The Triumph of Big Money in Anaheim – pt 1: Vanquishing Batiste in District 5.


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Anaheim’s 2021 majority celebrating victory! (Jordan, they say, was home “quarantining.”)

“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed.
Everybody knows that the war is over, everybody knows that the good guys lost,
Everybody knows that the fight was fixed, the poor stay poor while the rich get rich,
That’s how it goes, everybody knows.”

In the heat of August, September, October, as we volunteers for Kenneth Batiste, Denise Barnes, Jeanine Robbins and Annemarie Randle-Trejo interacted with thousands of Anaheim voters, it did not seem farfetched that we could end up with a majority-honest Council.  We were even considering our first meeting (which woulda been December 15) and all the urgent matters that would have been immediately agendized:

  • Finally, a rent cap on mobile home parks – Saunders’ ongoing rent-gouging assault on Rancho La Paz seniors may be out of the newspapers but has not slowed down.
  • Finally, a serious coronavirus task force for OC’s biggest and most infected city – something we’ve been trying to get for months.
  • Finally, an actual policy and agency to foster affordable housing in this increasingly unaffordable working-class town – something we’ve been trying to get for years.
  • Extending the eviction moratorium to the length of the pandemic, and extending the rental payback period to 12 months.
  • Re-directing the $4 million or so of federal coronavirus funds that hasn’t been spent yet by Visit Anaheim, to help laid-off Disneyland workers.
  • Bringing back Jose Moreno’s 2019 package of campaign finance reform and transparency measures, so we never have another election as corrupt as those of 2020, 2018, 2016, 2014, and 2012.
  • An immediate adoption of Cisco Webex for streaming Council meetings so that the public can see their representatives speaking and voting, and comment live and out loud themselves – something that will cost $192 for all of 2021!
  • And that would have been just a start, as we awaited a chance to re-negotiate the Angels Stadium deal.

PERO, NO.  Anaheim’s voters could have had all that, but they overwhelmingly chose the corrupt status quo instead, especially in District 5 where there was no excuse for not knowing incumbent Steve Faessel‘s record. 

Did they not care, about the half-billion dollar Stadium Heist, the $6.5 million Covid gift to Visit Anaheim, the cruel indifference to Rancho La Paz seniors?  They seemed to care, when we spoke to them… but maybe we just didn’t speak to enough of them.

Or maybe they DIDN’T really care, and couldn’t see how these raids on the public treasury affect them.  Maybe the pandemic made them weak and pliant, non-rebellious.  After all one of Steve’s frequent messages was “It’s too risky to change leaders during a crisis like this,” which I thought was a strange thing to be mailing to Democrats who were dying to depose Trump!

Some contrasts between Batiste and Faessel. Click for larger view.

Beyond possibly making voters too timid, the Coronavirus definitely made it harder for any of us to get our message out except through mailers, and in that category the klepto candidates (Faessel, Avelino, Diaz) had a near monopoly.  Voters would constantly complain to us about the mountains of oversized mailers they were getting – sometimes ten per week – and in district 5, 100% of those were from Faessel’s backers. 

But irritated as voters may have been by this sheer glut of mailers, they seem to have worked, and driven home LIES like “Steve and Mayor Sidhu kept the Angels in Anaheim,” “the council’s Senior Safety Net provided help to ALL ANAHEIM SENIORS facing trouble with their rent,” and “this Council protected us from Coronavirus.”

Batiste volunteers in Edison Park

Do you remember how when we were first fighting for district elections in Anaheim (2012-16, and all the opponents pretend they were on the right side now) one of the reasons was to give candidates of modest means at least a fighting chance against the special interests who spent $200K per council candidate.  Well, after briefly losing their majority in 2016, the special interests have easily dealt with that nuisance by quintupling their spending to a million per candidate.  No problem, it’s still worth it to them, given what they get in return.

And every two years we dreamers dream that this will be the time that grassroots could finally triumph against big money.  This 2020 election seemed like it could be the time, especially in the wake of the fire-sale of our Stadium for $150 million.  But it wasn’t – maybe that time will be when Covid is over, and we can really talk to every voter – till then the forces who spend $100 per vote will keep beating the folks who can only spend $3 or $4 per vote. 

