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I can’t say that there haven’t been murmurings.
Anonymous comments in these pages and those of other local political blogs have warned that something was coming down the pike, that Orange County Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly had something of a harem in his office — although until now I think I’d never heard the horrifying term “Tommy’s Angels” — and that people (it was never clear to me who, the women themselves or their co-employees) were upset about it.
And, like so much else in gossipy OC politics, it was never clear whether it was true. How could it be true without being addressed by the County for so long? Then the arrest of Carlos Bustamante made many things thinkable that had previously been hard to imagine — and the letter of former Deputy County CEO made it even more so.
We still don’t know if it’s true, nor do we know who’s saying it, but now at least we know what’s being said and what’s to be done about it.
As Norberto Santana Jr. reports in the Voice of OC, an anonymous letter has appeared accusing Daly of substantial improprieties in office. The County is farming the investigation out to an outside law firm.
An anonymous group, calling itself “concerned county employees,” sent the letter to Voice of OC and a variety of county offices, including that of Interim County Executive Officer Bob Franz.
The letter alleges that Daly has handed out promotions and engaged in inappropriate behavior with at least four female workers at the clerk-recorders’ office. The letter refers to the women as “Tommy’s Girls or Tommy’s Angels.”
“The inaction of the managers at the agency has led to a culture of mistrust, favoritism, cronyism and organizational manipulation. This inaction has also led to low morale district and fear throughout the department,” the letter reads.
A PDF of the anonymous letter, which ran a little more than four single-spaced pages and is addressed to the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Board of Supervisors (better known as John Moorlach and Shawn Nelson), may be found at this link. Aside from the Voice of OC, the letter was apparently sent to the Interim County CEO, the O.C. Human Resources Director, the Office of the Performance Audit Director, the OCEA General Manager, and the National Organization for Women Orange County Board President.
The Voice of OC article does a better job of summarizing the situation with the County that we’d do even if we tried — so we’re not even going to try. (The link to Norberto’s story is right up there. Use it.) What we will address is the political implications — which are potentially huge.
First, of course, Daly has been the presumptive successor to Jose Solorio in Assembly District 69. He dominated the top two primary, as the de facto candidate of both establishment Democrats and establishment Republicans, the latter of whom would have spared him any Republican competition at all, after chasing one candidate out of the race, had not Jose (“Joe”) Moreno — of whom it is often said that he is not Dr. Jose Moreno of the Anaheim School Board — entered at just about the last possible moment. Moreno, whose campaign was effectively without funding, managed to eke out second place in the top-two primary over organized labor official Julio Perez (whom, let it be noted, both Vern and I favored), who was trailed fairly closely by Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez and not so closely by Orange Juice Blog writer Francisco Barragan.
Under the old electoral rules, if Daly was tarred with scandal, he could drop out a certain amount of time before the election and the County Party (or someone, anyway) could replace him on the ballot. But now we have a top-two primary system: he’s not the Democratic Party’s candidate, he’s the primary electorate’s candidate, and the party has no right to replace him. Let’s put it this way — even if it were Carlos Bustamante on the ballot in AD-69, he could not be replaced.
Moreno still doesn’t seem to have any money, although depending how (and how quickly) the investigation of Daly develops, victory for him now becomes a possibility. (Republicans would probably prefer to see Daly in office than Moreno, who is more of a libertarian and whom Art Pedroza claims to have advised. After all, the conservative Democratic obstructionism of incumbent Assemblyman Jose Solorio has served them fairly well for the past six years.) It’s far from certain that things will progress quickly enough; it’s far from certain, further, that the public in this district of notoriously sparse turnout will pay attention to the charges in the bustle of a Presidential race and major local races in the district’s two largest cities.
And, oh yes, let’s remember — Daly could be innocent of any wrongdoing. There could be no scandal. Stranger things have happened.
Daly may or may not participate in the investigation, as Moorlach says he would prefer to see happen, but he’s unlikely to speak before the public. He was unlike to speak before the public before any scandal; there’s little reason that that should change now. He’ll probably say that he has to refrain from comment due to the investigation (whether or not that’s true) and, one might guess, will deny any wrongdoing. Judging from the letter, his sexual/romantic behavior appears to have been more creepy than criminal (unlike Bustamante’s alleged acts); sexual morality aside, it’s the charges of his funneling public money and status to favored female employees that is his biggest problem. But that could be enough to pose him serious problems.
Daly may try to hang on and hope that voters don’t notice the scandal too much; unlike what would happen in a true bipartisan race, no one with resources has seemed that interested in pushing Moreno for the position. But that’s building a protective wall out of sticks; one strong wind comes along and his campaign could collapse. After all, if donors don’t think that Daly will serve much (if any) of his term due to scandal, why exactly would they be giving him money? Daly hadn’t raised that much himself; most of his money came from outside groups (who seemed primarily interested in keeping liberal Julio Perez out of the Assembly.) Daly could end up being not much better funded than Moreno.
(Here’s a wild possibility: if Daly looks doomed and doesn’t have much campaign money, Moreno could even conceivably announce his intent to caucus with the Democratic Party — after all, Republicans didn’t lift a finger for him — and then he might pick up some outside support from unions and other groups if he agreed to play ball with them.)
