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Back during the George W. Bush presidency, many critics of the president suspected and suggested that VP Dick Cheney was the real president, pulling the strings behind the scenes. A similar dynamic seems to be taking place at the Irvine City Hall where many believe that Mayor Steven Choi is nothing more than a figurehead,with City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lalloway really calling the shots. Both publicly and behind the scenes, Lalloway is asserting his power and influence over the larger strategy of the Republican party in Irvine.
Writing in the Liberal OC, columnist Dan Chemielewski may have had an interesting find in his discovery of David Cordero, the Chief of Staff for Jeff Lalloway. It’s not unusual for politicians in a large city like Irvine to have a Chief of Staff. What is unusual is the fact that the Mayor, Steven Choi, does NOT have a Chief of Staff, while Jeff Lalloway does. This scenario does nothing to dispel the notion that Jeff Lalloway is really the one in charge and driving strategy behind the scenes. Of course, as the columnist points out, Cordero could just be Lalloway’s admin with a fancier title on his business card. Each council member does have a budget to hire an administrative assistant, who wouldn’t typically be referred to as a Chief of Staff.
Chief of Staff or not, the presence of Cordero certainly adds to the impression that Lalloway is really the person in charge, and according to several sources refers to himself behind the scenes as “the real Mayor of Irvine.” The Choi-Lalloway dynamic is very interesting, allowing Lalloway to drive strategy behind the scenes while sending out Choi as a sort of figurehead (by most accounts.) Thus Lalloway has the ability to control Irvine but deflect criticism away from himself. His power-broker role is troubling, in the sense that a single elected City Council member now controls Irvine and as a result a large part of Orange County, from a position of limited elected power. That is, when the voters went to the polls in November they voted for Steven Choi as mayor, not Jeff Lalloway.
The decision to eliminate independent members of The Great Park Board was an example of Lalloway’s consolidation of power. Although the decision was justifiable on many accounts, the fact that it further concentrated power in the hands of The Gang of Three is yet another reminder of Lalloway’s thirst for power. The move, engineered very quickly at an impromptu meeting, fit the description by many of how the new majority conducts power internally. It’s difficult to imagine Christina Shea or Steven Choi having engineered such a move. This classic power play has the mark of Jeff Lalloway.
Unfortunately for the Republicans, it’s likely that too much control in the power of one person will eventually destroy their side, perhaps as early as 2014. The rumblings from inside City Government are already too powerful to ignore. Lalloway not only wants control but he also wants us all to KNOW he’s in control. Moving forward, it’ll be fascinating to follow this story. As Lalloway moves to assert more power and influence behind the scenes an increasing percentage of constituents are beginning to question the actions of the Republican majority.
The next ten to twelve months are critical for Irvine, both in regards to the health of the city financially and the development of The Great Park. It’s important that the public stay diligent in making sure the elected officials of Irvine are progressing in getting things back on track. This includes the elected mayor and the “real” mayor. Come November 2014, if real progress is not made, Irvine voters will go to the polls knowing who the real Mayor of Irvine has been.