Garden Grove Mayor in Hot Seat Over Potentially Deadly Nepotism; Re-election Chances Charred

Broadwater Fires

As the troubled career of Garden Grove firefighter Jeremy Broadwater goes down in flames over allegations of nepotism and incompetence, it seems likely to take the reelection campaign of his father, Garden Grove Mayor Bruce Broadwater, against fellow Democrat Bao Nguyen along with it. Other past and current City Council candidates may be singed as well.

1. Endorsement Night’s a-Comin’

Monday night is the DPOC’s Endorsement Meeting for Local Races — often a rollicking time — and it just got a lot more interesting.  I’m not referring to my own candidacy for Water Board — golly, I still have to write about that — but as an observer of County Democrats and especially, in this case, Garden Grove.

After a mild purge of 13,036 voters countywide on August 14, Garden Grove’s registration was about 36.2% Republican to 35.8% Democrats — an advantage of 251 actual voters —  with 23.7% NPPs (non-partisans, not counting those American Independents who only think that they’ve registered Independent.)  That’s no surprise, but this is: in one of the few cities with direct election of a Mayor, three Democrats are running for Mayor — along with zero Republicans!

How does that happen?  The usual answer, anytime all candidates in a city or district are from the party opposite the majority registration, is that at least one of them is not really representative of their party.  (Really, how would most voters know?)  Then, people in Party A (from which both candidates come) will tend to split their votes between them, but people in Party B (from which neither candidate comes) will tend to be very well informed that one of the candidates may be registered in Party A — but ACTS LIKE a member of Party B.  And that allows the de facto “Party B” candidate to win.

To take one vivid example of this, consider what almost happened in CA-38 this year.  (That district contains La Palma, so we get to write about it.)  The incumbent, Linda Sanchez, is a traditional liberal Democrat. Many expected that she was going to be opposed by corrupt “Business Democrat” Ron Calderon, who might well have been able to beat her (with the help of independent expenditures that are so often there for candidates of pliant ethics).  Ron Calderon’s legal problems prevented his run — short-circuiting what might otherwise right now have been possibly the most bitter race in Orange County.

Now when I say a candidate is “acting like” they’re from the other party, this doesn’t mean to suggest that being from the other party means being corrupt.  Usually, it just means that the candidate has neither a firm ideology or the party’s interests at heart — and so can be easily bought off by monied interests who don’t give a damn about ideology.  Plenty of Republicans don’t like Calderon’s sort of corruption — but nevertheless he was a readily available vote for conservative leaning business interests — because that’s where the money is.  (A Republican Mayor who’s an easy touch for liberal unions might be the inverse example, but that’s less common.  A Matt Cunningham might argue that this is true of Anaheim’s Tom Tait, but last Monday the OCGOP itself kicked that argument in the teeth.)

In Garden Grove, one Democratic candidate for Mayor fits the traditional Democratic mold; two don’t. Garden Grove School Board member Bao Nguyen will almost surely get the Democratic Party of OC endorsement on Monday.  He’s the only one who has filed — and the only plausible reason that he wouldn’t get it is that some people may consider him too honest and non-hard to influence.  This is a lousy reason not to endorse someone, and I think that there’s enough integrity in the room to prevent it.

The other two Democrats aren’t traditional Democrats.  One is the nonagenerian perennial candidate Albert Ayala, is a Tea Partier; he’ll serve here mostly as a protest vote for those who want no part of a pretty interesting race.

The other Democrat is the incumbent Mayor, Bruce Broadwater, who did not even bother applying for the Democratic Party endorsement.  I’ve heard unpleasant rumors about Broadwater for years now — he’s been on the City Council or serving as Mayor for all but two of the past 20 years — but I haven’t researched them myself; I’m told that you can get a good idea of his past performance from Voice of OC’s coverage, including this prescient one from almost a year ago.  My own knowledge of Broadwater comes from the fact that Garden Grove has given even more money to the so-far-failed “JEDI Initiative” — which seeks not just to bring back the highly corrupted redevelopment program but “redevelopment on steroids” — than has the Radical Redevelopment Faction of the City of Anaheim.

That’s disturbing — but even I have to admit that it’s sort of esoteric for most voters.  What the OC Register wrote about this weekend isn’t esoteric at all.  Everyone can understand nepotism.

