William Denis Fitzgerald, Champion of the Underdog.

First things first – I want to sincerely apologize, rather than make excuses, to all the people my friend Fitzgerald insulted on the basis of their race, nationality, religion, sexuality, body weight, or infirmity. He should have just called you corrupt, lying, heartless assholes.

Now THAT’S straightened out… Denis’ sons Bill, Buddy and David swung by Varsity Burgers a few Thursday mornings ago to let us know their dad had died in his sleep, watched over by his youngest son David. They knew they’d find his old friends there at Varsity, even though he’d stopped dropping by himself the last couple years since he’d been suffering from cancer while refusing any treatment. Typically he’d been too proud to admit his illness to any of us; he’d always just claim to be too busy with all his court fights. But Donna and I had noticed, when we’d drop by his home, that he was always thinner and shakier – toward the end he looked like a white-haired Ronald Reagan.

The Army veteran moved out from Riverside to Anaheim sometime in the early 70s, where he and his wife, Japanese Hiroshima survivor Akimi, raised three fine sons, Bill, Buddy and David:

Three sons of a Fitz:
CHP officer Buddy, school administrator David, and retired Sheriff Bill.
At Varsity, July 2022.

Anaheim HOME

To the end of his life, Fitzgerald identified himself as a spokesman for something called “Anaheim HOME,” short for “Anaheim Homeowners Maintaining their Environment.” Tom Rogers, in his masterpiece on 20th Century OC political corruption entitled Agents’ Orange (I got my copy of that book from Denis and it’s inscribed to him by the author) tells the story of the birth of Anaheim HOME in 1987; Fitzy was a founding member along with Steve White, Curtis Stricker, Doug Kintz and Betty Ronconi. As Rogers regales us:

In June of 1987, the Anaheim City Council approved a redevelopment project for the area adjacent to Disneyland.  The project was to provide parking facilities, lighting, and other improvements for the benefit of the Disney Corporation. 

On Friday July 3, the city mailed out notices to all residents affected by the proposal, informing them that their homes would be subject to condemnation by virtue of eminent domain.  The mailing coincided with a long holiday weekend, and the notices were not delivered until four days later. 

The mail was delivered on Tuesday, the same day as the regular City Council meeting.  Over 3,800 irate citizens showed up, and the session was moved to the River Theater (next door to City Hall) in order to accommodate this throng of protesters…

You can read the rest of this story here, but this first successful rebellion against Disney imperialism marked the beginning of Anaheim HOME, whose spokesman back then was the well-mannered Curtis Stricker (ironically an uncle of today’s Disney mega-shill Curt Pringle!) Denis told me the story many times, as old folks will, of how he had learned from Stricker to SHOCK his audiences: “Nobody EVER listened to Curt, even though he was brilliant – he was TOO POLITE. That’s why I try to PISS PEOPLE OFF, to OUTRAGE them, otherwise they won’t even hear your voice!” Many’s the time I suggested unsuccessfully that, maybe there’s a middle ground? Because some of the awful remarks he threw into his speeches were usually all anyone remembered. But he wouldn’t listen to me, or his sons, on this. Stubborn man.

The OC Bankruptcy of the 90’s, and FISTICUFFS!

Rogers also tells the story of the formation of the “Committees of Correspondence” in the mid-90’s, named after that great network that led the American Revolution. Various small groups fighting local corruption in different OC cities realized that their biggest problems were County-wide (and had a lot to do with the Board of Supervisors), and they had to band together to take these problems on as a coalition. This brought together a motley bipartisan organization including Anaheim HOME, Fullerton’s Bruce Whitaker (still a councilman), Carole Walters of the Orange Taxpayers Association (NOT the corrupt OC Tax!) and activists from Huntington Beach and around the County, who’d meet regularly at the Orange City Hall when it was free.

When the County went bankrupt in 1994 (the largest municipal bankruptcy in history) due to the Treasurer’s and Supervisors’ irresponsible investments, and the villains wanted to fix it by raising a County sales tax on you and me with Measure R, our heroes had a real crusade to fight! And then when Sheriff Brad Gates (above right) – a skillful politician, and corrupt and brutal – was put in charge of getting this tax measure passed, our heroes had a real nemesis!

