The Anointment of Gloria Ma’ae. (Part one)

It was foretold in the Book of SOAR.

Long story short:  Tuesday night 9/14/2021 the Anaheim Council, 4-2 (Moreno and Valencia abstaining) appointed ferociously loyal SOAR member Gloria Saha’gun Ma’ae as Jordan Brandman’s replacement for Council District 2.

Short story long:

Did I call this or what?  It was early July when I was standing on Gloria’s driveway, across La Palma from John Marshall Park, deciding whether to knock or not.  I should have, I don’t remember why I didn’t, it didn’t look like they were home.  I was getting signatures for the Brandman recall with Liz Gracian (a great canvassing partner, fluent in Spanish and outraged by Jordan’s texts) and I could see on my voter info sheet that Gloria lived there with her husband and son, all registered Republicans.  And I said to Liz, “The lady who lives here is likely to be the beneficiary of what we’re doing now.”

Because, more than anyone else I could think of in District 2, Gloria has shown fierce loyalty to Anaheim’s special interestsDisney and the Chamber of Commerce – for over a decade. I’ve been following her career and occasionally arguing with her since 2012 (and she always had an amusing way of greeting me, semi-sneering “Hiii Vern!” slowly and going UP on the “hi” like a high school mean girl with a sense of humor.  I wonder if she’ll keep doing that now – I won’t mind if she does.)

Since 2007, as a founding member of Disney’s front group SOAR (complete with the coveted red “VIP pass” which’ll get you and three friends into any Disney park in the world except Tokyo as often as you want) she has fought like a bulldog for everything Disney and the Chamber want, even when those wishes are unpopular with the public.  Cynthia Ward, who used to be on SOAR with her, says, “Nobody tells Gloria what to do – Disney just happened to find someone who believes and thinks like them.”  Maybe that is how it happened, but over the years her Disney-like thinking has led her to:

  • Fighting long but unsuccessfully against District Elections (She lost – 69% of Anaheim voter chose the reform in 2014.)
  • Fighting in 2018 against a Living Wage for Disney/Resort workers. (She lost that too – Measure L triumphed by 54.2%)
  • Speaking out in favor of the unnecessary, debt-exploding Convention Center expansion, revealingly admitting that she didn’t understand all the numbers but had a good feeling about it.
  • And being rewarded with membership in the Chamber-created astroturf group “Anaheim First!”

No wonder 4 outta 5 Disney-funded councilmembers – Faessel, O’Neil, Diaz and Mayor Sidhu – found her the obvious and safe choice.

“Controlled by SOAR?” Child, Gloria helped FOUND SOAR.

Last month, going out on a limb by presuming it’d be a bad idea for the Council to replace a member who’d had to resign because of his threats of violence (Jordan “rip her f***ng tits off” Brandman) with another member known to threaten violence (“Shut up and get out of my way or I’ll go STREET on you!”) activist Jeanine Robbins told the Council her story of being trash-talked and threatened by Gloria at a 2018 Maxwell Park event (which we’ll recap later.)

And then, on Tuesday afternoon, mere hours before the Council vote, came the final sign that Gloria was the Chosen One, the Foreordained: Chamber-funded blogger Matt Cunningham printed his revisionist version of that Maxwell Park incident, a version in which Jeanine is the aggressor, entitled “Council Gadfly Flings Mud at Only Latina Applicant for District 2 Vacancy.”  Pretty much a nothing-burger story, it just says Jeanine is lying about it all, and that she’s an un-self-aware “zealot.”

Note that folks like me and Jeanine, when we criticize the establishment, are called “gadfly,” while Gloria, who aggressively advocates for positions that are often unpopular, is never called a gadfly.  Matt is right about one thing though, Gloria IS a “Latina,” a Mexican-American born in Santa Ana (just like Jeanine Robbins, ironically.)  Most of us had assumed that with an exotic name like “Gloria Sahag’un Ma’ae” she was some kind of Pacific Islander, but apparently those names come from her Samoan husband, by all reports a real nice guy. 

But this brings up another matter – even her four adoring Council fans refuse to even try to pronounce “Ma’ae” correctly, referring to her as “Gloria May” like “Maggie Mae” (which is admittedly the best song ever.)   When deciding how to pronounce a person’s name, I tend to believe that they do it correctly themselves.  For example the “ae” in “Faessel” is not pronounced like “fossil” or like “facile” or like “facial,” but rather rhymes with “vessel”, as in “used for carrying water.”  So I listened to how Gloria pronounces her surname, and you know what?

You too can pronounce “Ma’ae!”

Muh-EYE!

The name is actually supposed to sound something like “muh-EYE!” with a millisecond pause at the apostrophe to allow for a glottal stop on the “eye.”  It’s best, at first, to imagine oneself as Scarlett O’Hara experiencing sudden ocular discomfort (right).  You can practice at home by putting your hand up protectively to your face and exclaiming “muh-EYE!” like someone just gave you a shiner – maybe Marlon Brando, or Gloria herself.  After just a few tries, you should be able to go out and pronounce Gloria’s last name correctly, unlike Harry Sidhu, Steve Faessel, Trevor O’Neil or Jose Diaz, all of whom are so enamored of her.

