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COUNCIL RACE GETTING NASTY; T.O. CAMPAIGNS MARKED BY BITTERNESS, VITRIOL.

Byline: Sonia Giordani Daily News Staff Writer

Acerbic letter-writing campaigns playing out in the newspapers.

A scathing letter from an outspoken political organizer to former allies, urging them not to seek office.

Shouting matches disrupting City Council meetings as critics try to speak their piece and the mayor tries to keep order.

With just seven weeks left until the Nov. 3 municipal election, the mudslinging has begun as 13 candidates vie for three seats on the Thousand Oaks City Council. And in a city known for its political divisiveness, it appears this campaign is shaping up to be among the nastiest yet.

``It's just low-road all the way,'' said Lee Laxdal, a former city councilman who has lived in Thousand Oaks for 27 years. ``One group is allegedly blackmailing each other. Another group refuses to let people speak at the council meetings. The people of this city deserve better than this.''

Laxdal looks back at what he calls the good ol' days, when council members didn't flinch at the prospect of having to sit together, public comment sometimes lasted for hours and the mayor let residents speak their minds.

And even if the council disagreed about an issue, Laxdal said, the members never resorted to personal attacks on their colleagues.

``Then we started getting into the fractured politics we see today. These days, there's this absolute unwillingness to compromise,'' said Laxdal, who served from 1980 to 1989.

``People forget that the United States Constitution was achieved only after massive compromise. And yet here we are with this attitude of my way or the highway.''

And the bitter feelings that marked last fall's vitriolic recall campaigns appear to have spilled over into the race for the seats held by Andy Fox, Judy Lazar and Elois Zeanah, the last of whom is not seeking re-election.

In waves of letters to the editor, the battle between the political camps is being played out.

Some letters target the ``council majority'' of Fox, Lazar and Mayor Mike Markey, criticizing their support of controversial developments. Others attack Zeanah, her council ally, Linda Parks, and the slow-growth candidates they have endorsed.

``So much of what's gone on in the last several years has been so negative-spirited,'' said Jim Bruno, who co-chaired the Citizens Blue Ribbon Campaign Finance Reform Committee this spring.

``Whether those attitudes have been justified or not, I just think enough is enough. I would like to see the community leaders and the City Council members put so much of what's gone on behind us and move on to more constructive solutions,'' he said.

Bruno said the committee's reform recommendations - which extended beyond the scope of trying to limit financial contributions - aimed to foster greater peace in a community debilitated by its entrenched political divisions.

So far, it has failed.

``I'm very disappointed,'' he said.

Slate politics

Herbert Gooch, a political science professor at California Lutheran University and candidate Dennis Gillette's campaign adviser, said last fall's attempted recall of Zeanah might never be surpassed for ``its sheer acrimonious savagery.''

But Gooch said the Nov. 3 campaign is heading in the same direction, with most candidates espousing a destructive us-vs.-them attitude.

``This campaign seems to be hitting progressively lower notes. Part of it seems to be the continuing level of acrimony accompanying every election at this point, but now there is this new element of `slate' politics,'' he said.

Gooch was referring to Laura Lee Custodio, Dan Del Campo and Wayne Possehl, who dubbed themselves the ``clean-sweep slate,'' after Zeanah called for a ``clean sweep'' of the council during this fall's election. The trio has been endorsed by Parks and Zeanah.

Gooch and other independent candidates have criticized the slate for, in effect, raising the amount of money needed to run a competitive campaign. Even if the trio sticks to the voluntary spending limit of $25,000 each, they will essentially have $75,000 in spending power if they place all three names on campaign literature.

Joy Meade, the trio's campaign adviser, said the group linked up for that very reason.

``We couldn't run three well-financed individual campaigns,'' Meade said. ``For example, we just ordered campaign signs. We could buy 600 of them with all three of the candidates' names on them. But if they ran separately, they would each have only 200 signs with only one name on them,'' she said.

The slate was expected to draw the same unified support that helped Zeanah keep her seat last fall, but some council hopefuls left off the slate decided to build their own independent campaigns. Relations among council critics have been strained ever since.

Planning Commissioner Dave Anderson, whom Parks appointed to the panel, decided to run for council without Parks' endorsement - and against Del Campo, whose campaign Anderson ran in previous years.

The independents

Chris Buckett, who met Meade last year at City Council meetings and became good friends with her, also decided to run a parallel campaign of her own.

But relations were strained further when Meade sent out a scathing and sarcastic e-mail letter to her former political allies, blasting them for running for office.

``I wrote that letter because I was so angry, I had to get it out of my system,'' said Meade, whose letter has since landed in the hands of the Ventura County District Attorney's Office for review of allegations that it was threatening.

``Am I not entitled to my own opinion?'' she said. ``I think I have a right to pick the three people I trust and who I think are intelligent and understand the issues and who I think can get elected.''

But opposing candidates called Meade's behavior anti-democratic, inappropriate and ultimately hurtful.

``The purpose of my running is to provide voters, residents of Thousand Oaks, with a choice,'' Buckett said.

Dave Anderson said he feels the slate might not address the needs of most voters.

``I believe there are a lot of residents out there who worry about paying the bills and getting their children fed who are left unrepresented by the slate, which tends to be one extreme or the other,'' Anderson said.

Boiling point

Lazar, one of the incumbents, maintains that compromise is part of the political process she's learned while in office.

``The challenge is to find a way to have solutions that will be acceptable to a large number of people,'' she said.

Other candidates said the nastiness won't die down until the personal vendettas are left out of the political arena.

``If you're not on my side, then you're my enemy - that's the attitude we're seeing, that people can't coexist, and that's wrong,'' said candidate Marshall Dixon.

The animosity finally boiled over Tuesday, when the public comment portion of the council meeting erupted into shouting matches when Markey refused to let several candidates and campaign advisers speak.

Markey said he believes most residents in Thousand Oaks have grown tired of the bickering. He said he intentionally took a hard line to try to keep order.

But now, local attorney Edward Masry - representing Meade and resident Debbie Gregory, both of whom were cut off during public comment - has filed a complaint with the city to ensure that residents can speak during public comment.

For Laxdal, that kind of bickering has only grown a new arm. As for the nastiness:

``It's enough to smell,'' he said. ``I try to watch the council meetings on television but I can't get through it - it's too painful.''

CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES

The following candidates are campaigning to fill three seats in the Nov. 3 city election: Dave Anderson, Chris Buckett, Dan Del Campo, Laura Lee Custodio, Marshall Dixon, Andy Fox (incumbent), Dennis Gillette, Nigel Greaves, Judy Lazar (incumbent), Richard Messina, Wayne Possehl, Nick Quidwai and Dave Seagal.

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BOX: CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES (See text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 13, 1998
Words:1300
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