Coming Soon: ‘New Improved Denis Fitzgerald — Now With Less Denis Fitzgerald’?

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Fitzgerald and the Podium of Doom

From his lair, William Denis Fitzgerald eyes his natural enemy: the Anaheim City Council member.

Anaheim’s City Council meetings may have seen the last of William Denis Fitzgerald — at least for a while.  In terms of civility, much would be gained by such a change.  It’s easy to overlook, however, that much would also be lost in terms of dogged determination to keep the City’s government accountable.  If City Council meetings can’t live with Fitz — and there’s a good case that they can’t — there’s also a good case that they can’t live without him.  If part of what he does is reprehensible, other parts of it are irreplaceable.  No one else has both Fitz’s willingness and ability to swing the broadaxe and the knowledge of exactly where and when to strike.

The background of Fitz’s proposed banishment from Council meetings is ably presented in this article from the Voice of OC.  Fitz has long issued slashing attacks against City Council members and City Staff that sometimes employ invective based on race, ethnicity, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and more.  Ask him why and, if he’s feeling candid, he’ll tell you (not in these exact words) that he believes that that sort of bomb-throwing is essential to attracting the attention of a distracted and diffident public.

This may well be true, given the challenging nature of his criticisms and the overwhelming political power of his targets.  But it seems as likely that his attention-getting gambits attract as much negative attention to his position as positive.  If you call female Council members “whores,” as Fitz has commonly done except during the perennial periods in which he campaigns for Mayor, that’s probably all that people remember about what you said.  (Fitz claims that he is simply using the term in its figurative sense — and is as resistant as most men his age to any feminist analysis about why one shouldn’t hide behind that argument.  I don’t know who believes him, but if he were somehow put on trial for it he could probably establish a reasonable doubt.

For over a decade — stretching back through Tom Tait’s first couple of years as Mayor through both terms of Curt Pringle and into the rein of Tom Daly — the position of the City was simply to let him say whatever he wanted to say.  It’s a free speech zone — and, short of certain obscenities and other utterances that the law excludes from the category of “speech,” he can do what he wants and the Mayor and Council just have to grin and bear it.  That, at least has been the position of the Anaheim City Attorney — currently Michael Houston.  At the beginning of Fall 2013, Councilmember Kris Murray tried to change the subject from the Council’s dirty dealings regarding the Anaheim Stadium lease negotiations by trying to tar Tait with protecting comments that Fitz directed at Council Jordan Brandman that were generally seen as anti-Semitic and homophobic — Fitz had his own explanations of why they weren’t, which I will spare you — Tait began actively asking Houston in open session whether the City had any recourse at all when it came to reining in Fitzgerald’s excesses.  He was repeatedly and unequivocally told “no” — but he did gently start to chide and challenge Fitzgerald from the dais on occasion — and got snapped at in return.

That’s where things stood until last December.

At the December 9 meeting, Fitz went into a particularly over-the-top attack on the disabled husband of departing City Council Member Gail Eastman.  And then, unbelievably, things went downhill from there.  The Voice recaps City Attorney Houston’s criminal complaint on behalf of the City, and Fitzgerald’s response, as follows:

The court filing states that the altercation began when a man named Larry Torgerson tried to pass Fitzgerald while walking down an aisle of seats. Fitzgerald then pushed Torgerson in the chest, causing him to fall backward, and then attempted to punch him.

In a sworn declaration, Fitzgerald states that a former councilwoman’s son, a prominent hotel developer and Torgerson had all attacked him that afternoon.

Fitzgerald alleges that Torgerson sat on his lap and said “dirty diapers.” But not before Jay Eastman – former Councilwoman Gail Eastman’s son – stepped on Fitzgerald’s toe and sat right next to him.

According to Fitzgerald’s declaration, hotelier Bill O’Connell, who was seated behind Fitzgerald, said “don’t push” and punched him in the back of the head. Fitzgerald rose up out of his seat, causing Torgerson to fall from Fitzgerald’s lap, and O’Connell immediately went into a “fighting position.” Fitzgerald then “rushed toward the lobby to escape the assault.”

(O’Connell was the recipient of the “GardenWalk Giveaway” that first challenged the Council’s public cooperativeness in January 2012, among other things leading to the departure of then-City Attorney Cristina Talley, who is now suing the City.)

We’ll leave it to the court to sort out the facts, either at Fitz’s arraignment this Wednesday or thereafter, as well as any criminal punishment.  What matters to Anaheim’s civic life is Houston’s request for a court order barring Fitz from Council meetings.  Presuming for just a moment here that the court does not buy Fitz’s version of events, an unprovoked attack on another person is simply not acceptable and he doesn’t get to stay (although he can submit remarks to Council in writing.)  So would end an era.

If only there were a way, Anaheim’s reformers lament, to banish “Bad Fitz” from Council meetings while still getting the benefit of the outraged observations — sometimes completely off-base, to be sure, but often enough largely on the mark — of “Good Fitz.”  A Fitz who is forcibly disengaged from civic affairs would leave many deserving stones unturned.

Well, of course. there is: Fitz can write out his diatribes, with their gold nuggets peppered in a slurry of dross, and other people can edit them and present them.  Racism and sexism and accusations of whoredom would not make the cut.  But the sheer fact that we would have had to undertake such a convoluted process — plus perhaps the possibility that whoever spoke Fitz’s words could be accompanied by a costumed courtier who would precede the Message From The Banished with a trumpet fanfare (n.b., this part may need work) — might gain Fitz’s more incisive views the attention that they lacked because of his tendency to step on his own … tongue.

It’s a solid plan!  The problem, though, is that it probably won’t happen.  No one is likely to have the time, inclination, courage, and resilience to do it more than perhaps occasionally.  And that is why the Council meetings will suffer for Fitz’s absence: because he really would say things that needed to be said when others wouldn’t — along with too much that needed not to be said.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 (in violation of Roberts Rules) when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Expelled from DPOC in October 2018 (in violation of Roberts Rules) for having endorsed Spitzer over Rackauckas -- which needed to be done. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. One of his daughters co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)