Speaking of Faessel, as he listed Gloria’s dazzling list of accomplishments, he actually included her three years on the “Citizen’s Advisory Commission on Elections” as though that were a GOOD thing, even though her whole function there was to keep district elections from happening or to postpone them as long as possible.  So let’s examine:

The Districts-Postponing Commission, 2012-14

(That’s a more honest name for it.)  In August 2012, two of our five Councilmembers, Tait and Galloway, wanted to quickly put an initiative on the November 2012 ballot to move Anaheim to District Elections in time for the 2014 Council races. Latinos and the ACLU were suing for that reform, mainly on the grounds that Anaheim’s huge Latino community wasn’t getting enough representation on Council.  Others of us, conservatives and liberals both, wanted districts for at least two other good reasons – it should make it six times less expensive to run for Council (giving us a fighting chance against the special interests), and of course we’d theoretically have representatives more in touch with the problems and needs of different areas.

Disney, the most powerful economic force in town, was as two-faced about the issue as you could imagine.  On the morning of that fateful August 8 meeting, their president released a statement that SOUNDED extremely enthusiastic about all the diversity and democracy district elections would bring, but all of that was subtly undercut by the final paragraph:  before any rash moves toward districting were made, a citizens’ commission should be formed to study the issue at length, from all angles, hearing from many, many experts.  In other words, Disney is okay with Districts, but NO TIME SOON.  (Remember, keeping elections at-large and prohibitively expensive favors the wealthy special interests and shuts out any dread reformers.)

And the three-member, Disney-funded Council majority at the time – Sidhu, Kris Murray, and Gail Eastman (another SOAR founder) – didn’t even PRETEND to favor district elections but were nakedly HOSTILE to the reform.  They kept it off the ballot, and, as Disney suggested (Jordan Brandman, running for Council at the time, read a statement almost exactly like Disney’s) formed a “Citizen’s Advisory Commission” to which each Councilmember got to nominate two members.  Obviously this, as planned, resulted in a 6-4 majority on the Commission which didn’t even PRETEND to be open to the reform.

And on that Commission, the most aggressive bulldogs holding the line against District Elections were Gloria, Sandra Day, and the toughest guy in the Colony with a long white ponytail, Keith Olesen.

One weird detour:  After Sidhu and Galloway were both termed out, replaced by anti-districting Lucille Kring and AMBIVALENT Jordan Brandman, one of Sidhu’s anti-districting appointees dropped out of the commission, so Brandman had a chance to appoint a replacement.  And even though he had promised Los Amigos, Loretta Sanchez, and his own Democratic Party to support District Elections, he chose as his appointee Republican Amanda Edinger, who was both fervently anti-districting and obsessed with stopping Mexican immigration.  (To the degree that she thought children with ONE undocumented parent should be DEPORTED, even if the other parent was a citizen.) Jordan has never explained that bizarre choice, but every now and then I just don’t let people FORGET!

District elections would have prevailed eventually in any case, but its progress through the Citizens’ Advisory Commission was hastened by TWO FASCINATING DEFECTIONS:

1.  Distinguished old West Anaheim businessman and Korean War veteran Vic Real had been put onto the Commission as an anti-districting vote by outgoing Councilman Harry Sidhu, but he paid close attention throughout the two years of meetings, and finally changed his mind, voting YES at the last minute!  Gloria and Sandra screamed like the sky had fallen!  Sandra, fighting back tears, practically prostrated herself to Vic, crying “PLEASE!  PLEASE change your vote, Vic!  We’ve been FRIENDS for so LONG! How can you DO this to me!?” but to no avail.  Gloria demanded a second vote, also to no avail.  Vic lost all his Disney-loving friends.  Blogger Matt Cunningham labeled Vic a “weak sister.”  (Ponder, for a moment, Matt Cunningham calling a Korean War veteran a “weak sister.”) I got Vic’s number and tried to interview him but he threw a fit:  “I don’t want to talk to anybody about this, I’m getting threats, I’m getting insults, I did the right thing and I’m done!”  I guess Disney REALLY didn’t want district elections.

2.  The other fascinating defection, months later, was long-white-haired tough guy Keith Olesen.  The anti-districting majority, hoping to make the best of their defeat, proposed to make Anaheim’s district elections the FAKE kind that Santa Ana had at the time – where the city was divided up into wards or districts and one councilmember had to live in each, but still had to RUN AT LARGE, keeping it as difficult and expensive as ever.  I wrote about this near-disaster in my 2013 piece “Sirloin or Dog Food?”  Credit due to Olesen, who didn’t like district elections, but reckoned PHONY district elections would be even worse.