[This paragraph is about Whitaker‘s misadventures with Gates, but it’s important because it’s never before been printed: One night after debating Measure R against the Sheriff, Bruce was startled when an unusually “friendly” Gates approached him with a smile, hugging him and whispering in his ear, “Be very careful driving home to Fullerton tonight!” Bruce was nearly home when his brakes stopped working and he swerved madly into a bush. Next day the mechanic told him, “Dude, your brake line was cut clean through!” “You never said anything about this, Bruce?” I asked him when he visited Varsity. “Ah, Vern, I could never prove it was Gates or the Sheriffs that did it.” OC history there…]

And here’s some OC history featuring our hero Fitzgerald: Sheriff Gates really wanted to know exactly who all his enemies were, who were fighting the Measure R Tax. So he sent one underling, an undercover sheriff, in the guise of a cable cameraman, to get close-ups of everyone’s face at a Committees of Correspondence meeting. When the guy got around to shoving his camera in Denis’ face, Denis pushed the camera right back into the cameraman’s face, earning a punch in the nose from the undercover sheriff and a bloody shirt. Denis may have swung back as well, accounts differ. Both men sued each other; and for a short time Denis was going to be charged with “assaulting an officer,” but that was dropped cuz it woulda blown the undercover guy’s identity. Some more OC history there!

More Disney, and More Violence!

But Disney’s predatory relationship with its host city provided Fitzgerald and Anaheim HOME with the majority of their projects and crusades, often putting them decades ahead of their time:

  • Denis, Steve, and Anaheim HOME collected petitions for district elections (to level the playing field between candidates supported by Disney and those not) decades before we finally got them.
  • They fought to get, and to enforce, a Gate Tax or entertainment tax, so that the giant corporation would be paying its fair share, decades before the latest effort.
  • Steve remembers himself and Denis marching with UNITE HERE for higher wages for Disney workers in the 90s – decades before Measure L – and Denis SLUGGING a strikebreaker who tried to stop them.
  • And the issue Denis is most remembered for harping on for years and years – Disneyland’s nightly fireworks and their pollution which he was certain was giving Latino kids asthma in the surrounding neighborhoods – we printed his letter to the DA on the subject here.

Speaking of violence, remember when Denis was mugged by the Eastman clan? I told the story thoroughly here. It was Gail Eastman‘s last day on council. Remember Gail Eastman, who’d exulted two years earlier “Thank God for the riots!” because they saved her from having to make uncomfortable votes against districting and democracy? Well it was her last day on Council, and Denis made a particularly offensive speech attacking her and her husband, but their family and friends were expecting it and had a plan!

The moment Denis returned to his seat, four co-ordinated things happened simultaneously: Gail’s hulking minister son Jay stepped on Denis’ foot on the pretext of “praying over him;” burly subsidized hotelier Bill O’Connell grabbed him from behind and punched him in the back of the neck; Jay’s fellow Zion Elder Larry Torgerson flew to the ground in a pratfall pretending Denis had pushed him; and co-conspirator Lisa Lewis stood by filming the whole thing. Then they had Denis arrested falsely for assaulting Torgerson and Eastman, and attempted to have him banned from ever speaking at Anaheim Council again.

Ha, good luck, dirty liars!

Remember that video taken by Lisa Lewis? It didn’t look too helpful to their case, as it plainly showed Denis as the victim of a planned mugging, so at first they denied it existed. But here, inevitably, enters the idiot blogger Dan Chmielewski of the Liberal OC, who not having got the memo, blabbed to Denis that he’d heard there was a video of what he’d done. So Denis demanded the video, which proved his innocence, and he responded by suing the Eastman cabal for $158 million, the same amount Gail had voted to subsidize O’Connell in the “Gardenwalk Giveaway!”

Sadly, I don’t think anything came of that, but still… more OC history! .


Varsity Days!

I first heard Denis speak at my first Anaheim Council meeting, in July of 2012. Martin Hernandez had been killed by Anaheim police four months earlier; they’d killed three other young Latino men shortly before that; and within a week or two they’d be killing Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo. The Council majority didn’t much care. At the same time, lots of activists plus the Council MINORITY wanted to put the question of district elections onto the November ballot (partly for more Latino representation) which the Council majority stubbornly refused to do.

And here was this big old white guy in a blue suit hollering at the council majority that they were “racists” and “white supremacists.” (For a guy whom others called racist, Denis could sure point out racism where it REALLY existed!)