2. Nepotism Kills — and Mayor Bruce Broadwater Has Been Swimming in It

In a long piece that came out Friday and was revised since, Martin Wisckol and Salvador Hernandez  (hereinafter just “Wisckol”) present a pretty shocking story.  (Go ahead, click the link.  It’s free!)  Close observers of county politics — that is, almost no one — already knew that something weird was happening was from the Voice of OC story and some others, but this time the Orange Lady’s story lays it it vividly and strong.

If you want to get people’s attention, it helps to ladle out a little bit of needless death along with the garden variety corruption.  Apparently, Bruce Broadwater’s son Jeremy Broadwater — one of the only 2% of applicants chosen to become a Garden Grove firefighter over the last year — almost did exactly that.  (That 2% figure represents 10 hires out of 500 applicants.)  This does not mean that the elder Broadwater knew what was going on — it is possible, for example, that he is a completely blithering idiot and has been living in a cave for the past year.  (I’m betting on nepotism — and even if Papa Broadwater didn’t initiate it, he had the responsibility to monitor it and stop it cold.  He, of course, didn’t.)

The main problems with the younger Broadwater becoming a Garden Grove firefighter — aside from the obvious (to all but the oblivious) one of flagrant political nepotism — are that (1) he has a hefty criminal record and (2) he’s apparently really, really, reeeeaaaaally unqualified for the job.  That Voice of OC story up there was written before the ink was dry on his appointment.  But, for some unknowable reason, Garden Grove Fire Department (“GGFD”) officials decided to give the poor kid a chance anyway.

And now, it appears, the verdict on young Broadwater is in.  He has a tendency to — how does one best put this? — run the risk of killing people by making up their vital statistic rather than accurately measuring them.  In fact, he’s done this often enough that the GGFD had to establish a new protocol especially for him: whenever he checks someone’s vitals, another firefighter has to go over and redo them to verify them.  (Why do they let him take the vitals in the first place?  I presume that at this point they are doing what attorneys call “building a record” for his termination — at least if Papa Broadwater loses the Mayor’s seat!)

You see — and this may surprise some of you — it turns out that if you say that someone whom you’ve just rescued is in pretty good physical condition, but the truth is that their vital signs indicate that they need to be rushed to the hospital, then your negligence could actually kill them!  (Seriously, no kidding!)  Let’s let the pros from the Register have their say for a while:

Rookie firefighter Jeremy Broadwater’s job performance has included potentially life-threatening mistakes on medical calls, according to internal department records obtained by the Register. Doubts about his abilities have resulted in him being removed from at least one fire call and have led a captain to call him “unsafe” and recommend his termination.

The department’s handling of Broadwater was part of the reason the union firefighters cast a 51-0 vote of no confidence in Fire Chief David Barlag in June, and is one of the issues being examined in an ongoing independent audit of the department.

The Register notes that neither Fire Chief Barlag, Bruce Broadwater, nor Jeremy Broadwater responded to reporters’ requests for comment — and that City Manager Manager Matthew Fertal did not address the issue but speculated that Jeremy Broadwater’s colleagues were prejudiced against him.  YA THINK?  Maybe they weren’t before — but THEY SURE HAVE REASON TO BE PREJUDICED AGAINST HIM NOW!  Having firefighters make negligent (at best) errors leading to possible fatalities hurts all of their resumes (as well as threatening public support for their pensions!)  Isn’t it nice to see a public safety union policing their own?

Wisckol goes on:

Between 1996 and 2000, Jeremy Broadwater was arrested by Garden Grove police on 10 occasions and was convicted of misdemeanor assault, resisting arrest, public drunkenness and shoplifting, court and police record show. While misdemeanors don’t automatically disqualify a candidate for firefighter, some familiar with typical fire department hiring practices say the highly competitive firefighter job field makes it unlikely an applicant with such a record would be hired.

“They screen them out before they even get to that part,” said [Retired fire Capt. Dennis] Standrod, who spent 32 years with the Garden Grove Fire Department and said he’s served on at least 10 firefighter interview panels in three cities, including Garden Grove. “It’s pretty well-known if you have anything on your record, you’re not going to be hired.”

Standrod views someone with a misdemeanor conviction even making it to an interview is unprecedented in his experience.  Go on, read the whole thing — there’s lots more good stuff and it’s a pretty eye-popping adventure.

The story quotes Garden Grove City Councilman Chris Phan — whom I hope won’t mind being called a reform-minded Republican, because that’s what he looks like from here — as warning of consequences if there’s evidence of nepotism.  And this is where it gets politically interesting.  I don’t know much about, Steve Jones, one Republican member of Garden Grove’s City Council, but I do know a bit about Broadwater, his fellow Democrat Kris Beard, and the fifth member of the Council, Garden Grove City Councilwoman Dina Nguyen.  And here’s where we see a fissure within the Republican Party.