And so District Elections went to a vote of Anaheim’s people who overwhelmingly said yes in November 2014, after the Council had spent $3 million of OUR money fighting against it.  In late 2015 Brandman nearly derailed it again, but that’s another story.  In 2016, our first election under the new system, we managed to get an honest Council for the first time in memory.  But in 2018 and since, Disney and the other special interests dealt with their setback in predictable ways:  quadrupling their campaign spending, and finding Latinos and Democrats who would follow their orders.  Gloria Ma’ae is one of those Latinas.

All right, now let me get you the straight dope on…

The Incident at Maxwell Park.

Two big things (at least) were going on in Anaheim that 2018 autumn of discontent:  Underpaid Disney/resort workers were fighting for an initiative (2018’s Measure L) that would make any Anaheim employer enjoying public subsidies pay a “living wage” (starting at $15 an hour.)  And the city’s & county’s burgeoning homeless population, having been evicted from their Santa Ana River Trail settlements in February and housed in motels for a month, were back out on the street en masse, many notably at West Anaheim’s Maxwell Park.

(THAT story is told here in song, if you have the time and interest.)

And SOME rocket scientist in the Measure L-opposing Disney/Chamber establishment came up with the idea to hold a press conference there at Maxwell Park, October 11, using the homeless folks as a backdrop, to make the UTTERLY BYZANTINE CASE that if Disney had to pay a living wage they wouldn’t be making as big of a PROFIT, and would no longer be able to help address the homeless problem (which of course they hadn’t been doing anyway.)  It was really a bizarre idea – it was much easier to make the opposite case, that Measure L would help reduce homelessness – after all there were Disney and resort workers living in their cars and on the street, some right there at Maxwell Park.

Well, somehow muckraker Duane Roberts got wind of this press conference before it happened, and alerted Jeanine Robbins, who put out a call for Measure L supporters and homeless advocates to get there first, which we did!  First we warned the local homeless folks that they were about to be used as a hostile backdrop, and put up some big signs in front of them, then we stood there with our Measure L signs waiting for the Disney/Chamber crowd to get there. (Even Ada Briceño, then a progressive union leader, joined us!)

And ALL the usual suspects showed up, one at a time: 

  • Ernesto Medrano from the Building Trades, that greedy collection of unions that didn’t want hotel & resort workers to enjoy the same wages and benefits as them. 
  • Jay Burress of Visit Anaheim in his fancy socks, enjoying a $400K salary from the city while living in San Clemente. 
  • Todd Ament who has long played at running the Chamber of Commerce although he gets his orders from lobbyists and Disney (and is now reportedly in legal hot water and has left town.) 
  • Hilariously, then-Councilwoman Kris Murray drove up, saw us, and turned right around.  (And probably drowned the rest of her afternoon in Chardonnay as is her wont when frustrated.) 
  • And of course, our new District 2 Councilwoman Gloria Ma’ae was there, “representing” for SOAR.

I was standing with Wes Jones, holding a sign, and trying to have constructive debate with some folks, so I wasn’t watching Jeanine.  But she was up front with her sign, and when the macho Ernesto saw her he ordered her to go OVER THERE to the bleachers.  She laughed in the union thug’s face.

Then Gloria stood as close to Jeanine as she could, and neither Chicana keeps quiet much.  After a few attempts to get her sign in front of Jeanine’s, Gloria spat, “Shut up and get out of the way or I’ll GO STREET ON YOU!”  Jeanine, a tad incredulous, laughed again at Gloria, which seemed to make her even madder, and she repeated the exact same words even louder.  (Must be one of Gloria’s sayings.)  By this time several people from both sides had turned around and were watching and listening slack-jawed, and one of Gloria’s own friends pulled her away.

Gloria is TRIBAL in nature.  She is of the Disney/SOAR tribe.  And Jeanine was from the opposing tribe.  And was infringing on Gloria’s tribe’s TERRITORY. (And maybe this is all a good thing, from the Council majority’s point of view.)

The press that was there concluded and reported that there was a great deal of disagreement on Measure L, and on homeless policy, which was a reasonable fair conclusion for them to draw.  But just think, in retrospect – Jeanine was there trying to get a living wage for Disney employees, while Gloria was there trying to make sure her beloved Disney did NOT have to shell out more for their hard workers.  And meanwhile, Jeanine and her friends were in the middle of fighting in court for more shelter space and civil rights for the homeless, while Gloria and her friends’ solution was for police to arrest them more frequently, for existing.

I report, you decide.

This piece will have to be in two parts.  Part Two will be about the “transparent process” leading up to Tuesday night’s decision to appoint Gloria, and the decision itself.  It was only thanks to Dr. Jose Moreno’s stubborn efforts that any of the public were able to hear the ten candidates questioned on real issues.  Gloria did NOT cover herself in glory, and there is video.  Four other candidates – Philip Wolfgram, Rudy Gaona, Carlos Leon, and our favorite Fred Sigala Jr – distinguished themselves, and we hope to hear much more from them in the future.  Video of all that too.   Vern out.

Read Part Two Here

(after stretching your legs and getting some fresh air)

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.