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One image has haunted me since the Fullerton council meeting nine days ago: the look of absolute, unbridled, childish delight on Don Bankhead’s face as he left the meeting from the first row, turning and looking out at the crowd at the sea of peacock blue t-shirted advocates that had come to defend the FPOA and argue against poking it in the eye by initiative pursuit of a bid from alternative service providers with three years remaining on the contract.
“Oh no,” I thought to myself. “He doesn’t believe that this sets the stage for his political comeback, does he? He’s not THAT SELF-ABSORBED AND STUPID, is he? I’ve been assured by people who know him that there’s no way that he’s really running, right?”
Wrong. He is that stupid and he is once again running for Council, sneaking his filing papers across the finish line at the last possible moment, as if that secrecy matters. Tony Bushala’s charmed political life continues! If Bushala has any grace and a sense of humor, as I know he does, he will now send Bankhead a gift basket of muffins in thanks.
Let me explain this really slowly — for Bankhead’s benefit.
First, the ability to gather a bunch of people to attend a City Council meeting, whether from Kelly’s Army or the FPOA, does not actually translate into election results. Tony Bushala’s pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race is what translated into election results for the recall — and even that was possible because you and your cohorts on Council screwed up so badly in response to the Kelly Thomas killing that you were sitting ducks. The public overwhelmingly wanted change — and punishment! You were part of the Council majority responsible for the deeply embarrassing blight on Fullerton’s reputation; you got punished.
From my perspective, there are dangers on two sides in Fullerton. One is a Council majority made up of the traditional Republican Ackerman faction, which has showed that it really will impose no meaningful restraints on the police, no matter what they do. The other is a Council majority made up of the libertarian Republican Bushala faction, which is already hurtling towards overreach in its general war on public employees.
There are two other reasonably probable results of this election (putting aside for a moment the prospect of the Green Party’s Jane Rands winning a seat, as she might.) One is a Demoratic majority composed of Chaffee, Jan Flory, and Kitty Jaramillo. This would probably be much more favorable to the FPOA than the Bushala faction but less completely deferential than the Ackerman faction — which is pretty much exactly where the City Council should be right now.
The other possibility is “gridlock” — and that would also be a decent place for the Council to be. Imagine a result where (up until yesterday) the leading figures of each of these three faction were to win. To moderate Democrat Doug Chaffee and reasonable libertarian Republican Greg Sebourn, we might add the libertarian incumbent Bruce Whitaker, plus former Councilmember Jan Flory, plus a traditional conservative like Rick Alvarez or Jennifer Fitzgerald. No one group would have a majority, but one could imagine such a group having to negotiate among themselves to come up with reasonable solutions.
For broadly moderate proposals, everyone’s vote (except maybe Whitaker’s and Fitzgerald’s) would be “in play” — that leaves a lot of room for compromise and creativity. The Council would neither ignore the problems of FPOA nor set out to destroy it. It would have to do a reasonable job of negotiating the next contract — Sebourn is too incisive a critic to cut him out of the process entirely — or else it would face a Bushala landslide in 2014 and/or 2016. I’d prefer five Democrats on Council, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon — and five people who are serious and willing to cooperate is a pretty damn good result!
For this to happen, the voters need to be focused not on the Kelly Thomas killing and the old Council leadership’s completely tone deaf response to it, but on the attempted overreach of the new Council majority. I don’t know whether considering a big from OCSD now is overreach, but souring relations between Council and FPD now, with three years left on a labor contract, certainly is. (This apparently is what determined Sebourn’s vote, for which he has been consistently and viciously flayed on FFFF since then. Don’t be surprised if he moves for reconsideration one of these meetings.) I’m happy for the vote to be a referendum on the new Council majority embodied by its more radical members, Whitaker and Travis Kiger. I’d expect a close race, but a good one!
What’s the most effective way to screw this up? If I were Tony Bushala, I’d hope that one or more of the Three Bald Flat Dinosaurs (or whatever the insult of the day is) would run, focusing voter attention not on what his own people want to do on Council but on whether voters are still upset about the national stain on Fullerton’s reputation left by Don Bankhead and his old cronies. FFFF has been trying like hell to force Jan Flory into the mold of being “the Fourth Bald Tire,” but that’s not an easy sell — even if one repeatedly publishes a photo of a good-natured Flory apparently cooperating in a demonstration of a field sobriety test by pretending to be drunk.
Once Bankhead runs, though, the whole concept changes. We get a de facto Bankhead + Alvarez + Fitzgerald traditional Republican slate — making it harder for the latter two candidates to win. Flory and Kitty Jaramillo now have to work overtime to distance themselves from Bankhead. THe voter focus on libertarian overreach is gone; instead we have a rehash of the recall. Score one for Tony Bushala. (Or maybe score three: If he can get the widely detested Barry Levinson elected along with Whitaker and Kiger, then it doesn’t even matter how Greg Sebourn votes.) With Bankhead in the race, his campaign ads now almost write themselves.
Rarely does one selfish, stupid, and self-indulgent political act upend a race this way — it’s almost breathtaking. Come on, Don Bankhead, don’t make Bushala guess — what is your favorite flavor of muffin? He owes you big time.
UPDATE: Rather than post a separate story on this, I’ll just lay out the dozen candidates — conveniently divisible into four groups of three — into this update. The four “teams,” one of which is not a team and one of which is only partially one, are as follows:
Bushala Libertarian Republicans: Bruce Whitaker, Travis Kiger, Barry Levinson
Traditional Conservative Republicans: Don Bankhead, Jennifer Fitzgerald, Rick Alvarez
Left of Republicans: Democrats Jan Flory and Kitty Jaramillo; separately, semi-FFFF-friendly Green Jane Rands
Apparently Uncompetitive: musician/artist Matthew Hakim, retired Roberta Reid, small business owner Brian Bartholomew
I’d say that any from the first three groups — recognizing that Rands stands apart from the rest of her category — could conceivably win. It depends on how well any group manages to stand apart from the other two — an area where each of the three have an arguable advantage. Had members of the second and third group cooperated on a “unity slate” against the new Council majority, I think that they’d be favored for two or more of the seats.