Three local races worth watching—call it morbid fascination
APPEALING TO THE BANANA REPUBLIC
In the Santa Ana City Council’s last election cycle, voters made history by making the county seat the largest city in the United States with an all-Latino council. The ethnic makeup of the group probably won’t change this year—incumbents Claudia Alvarez, Carlos Bustamante and Vincent Sarmiento are favored to repeat, along with nine-term mayor Miguel Pulido. But rather than serve as role models for what Latinos in political power can accomplish, Santa Ana’s elected officials have conducted themselves this year with the tact and shady dealings of a banana republic.
The shenanigans started in January, when the council tried to fast-track the Renaissance Specific Plan (RSP), an ambitious redevelopment proposal for downtown Santa Ana that community activists fear might gentrify the most-Latino big city in America. Pulido has delayed a vote on RSP since the spring, however, after the Weekly reported the many conflicts of interest he, Bustamante and Sarmiento had with the project (see “The Renaissance Blob,” Jan. 10).
With the re-elections likely of Alvarez, Bustamante (despite a vigorous opponent in Art Pedroza, publisher of the Orange Juice! blog) and Sarmiento likely, the team has spent its energies attacking Pulido’s challenger, councilwoman Michelle Martinez. Alvarez, in particular, has dredged up Martinez’s past as a teen drug dealer, while Pulido and his group walked out of an NAACP-sponsored candidate’s forum in October when it came time for audience questions. The audience booed—it remains to be seen if gadfly anger will transform into ballot-box revolution on Tuesday.
MONEY MAKES THE ELECTION GO ’ROUND
Irvine mayoral candidate Christina Shea put it best at the Oct. 21 candidate’s forum: The Irvine City Council “needs a divorce” and new “independent thinkers.” But while residents are tired of bickering, backstabbing and backroom deals, and despite term limits, campaign-finance restrictions and the entire council being on a ballot that affords a chance to throw the bums out on Election Day, all five could remain in office.
Shea and fellow incumbent Sukhee Kang are the only candidates for the two-year mayor’s seat. Whoever loses still has two years remaining on his or her council seat. Among the candidates for two open, four-year council seats are outgoing Mayor Beth Krom and councilmen Larry Agran and Steven Choi. But since either Shea or Kang will be promoted to mayor, the remaining two years on the council seat the winner will abandon goes to whoever finishes third in the four-year council race. Thus, if Krom, Choi and Agran are the top three, they remain on the dais with Shea and Kang. Hoping to prevent that are council wannabes Eric Johnson, Bea Foster, Ruby Young, Margaret Wakeham, Patrick Rodgers, Paris Merriam and Todd Gallinger.
Asked by the Weekly to identify an underreported election issue, council observers granted anonymity pointed to the same thing: money.
The first noted that Kang's warchest exceeds $200,000, the most collected by
a single council candidate in city history, while contributions to Shea are
Big bucks behind Irvine Community News and Views, a fake newspaper that’s actually a slate mailer for Agran, Krom, Kang, Gallinger, and city ballot measures R and S, was on the radar of a second council-watcher. The city caps individual contributions to candidates, but independent-expenditure committees can contribute unlimited amounts to initiatives such as R and S, the primary funders of the fake fish wrap. A cynic might suggest that’s why R, which validates the council’s handling of the Great Park, and S, an “ethics” reform to restrict the use of e-mail addresses the city collects, are on the ballot.
The last informant was fascinated by the flow of money between R, S, Irvine Public Schools Foundation, and the Kang, Krom and Agran campaigns. Directing R and S is foundation board member Sanjeep Baweja. At Kang’s urging, the council donated $1 million in taxpayer funds to the foundation, ostensibly for cash-strapped schools. The foundation was then going to hold a fund-raiser for Kang, Krom and Agran, but media exposure killed it. Shea is campaigning to get the foundation to immediately release the city funds to schools.
Baweja was among the speakers lashing out at Choi’s “racism” at a Sept. 23 council meeting. At a candidate forum five days earlier, Choi criticized attorney and Muslim convert Gallinger for having represented “a dangerous Islamic organization,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Small world.
A MESSY BREAKUP
The fight for four seats on the Capistrano Unified School Board is now being waged between two heavy hitters: the well-funded Capistrano Unified Education Association (the district’s teachers’ union) and the CUSD Recall Committee, the reform-driven group of parents, teachers and local leaders that succeeded in recalling two board members earlier this year. The two groups were allies once upon a time in 2005-2006, when the union gave $84,000 to the Recall Committee toward the recall of the seven-member “old guard” board and the election of a slate of “reform” candidates. The union is now endorsing “old guard” board member Duane Stiff, whose overthrow it once supported.
The union’s previous support of the Recall Committee “was a mistake,” union president Vicki Soderberg says. Among other problems, she cites the Recall Committee’s ties to the Education Alliance, a conservative, nonprofit organization that advocates fiscal reform and is vocally anti-union; it gave a $17,000 donation to the Recall Committee in 2006.
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Things escalated to an all-out war about two weeks ago, when the Recall Committee sent a mailer to absentee voters that read, “Your local teachers ask you to vote for reform in CUSD” and listed candidates Sue Palazzo, Jack Brick, Mike Winsten and Ken Maddox.
Incensed by what she says was an insinuation that the Recall candidates had union support, Soderberg issued a statement blasting the flier, called in the press and spent $72,000 in union funds for the publication of another flier, titled “Don’t be Fooled!” The union’s new flier endorses candidates Erin Kutnick, Andrea Kooiman and Stiff. “Over 2,300 Capistrano teachers have already voted for this team.”
Soderberg clarifies that a hundred union reps actually voted on endorsing those candidates—after “talking with” teachers at their respective schools about those three candidates—and overwhelmingly favored backing them.
The Recall Committee, meanwhile, says it plans to mail out its flier again, with no changes. “We never said anything about the teachers union endorsing the candidates,” says Recall Committee member Tony Beall. “We have a lot of support from local teachers; there’s no reason for us to change it.”