A more likely possibility, if it really does look like the jig is up for Daly, is that he’d announce ahead of time his contingent plan to resign from the seat if X, Y, and Z happened — such as if he was indicted or convicted of a serious enough crime. No one can force him to resign even if he promises to do so ahead of time, but it could allow him to win the election. Why? Because everyone and their mother, with the exception of Jose Solorio, Lou Correa, and maybe a few others, would be able to take a free run at the AD-69 seat if Daly resigned (either before or after taking office. Actually, I’m not sure how the former would work, if at all.)
This would lead to a special election like the one that put Chris Norby into Mike Duvall’s seat after the latter’s own sex scandal. One problem with moving up in the pirate ship of politics is that often the race for the next highest rung comes at the same time as one has to run for re-election. That’s not a problem in a special election — and in a top two primary, party discipline (which favors Republicans) comes into play. Imagine a situation in which ten Democrats ran for office but only two Republicans. You could well see two Republicans in the runoff unless Democrats worked out a deal to limit themselves to two candidates.
The notion of an early 2013 special would electrify people. Just think of who might run. Miguel Pulido and Claudia Alvarez could both be out of a job. In fact, the whole Santa Ana City Council (Bustamante excepted) might be interested in running. Still in Santa Ana, Julio Perez could run again. Maybe Joe Dunn? With the exception of Gail Eastman, the current Anaheim City Council is in a different district — AD-68, which includes Anaheim Hills — but one could imagine either Lori Galloway or Harry Sidhu or both moving down to the flatlands for a run.
And then there’s the incoming Anaheim crowd: John Leos, maybe? Lucille Kring? The Jose Moreno with a Ph.D.? Or what about presumptive Democratic favorite and current Anaheim School Board member Jordan Brandman?
Oh, yeah — that’s the part of the story I haven’t gotten to yet.
Among elected officials, Jordan Brandman is about as close to Tom Daly as they come. Daly gave him a well-paying job in his office doing mostly public relations. They’re both from the same establishment-oriented “corporate friendly” segment of the Democratic Party of Orange County. (Full disclosure: I’m not.) He has made a big deal over the past two years or more over his association with Daly. They seem to spend a lot of time together; it would be hard, though perhaps essential, for Jordan to explain how he could not know what allegedly seemed to be open secrets about Daly’s behavior within the office where Jordan also works.
If anyone is standing in the path of possible blowback over this potential scandal, it would seem to be Brandman — because while a lot of people want to see him win a seat on the Anaheim City Council, a lot of people also want him to lose.
This seems like a good place to elaborate on my disclosure, but I’m not sure how to do so. I get along well with Jordan socially and have expected him to get the Democratic endorsement for Anaheim City Council at this Monday’s Democratic Party of Orange County Central Committee meeting. (I’ll be among those voting on it.) If he gets it, that would mean that while I and other Democrats on the state or local party committees wouldn’t have to support him, we couldn’t support anyone else that hadn’t been endorsed for the position, which would include all non-Democrats, from John Leos to Duane Roberts. (One of the rules of being in the party establishment is that you can’t endorse or aid, such as with donations, someone else over your party’s endorsed candidate. This is the same rule that, for example, would prevent me from endorsing Jane Rands for Fullerton City Council if either Jan Flory or Kitty Jaramillo got the DPOC endorsement. It’s one way that the party is supposed to move its factions together.)
So, while Jordan and I are in different factions of the party, I’ve expected to, at a minimum and as a matter of party comity, not oppose his candidacy for City Council. (That ad that you see for “NoJordanBrandman.com,” like the one for Jane Rands, is Vern’s doing, not mine.) But this charge against Daly is unsettling — and may unsettle Brandman’s donors in particular.
I know that some unions like Republican John Leos; not endorsing a Democrat on Monday in that race would allow anyone to support Leos. I didn’t see that as a realistic possibility before this letter; now I do. (By the way, in case anyone is wondering, I’m not writing this with glee, as others around here might; this is just how I handicap the situation.)
One wonders about the timing of the release of this letter. Julio Perez and Michele Martinez, I expect, may be wondering about that quite a bit. (Hey, anonymous folks, you couldn’t find a mailbox back in early May?) That said, I think that the reason it comes out now rather than before is pretty clear: Carlos Bustamante was taken down in an action that began with an anonymous letter and climaxed with his arrest. Until that happened, there may not have been much reason to think that an anonymous letter would do much good. Now, there is.
Its release on a Friday afternoon shows that either people were either not trying to maximize publicity or else were incompetent at it — or maybe that someone who wanted to protect Daly got the word out at the best possible time of the week. That may work out well for Daly, but if I’m right that in my analysis above then it does not work out well for Brandman. The party endorsement is probably not a big enough deal to affect the timing of this release of information — so I suspect that this is just a matter of bad luck for Jordan.
Of course, I have neither heard what Jordan has to say nor what Daly himself has to say; this is all speculative, but I’m sure that I’m not the only person who has been gaming out the political aftermath since the news broke. Maybe Daly will handle it well — or have Jose Solorio do it for him? — and it will be a flash in the pan. Maybe Brandman will be able to distance himself adroitly from any stains that spatter on Daly. I don’t know.
What I do know is this — a lot of things look possible now that seemed quite improbable just a day ago. When people ask me in my own State Senate race whether I think I can win against a powerful incumbent, I usually say “sure” — because, you never know, things happen. And in Tom Daly’s race, they just did.