Sure enough, Daigle was unable to raise money; the only campaign mailers to hit Irvine mailboxes were pro-her and pro-Agran literature devised and paid for by somebody else. Using records filed at the California Secretary of State's office, I traced the mailers to the California Homeowners Association, which is controlled by Sacramento-based Republican consultant Dave Gilliard. Gilliard refused to explain why a GOP consultant was helping a Democrat or, more important, who paid the tens of thousands of dollars in expenses.
In advance of voting, I could only report that somebody had hidden the money trail because Gilliard disingenuously reported that Dennis J. Sammut, owner of San Bruno-based casino Artichoke Joe's, paid for the pro-Daigle operation. Why would a savvy businessman spend $55,000 on a losing candidate seven hours south in Irvine—especially when he was trying to win an expensive, local gaming initiative in the San Jose area?
Alas, Sammut didn't give a hoot about Daigle. Here's what happened: In exchange for Sammut participating in the Irvine election-money shell game, an Orange County company sent an equal amount, $55,000, to his gaming campaign. That entity? By golly, it was Strader's Starpointe Ventures.
Back in her peculiar la-la land, Krom bused in an army of elderly ladies to a Jan. 8 council meeting so they could regurgitate her stance that the Republican takeover wasn't a voter mandate to clean up soiled Great Park affairs. The ladies dutifully whined that diminished Krom/Agran power was—you can't make this up—the end of democracy.
See Mickadeit's column for good coverage of the event. But, perhaps because he made the Strader scheme verboten, the Reg columnist let Krom escape with a despicable lie. From the dais, she said the new GOP 3-2 majority couldn't have a mandate because she received the most votes in the council race that elected her and Republican Christina Shea.
"Yeah, I myself have taken exception to the [mandate assertion] because I checked the [vote tallies]," declared Krom, who called her opponent "reprehensible."
You know what's reprehensible? The same apparatus that gave us Daigle gave us Evan Chemers as a Republican decoy in the council race—and that sabotage paid off. The pro-Daigle operation touted Chemers' candidacy in mailings that took 17,167 votes from the two real Republicans, Shea and Lynn Schott.
Without that trickery, Krom would have been booted from the council, Republicans would have enjoyed a 4-1 majority, and the public wouldn't have had to stomach a pathetic excuse for a lack of Great Park progress.
"We didn't have the two things that would have been so handy," a smartass Krom opined during the council meeting. "A crystal ball and a magic wand."
Nope, she and Agran merely had total control for 12 years and $230 million to, as county Supervisor Todd Spitzer aptly observed, give us a Great Park that is "a palm court, a merry-go-round and a balloon."
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