Man Most Likely to Succeed
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?"
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.
By then—after an 18-month investigation initiated by the Weekly and gradually joined by the FBI, the state Fair Political Practices Commission, the state Franchise Tax Board and the Orange County district attorney's office—most of the bigwig politicians and businessmen had deserted Garofalo. By then, some of them were suggesting that his prosecution was evidence that the system works.
"In situations like this, that chorus has become so familiar that it's part of the system, too. The system works by occasionally isolating and sacrificing its most-expendable member. That's why Garofalo is the only man charged in a wide-ranging investigation into his unseemly conflicts of interest, unconventional personal business, and unmistakably ambitious political associations with some of the wealthiest and most powerful people in Orange County. . . . Garofalo will be gone, but the rest of them are still around, certainly recruiting his next incarnation."
What we couldn't have predicted is that Garofalo wouldn't leave—that instead, he'd be on the search committee.
* * *
Joe Carchio isn't clear on exactly how or when or why, but as best as he can recall, the idea of running for a seat on the Huntington Beach City Council just sort of came to him.
"I was riding by City Hall one day and it dawned on me that I could do a better job than somebody else," he recounts. "I was upset with what was going on in the city. It kind of upset me."
Later, Carchio allows, "somebody convinced me to run for City Council," but he won't specify who—and he gets agitated if you ask him whether it was Dave Garofalo.
"I think you need to bury all this Dave Garofalo crap," he says. "It's old. It's dead and buried. It's time to move on."
Carchio repeatedly denies that Garofalo is much more than a casual acquaintance.
"Dave Garofalo is not a close friend of mine, and my relationship with him has nothing to do with politics," he insists. "I only know Garofalo because he comes into my restaurant. He's fun to talk to, but we never talk politics."
But Carchio was saying some of the same things—the things about Garofalo's deeds being dead-and-buried—way back in 2003, when the Los Angeles Timeswrote a story about the two of them going into business together on a downtown Huntington Beach restaurant called Bella Luna. "Look, what he's done is behind him. Long gone. Yesterday's news," Carchio told the Times, which went on to quote the partners' viewpoints on various aspects of downtown redevelopment. The story had a pretty chummy feel. "Hey Joe," it quotes Garofalo saying jokingly to Carchio at one point, as the story referenced the stresses of going into business together. "How long do you think it will be before we're not talking to each other?"
Actually, anybody who hangs around downtown Huntington Beach can see that Carchio and Garofalo are closer than ever, despite the fact that Bella Luna never opened. (There were stories in all the papers about that, too—mostly quoting two irate investors, who lost about $70,000.) In fact, many people joke about how inseparable they are, referring to them as "Carchofalo" or "Garchio."
"They are friends. They've been friends for a long time," says merchant Steve Daniel, owner of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and president of Huntington Beach's downtown business association. "But I'm sure you can find that out anywhere."
But Carchio reacts as though he believes he and Garofalo are invisible—or that their interaction is merely an uncontrollable side effect of owning a restaurant.
"We are not inseparable; I don't even know Mr. Garofalo that well," Carchio insists. "My restaurant is a public place. Anybody can come in—murderers, even child molesters—and how would I know? Dave Garofalo happens to be one of the people who come in. I can't in good conscience tell him, 'Hey, don't come in here, anymore.'"
In fact, Carchio's apparent refusal to jettison his friendship with Garofalo both worried—and kind of inspired—some of Carchio's supporters in the Republican Party. "There were people who suggested to Joe that he end his friendship with Dave," said one highly placed member of the party hierarchy, who requested anonymity. "Depending on how you look at that, you could see it as a measure of Joe's character, of his loyalty."
Steve Daniel doesn't think the Garofalo-Carchio connection is a big deal.
"It's unfortunate for Dave that he had his problems, because he is actually very knowledgeable with city stuff," says Daniel. "There were areas in which he did a lot of good."
Garofalo's problem, of course, is that he was a parasite, continuously mixing those city interests with his own. Looked at that way, it suggests that he might be attaching himself to Carchio so as to get back to a place of influence—and personal benefit—in Huntington Beach. The appointment of Fred Speaker to the planning commission was the perfect example. Garofalo is also finagling to regain his place on Huntington Beach's Fourth of July committee, and there's suspicion that he's behind Carchio's opposition to an ordinance requiring the collection of supermarket shopping carts—although it's hard to divine why, yet.
Asked about these issues, Carchio suddenly changes his tone.
"Okay, look . . . so maybe Dave Garofalo still wants to be part of the deal," he allows. "I think Dave is kind of like a Willie Mays—somebody like that, maybe you could say—in that he's sticking around a couple of years past his prime, a couple of years too long.
"But I got elected to do a job, I'm taking it seriously, and I want to do my best," he says. "I think I'm doing a good job. That's because I am such a visible person. That's because I'm always available. And, you know, that's not so true of some of the others on the council."
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