The $heer Di$cipline of Anaheim’s $pecial Intere$t$

Your brooding correspondent had an insight about why Santa Ana did so well defeating special interests this year while Anaheim remained in their thrall – Anaheim’s special interests are uniquely DISCIPLINED.  In Santa Ana this year, the police, developers and unions frequently backed different candidates, accidentally allowing grassroots folks to win – D’OH! 

But at least back to 2012, Anaheim’s police and fire unions, the building trades, Disney, the resort hotels, the Chamber, the developers and now the rent-gougers, have always united lockstep behind the same candidates.  (Meanwhile the couple of progressive unions who USED to be able to help out are completely broke during this Covid year, and the conservative funders who used to help Mayor Tait’s choices have moved on as well… so we good government folks are all on our own.)

Here, from Edgar Arellano, is a graphic showing what the special interests spent, on whom, this year.  These numbers will increase when late expenditures are reported:

Click for larger view.  Graphic by Edgar Arellano.  Figures will be larger when late contributions are reported.

As I said these figures are still incomplete, but so far, dividing by the votes these candidates got, we have:

District 5

713K to keep Stephen Faessel (÷ 11,160 votes = $64 per vote)
Vs. 16K to Batiste (÷ 3551 votes = $4.50 per vote)
and 3353 to Savrina (÷ 6440 = 52 cents per vote)

District 4

670K for Avelino (569K supporting him, plus 100K attacking Annemarie
. . . . . . . (÷ 7861 votes = $85 per vote)
Vs. 10K to Jeanine (÷ 3349 votes = $3 per vote)
and 7K to Annemarie (÷ 3541 votes = $2 per vote)

District 1

538K on Jose D (382K supporting him, plus 148K attacking Denise
. . . . . . . (÷ 7791 votes = $69 per vote)
Vs. 27K to Denise (÷ 6997 votes = $4 per vote)
and 14K to Balius (÷ 3653 votes = $4 per vote)

And what deep pockets coughed up this two million dollars for the favored candidates Faessel, Avelino and Diaz (again, it’ll probably turn out to be closer to $3 million?)  Edgar breaks down the top spenders:

  • Disney and their front group SOAR – $1,037,128 so far.

(Right here I have to apologize to people, like Fitzgerald, whom I sometimes accuse of exaggerating Disney’s influence on Anaheim politics at the expense of other players.  Theirs is HALF the total largesse.)

  • $343, 594 from developers-to-landlord interests, (CA Real Estate PAC, AOC Hotel & Lodging Ass, to “manufactured housing,” rent-gouger Saunders, and resort hoteliers Patel & O’Connell)
  • $132,909 from Anaheim Police and their lobbyist Mitchell.
  • $83,837 from “Firefighters for Anaheim.”
  • $64,000 from the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce (mostly more Disney money.)
  • $38,354 from the “OC Jobs Coalition” (which appears to be nothing but a Jose Diaz fan club.)
  • $27,000 at least from 11 unions that could be grouped together as “Building Trades.”
  • 8,817 from the OC Tax PAC (a guardian of OC’s biggest businesses.)

So, knowingly or not, Anaheim voters came out in November and voted for more of the same kleptocratic, enrich-the-rich, trickle-down, closed-government policies we’ve had for at least a decade.  Expect more of the same but worse.

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Vanquishing Batiste in District 5

Pre-candidacy Kenneth Batiste, the hellraiser of justice.

East-flatlands Anaheim District 5 is plurality Latino – nearly majority Latino – and the voter registration is about HALF DEMOCRAT, quarter Republican and a quarter independent.  You would think this district would be a challenge for a white Republican like Stephen Faessel to hold onto, especially on a big-Dem-turnout Presidential year.

But Steve and his small army of well-heeled backers had a lot of cards up their sleeves – and not just the million dollars of funding.  Sure the million paid for dozens of mailers, GIGANTIC SIGNS, endless TV and internet ads, and guys twirling Faessel signs on busy corners for $19 an hour.  But long before campaign season, through the spring and summer, the landscape was dotted with cute little “Anaheim Proud” signs, paid for by SOAR (Disney’s money funnel), featuring lots of good friendly pandemic advice and with Steve’s name at the bottom.  