Wisckol quotes Dina Nguyen as saying:

In my experience, the court provides people the opportunity to rehabilitate and become productive citizens.  Half of the people who come out of the court system don’t end up as successful as Jeremy. I think he’s done well and become a productive citizen. …  If he has performance issues, that should be addressed by his immediate superiors.

So here’s the score: I don’t know about Steve Jones, but Jeremy Broadwater has at least two reliable allies on the City Council: his Dad and the highly forgiving Republican Dina Nguyen.  (She’s running for Seat 1 on the OC Water District Board, by the way — a race in which you, Dear Reader who lives in that district, will be voting for Robin Marcario if you have good judgment.)  Broadwater’s nepotism clearly doesn’t bother him — although resigning and withdrawing from the race in shame see like a good option, it’s not how one should bet — and it doesn’t bother the apparently extremely forgiving of ethical deficits Dina Nguyen.

That leaves one member to be heard from: Kris Beard.  And so we return to Democratic Party politics.

3. Kris Beard Has Got Some ‘Splainin’ to Do

While Bruce Broadwater isn’t shooting for an endorsement against Bao Nguyen, who is highly popular within the Democratic Party of Orange County, Appointed Councilmember Kris Beard does want an endorsement.  Beard has run for Garden Grove City Council twice before — and lost.  He won appointment this time because of his close political alliance with Bruce Broadwater.  [UPDATE, Aug. 24: Or so I had been told.  You’ll see that this is contested vigorously in the comments section below.  What is irrefutable is that Beard was appointed to City Council the first time after the resignation of Andrew Do over the third-place candidate in the previous Council race, Robin Marcario.  I address this in a comment in reply to Vern’s first comment below.] So it’s Beard’s endorsement that is going to be the focus of debate on Monday night.  I know that there will be a debate because I personally plan to pull his name from the consent calendar.  I have some questions to ask.

To be sporting, I’ll list some of them here.

  1. Does he think that Jeremy Broadwater’s hiring and retention within GGFD has been appropriate?
  2. Does he think that Bruce Broadwater’s actions with respect to his son’s job were appropriate? 
  3. For Garden Grove Mayor, does he endorse Broadwater, or Nguyen, or neither? (Or Ayala?)
  4. Does he stand by the Council’s decision to give $50,000 in taxpayer money support the “JEDI Initiative”?

As in many other cities, partisan politics in Garden Grove have become highly messy.  Broadwater and — barring a late conversion on Monday night — are Democrats for whom government ethics is an apparent bother, a position that I consider opposed to the brunt of the DPOC membership.  Dina Nguyen — wife of Democratic City Council candidate Joe Dovinh, whom I like on a personal level — seems very much in alliance with Broadwater.  Chris Phan, a good-government Republican, clearly favors the Democrat in the race with the greatest focus on ethics; he and Bao would probably be largely allied on the City Council, although their paths will presumably part if either is running for state or federal office.

4. Last Word Goes to the Facebookers

In response to a somewhat nihilistic comment that Fire Departments all operate based on nepotism, a woman named Diana Wilkins (whose parents live in Garden Grove and so who I suspect is a former resident) has this to say:
I understand your response regarding nepotism in the fire service, however… And I promise you this… This case is very different and “literally” life threatening. The mayor’s son is not capable of doing the job. He is going to hurt someone or himself. This fire department, who usually do not ban together for much other than softball games is finally had enough of their lack of leadership and the allowance of J.Broadwater to continue working with his substandard performance. The article does not say it all… And certain documents cannot be given to them because of privacy laws. But trust me, you do not want him responding to anyone’s house you know for a medical aid or a fire. 
A man named Paul Andrews later commented:

Now that this has been made public the city of GG will be facing the wrath of the personal injury attorneys. Any call that bozo is on = a nice payout should something go wrong.

To which Wilkins responded:

You [would] think the city leaders would be more concerned with this… My parents live in G.G. God help them, and him, if [he responds] to their house.

Yes, you would think that City leaders would care more about this sort of thing — starting with the City’s elected Mayor.  Unfortunately, he seems driven by other considerations.  Unless Garden Grove Republicans want to go against Phan and line up behind this sort of corruption, Bao Nguyen may have an easier time than most had thought.

The main question in Garden Grove may come down to this: will Joe Dovinh go against his wife on this issue and support Bao over Broadwater?  I hope so.  We’ll find out on Monday night.

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. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)