Tom Tait: Anaheim’s Best Choice for Interim Mayor is Obvious

But if they REALLY won’t pick Dr. Jose Moreno, there are some good alternatives.

I interviewed former Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait a week ago about topics including “the Anaheist” (he hadn’t heard the term yet, but likes it) and the most pressing question of who should be Anaheim’s Interim Mayor. Here are some highlights from that conversation — and yes, I am burying the lead here! (It’s down at section “5”.)

(1) Dr. Jose Moreno is by far the best choice for Interim Mayor

“The best choice would be Dr. Jose Moreno, because he’s current on the issues and shown himself to be a man of integrity time and time again.  We’ve been opposing the cabal together for years. Jose just gives them credibility — he would be a natural choice.”

Tait had not been aware that some on the Council expressed the sentiment that they didn’t want to elevate anyone from one of the districts — which I think can pretty fairly be read as trying to keep Jose out of the position at the cost (if it is that) of not being thrust into the harsh spotlight themselves.

When I told him that I saw some advantage in not appointing Dr. Moreno, because if they did so, then the Council could appoint their own crony candidate for District 3 that could run against Moreno’s protégé Al Jabbar as an incumbent, Tait acknowledged that possibility — but then concluded that, even so, Dr. Moreno was the best choice. He reiterated his view on Dr. Moreno in Thursday’s Anaheim Dem Club Zoom Meeting on the Stadium debacle. 

(2) Denise Barnes would be a strong appointee, as might James Vanderbilt

I asked Tait who the best choice would be If they really did refuse to appoint anyone currently on the Council. His view was that former Councilmember Denise Barnes would be the obvious choice with James Vanderbilt also being good possibility. “Denise and James have also been opposing the group with the two of them.  Both would be perfectly capable and would bring credibility to the city.”  He added that they were “totally uncorruptible,” and the City needs someone credible — someone looking out for the people and not tied to the big special interests. I asked him — and she’ll hate me for this — whether Cynthia Ward was a possibility. “Cynthia would also do an excellent job” — but he wondered whether they would appoint such an effective critic.

(3) Leaving the position open would be a bad idea

I informed Tait that there was some sentiment for simply leaving the position open and letting Trevor O’Neil run the meetings. Tait thought that that was a bad idea — both missing an opportunity for reform and making things worse. I even quoted him verbatim: “At this critical moment, Anaheim needs someone who can immediately help reshape Council relations with the Cabal, which Trevor O’Neil is not well-placed to do.”

(4) Bringing in someone like Kris Murray or Lucille Kring would be very bad

Tait’s first reaction, when I relayed the rumors that the Council would bring back Kris Murray or Lucille Kring, was a soft chuckle. “I can’t imagine that being a serious consideration.  Better me than them.”

I asked him about bringing back Curt Pringle rather than Murray or Kring. We agreed that while that would have the benefit of being blatant enough to attract attention, it was not a good idea. “That would be biggest threat to Anaheim right now.”

I gleaned that his point is that the FBI has sort of given Anaheim a chance to see if it can escape the clutches of the Cabal. If they move in the wrong direction, there will be even more serious problems.

(5) Wait — did Tait REALLY say “Better me than them”?

Yes, he did!  I picked up on that and asked him if he was really saying that he’d accept an appointment as Interim Mayor. He said that he had not put his name forward seeking the job, but that the city was in crisis and “if it came down to me or [someone like Murray or Kring” I might feel that I had to accept it if offered. The money quote: “If they needed someone to spend six months putting the city back on an ethical footing, then I would have to strongly consider it.”

Tait said that he really liked the idea of having served his time and then “going back to his plow,” in the manner of the famous Roman statesman Cincinatus, who took a leadership role when it was needed and then returned home rather than trying to hold on to power. But if this was a crisis that he could help resolve, he’d rather do so than having the position filled by someone still taking directions from (or giving them to) the Cabal.

(But he still thinks that Dr. Moreno would be the best choice.)

(6) My own reaction to all this

I think that Dr. Moreno would probably be the best person for the job — but to me that’s not the only consideration. Dr. Moreno as Interim Mayor puts him in a minority of one — and that means that he can’t necessarily accomplish anything. Choosing Tait as Mayor gives Anaheim a minority of two — and that means a lot when it comes to getting motions on the floor and participating in debate. Tait really does have the vision to help refashion and reform Anaheim — not to wreck the Resort District, but simply to bring the city out from under its thumb — but I think that perhaps the Council members, especially the newer ones, may be a little but afraid of him in these circumstances. (Maybe they’re still thinking that all of this will blow over.)

So while I’d love to see either, I suspect that the best attainable choice for Interim Anaheim Mayor might be Denise Barnes.

Barnes is simply fitting for this role. She would be the first female Mayor (if “Acting Mayor” counts according to the Guinness Book of Records), as well as its first woman of color. Beyond that, she has served longer on the existing Council than any current Councilmember except Dr. Moreno and Steve Faessel. But most of all, she knows the sting of the Cabal and has been able to bear it with grace.

Remember, Barnes was most recently prominent ins the news as the target of former Cabal Councilmember Jordan Brandman’s vitriol, in which he viciously called her a term for female genitalia and invoked what he said was his mother’s favored violent phrase for doing harm to another woman. (You may recall that Melahat Rafiei — central to the Anaheim scandals, at first tried to explain away Brandman’s actions before surrendering the the inevitable — was an advisor to Ada Briceño — and as such was was critical in denying Barnes the Democratic Party endorsement, even after she switched to join that party. (Having an endorsee who was willing to stand up to the Cabal — with which the Building Trades were de facto partners when it came to the Cabal’s penchant for construction — was not good for Ada’s political ambitions.)

Denise — I’ll call her that to avoid confusion with OC’s Sheriff of the same surname — is a centrist who came to the Council willing to be friendly to Disney and the Angels if what they wanted was fair, and gradually learned the truth of what was going on well enough that the Cabal’s financiers spent heavily to defeat her. Of people sitting on the Council in the post-Pringle Mayoralty days, only Tom Tait and Jose Moreno have known more about how and why to oppose the cabal. Councilmembers may decide that she’d be easier to roll over as an Interim Mayor than Tait or Dr. Moreno; that’s not my sense, but if it got her the appointment then fine.

Barnes’s aide when serving on the Council was not a PR firm representative, but friend-of-the-blog Cynthia Ward — who seems to have her health back and ha never lost her intellect and knowledge of the machinations of the cabal. I don’t know whether Cynthia would be willing to put in a six-month stint helping to put Anaheim back on track — but no one would be better suited to do so.

So yeah, Council folks: if you want to let the FBI know that you’re serious about reform, Denise Barnes is likely the best candidate that you might be willing to appoint. Yes, those with a Cabal-related history will still be the Council’s majority, but hopefully at least two of them would be willing to join her and Dr. Moreno to make the structural changes that the city needs. Frankly, after years of “independent” expenditures hammering the Council, the picking are pretty slim — but we’re lucky that there’s at least one good choice, with Council experience, available.

The Council meets tonight, June 21 — though it doesn’t really seem to be taking the FBI threat that seriously after Sidhu’s departure — and I’m sure that they’ll welcome any input on these choices.

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.)