As an aside, Kenneth, Kenneth’s wife Roxanne, and I thought “Anaheim Proud” was an unlikely, inappropriate slogan for a politician like Faessel:

In any case the extra months of “Anaheim Proud” publicity and signs were not part of the campaign season’s reported contributions or expenditures, and neither was Steve’s arranging to donate a fire truck and garbage truck to the tiny Mexican town of Zapote, deep in the province of Guanajuato.  And however he managed to pull that off, that was the key to obtaining the undying, ferocious, energizer-bunny loyalty of ex-reformer and Zapote native Yesenia Rojas.

Yesenia & Steve – pic from Register

Yesenia and Steve have been inseparable for a couple years; when he’d participate in a giveaway of food or sanitary supplies, she’d be right there getting it all onto social media so everyone would know how wonderful Steve was.  No bad vote he could make would change her mind.  When he refused to oppose Trump’s racist “public charge rule change,” which really affected her family badly, she cried, but told me “He is still a great man.”  When he voted to fire (for no reason) her other closest friend at City Hall, City Manager Chris Zapata who’d actually gone to Zapote with her, she cried but told me “He is still a great man.”

As tensions built toward the end of campaign season Yesenia’s behavior became more erratic and desperate – She would threaten Batiste backers with broadcasting embarrassing details of their personal lives.  She would threaten uncooperative Mexican-American ladies with “taking their names off her Facebook lists” (so they wouldn’t know about food giveaways.)  She would harass Anna Drive neighbors who put up Batiste signs, and in the final week she duct-taped Faessel signs up everywhere, with no property owners’ permission, and went back every day to make sure they were still there.

I think (since I know so many of these Mexican-Americans now) that she didn’t really have so much influence on them, but her value to Steve was rather as a demonstration of what a great, open-minded guy he was, to impress white liberals in the district.  Like the “black friend” some white Republican politicians point at.  I’m pretty sure every Mexican-American community activist in District 5, who was not named Yesenia, was on Team Batiste:

In this collage of Batiste endorsers and volunteers, the bottom row could all be called Mexican-American community leaders and advocates, like Yesenia USED to be: Maritza Bermudez, Sofia Romero, Esther Castillo, Donna Acevedo-Nelson, Juana Reyes, Mary Vazquez, Veronica Toledo (and Mayor Tom.)  I accidentally left out Lupe Ramirez!

So many things that seemed like Faessel campaigning were not included in his campaign contributions or expenditures!  Like, how about this one typical event, held NOVEMBER 2 in the Latino neighborhood of “Benmore and Canfield.”  See how Angels Chairman Dennis Kuhl joins Yesenia, the YMCA, and Faessel to hand out food and Angels swag to the grateful locals, on the day before Election Day!  Enjoy Yesenia’s signs thanking “Steve,” and remember what a dependable and unquestioning vote Faessel was for the Angels Stadium giveaway – and how re-electing him keeps the deal safe.  (As for the YMCA, they’ve been giving out food throughout the pandemic, and I’m not sure what their connection is with Faessel.)  Who was it again who “politicizes food giveaways?”

THANK YOU STEVE, THANK YOU!

But truth be told, we got our asses kicked not only by Steve and Yesenia, who got three times as many votes as us, but also by someone called Sabrina “Sav” Quezada, who got twice as many votes as us.

In the summer Kenneth decided he should keep a low profile until the close of filing.   The kleptos knew Kenneth was running but we didn’t want them to take him too seriously, or they’d get a third candidate to run, to split the opposition.  So we kept quiet, up to late July.

Didn’t help.  Suddenly a 25-year-old lady that nobody had heard of was in the race.  A Democrat, Latina, grad student named Savrina, or Sabrina “Sav” Quezada.  Big on Instagram and other newer social media, she had never been to a Council meeting.  (She thinks she has, because after she filed to run she started tuning in to the teleconference quasi-meetings they do online.)

Several of us kept asking her questions about Anaheim issues, but she wasn’t familiar with the Angels Stadium deal, the corporate welfare, the police brutality, the mobile home rent-gouging, anything.  But she certainly had boundless, startling confidence in herself!

Her platform was that she was young, Latina, and spoke Spanish.  She told her Instagram followers that both Kenneth and Steve were over 70 (Steve had just turned 70, and Kenneth had just turned 66), and that they couldn’t represent the district because they didn’t speak Spanish and didn’t know Anaheim.  Yes, even “Mr. Anaheim” Faessel, the born-in-Anaheim Anaheim historian, was insufficiently Anaheim for Savrina because he went to Mater Dei Catholic High School in Santa Ana (class of 68.)

ALL of Savrina’s literature featured her weirdly elliptical slogan, “YOUNGEST PERSON EVER MAKING HISTORY!” I used to cringe every time I read that, thinking of 18-year old Greta Thunberg, teenaged Malala Yousafzai, and 21-year-old Joan of Arc. Did she mean “youngest person ever to run for Anaheim Council?” Well, that woulda been Angel Van Stark in 2016. But then Savrina also claimed to be the only Latina running that year, obviously having never heard of Jeanine (Mercado) Robbins or Denise (Avila) Barnes.  Whatever seemed tru-ish to her, she would say, a lot like our President.

After a few weeks of being pestered for a platform, she announced that she was for Universal Basic Income payments for all Anaheim residents, and for checking accounts for everyone starting at kindergarten.  She used words like “amazeballs” in her campaign videos.  We didn’t take her very seriously.

But some Democrats – the ones who have no problem with the policies of Steve Faessel and Jordan Brandman, and who hate good-government progressives like me and Jose Moreno – found in Savrina a chance to support a “Democrat,” split the Democrat vote, withhold the DPOC endorsement, make it easy for their friend Steve to win, and still not get called bad Democrats like they usually do. 

Yesenia, Faessel, Correa. This is how Savrina-endorsing Lou felt when his good friend Steve inevitably won.

I’m referring to the Liberal OC’s Dan Chmielewski, who told Kenneth that he’d only vote to endorse him in the DPOC if he cut all ties with yours truly (Kenneth told him to take a hike.)  And I’m referring to the Building Trades’ ambitious young LuisAndres Perez, who claimed to support Savrina while awkwardly being listed as a Faessel endorser.  (I also busted him sending council a letter of support for the Stadium ripoff.)  

And I’m talking about Congressman Lou Correa, a close friend and previous endorser of Faessel, who provided Savrina with bilingual robocalls singing her praises.  (These robocalls went out to Democrats’ cell-phones, not just land-lines; we searched high and low for a company that would do the same for Kenneth, but they all said that was illegal.)

Savrina sure did something right, getting 30%.  The magic of newer-than-Facebook social media?  Of just being young?  Of having a female, Latina name on the ballot?  52 cents a vote is most impressive, but I suspect when we do see the late filings, we’ll see she got a big late boost of cash from SOMEONE, as the final weeks saw an explosion of FAESSEL-SIZED SAVRINA SIGNS, as well as those robocalls.

On the evening of Election Day, I suddenly started getting videos texted to me from YESENIA of all people, videos showing Savrina campaigning at two polling stations, giving out candy, water, and campaign literature to folks in line waiting to vote, and asking them (mostly in Spanish) to vote for her.  Yesenia was outraged.  You can hear her scolding Savrina, and Sav taunting her back, “Hey Yesenia, you want to get your picture taken with me?”  I think Yesenia regrets taking these videos and sending them to me.  I think she had NOT YET GOT THE MEMO that Savrina was not considered a threat to Faessel, but a great help.

Well, whether THAT was illegal or not, Savrina’s not going anywhere, and has promised to run again in 2024.  And it makes no sense that, given her talents and ambition, the kleptocracy would not already be grooming her for the seat when Steve is termed out.  Four years is plenty of time for this smart young lady to learn about Anaheim’s issues and history, and I hope some degree of moral revulsion kicks in – she COULD be a winning, good-government progressive candidate by 2024.

OR… she could be the next Latinx in the klepto puppet stable to join Avelino Valencia and Jose Diaz.  As the Stranglers sang, You’re moving like a coin in the air.

In Part Two we’ll look at how we also got our asses kicked in Districts 1 and 4.  Meanwhile, think on how tragic it is that we don’t have this guy on Council:


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.