I began making Council speeches too, and soon Denis invited me to his Thursday morning local political get-togethers at Varsity Burgers, which he jokingly called his “Prayer Breakfasts.” Back then it was mostly his old friends; it looked like a septuagenarian King of the Hills. We’d talk Anaheim politics and rumors. Denis always had something he wanted me to write about on this blog. A little later when I was starting to see Donna Acevedo, she’d come too. She loved “Fitzy” partly because he reminded her of one of her favorite TV characters, Archie Bunker.

Donna and Fitz had a lot in common, including the fact that they both loved to save money and clip coupons. When we got married, Fitzgerald gave us a great present we still use – a huge TOOL KIT! Harbor Freight was his favorite store. Donna and Denis would frequently run into each other at grocery stores because they both followed the sales advertised in the mail.

Sometimes when Fitzgerald would say something especially terrible at Council I’d stop going for a couple of months. But apart from that we went to his Varsity Prayer Breakfasts nearly every Thursday from 2013 until Covid messed things up. Over the years the team changed, as the old geezers moved on or passed on, and more of our slightly younger, more liberal, more minority friends joined in. And every Thursday I’d hear all about Denis’ latest CRUSADE.

But before we get to the crusades, watch the first few hilarious minutes of this Lou Noble video of Denis joining us at a 2016 SOAR protest!


Assorted Crusades 2013-22

  • About five years ago, when a neighbor of Denis’, the teenaged son of a Korean immigrant couple (who were the co-signers) purchased a car from a local Honda dealership, the business tacked on an extra $3000 because of the co-signers being immigrants (or not being citizens.) Turns out that was a regular practice of that dealership, and they weren’t the only ones either, but it REALLY pissed off Denis to see weaker more helpless people taken advantage of like that. So he flew into one of his letter-writing frenzies. He wrote to the dealership, to the press, to politicians, to the Governor, to the Better Business Bureau, to the DMV… and eventually that dealership gave in. They didn’t charge that extra 3 grand to Fitz’ neighbor, or any other immigrants.
  • Denis had a friend he’d stayed loyal to since childhood – that’s like seven decades! The fellow may have been a little “mentally handicapped,” and regularly, throughout his whole life, some state bureaucrats would be trying to take away his benefits. Denis went to court regularly making sure that didn’t happen, literally up to the last weeks of his life.
  • Possibly what took up the most of his time was his conviction that most homeowners were paying too much property taxes, taking up the slack for huge corporations like *cough* Disney who had fancy lawyers to get them off the hook (and of course abused Prop 13.) So he made (Steve estimates) at least a hundred trips to court for various homeowners he’d meet, saving them varying amount of property taxes.
  • There were countless smaller things, things he’d notice in the news. Example. In 2019 he read about a shady dentistry clinic on State College that was regularly giving unnecessary root canals to little kids, while using unsanitary water and giving them infections. Mostly kids of Spanish-speaking parents who didn’t know any better. He figured me and Donna, living on Anna Drive, might know some of these kids, and sure enough we did. One cute little girl, with a real bad jaw pain, lived right next door. So Denis hooked us and the girl’s parents up with the lawyer’s number, and soon they were off and running with a successful class action lawsuit. Did the girl get better? I hope so, they moved away.

The only candidates to show up to 2014’s Anna Drive forum –
Vanderbilt for Council, Fitzgerald and Tait for Mayor, Moreno and Acevedo for Council.

  • Denis Fitzgerald’s various runs for Anaheim Mayor, including the time he ran against Pringle just so Pringle would have an opponent, may have been QUIXOTIC, as may have been his son Bill’s run for Mayor. What was NOT quixotic was his ballot argument against Lucille Kring’s 2015 dishonest, kleptocratic Measure N attempted utilities tax hike. Denis’ argument won the voters’ hearts against Lucille’s lies, and the measure was defeated, and just as when 1994’s Measure R post-bankruptcy tax hike failed, the sky did not fall. Here is Denis’ ballot argument; he probably wrote other ones I don’t know about:

That was true. And it worked. And with no nasty language.

Having too much fun, last year, with three younger rebels – Wildstar, Bushala, and the author.

Not Falling Far from the Tree

The most excited and happy we’d ever see Denis was when his grandkids were about to come for a visit (we ran into him twice in the Vons parking lot stocking up on snacks and sodas.) And the proudest we’d see him was when he’d brag about his three sons. Especially, in the last couple years, his oldest son Sheriff Bill, who seems to be following in his footsteps as a truth-telling, whistle-blowing, caring troublemaker.

The first story Denis sent me about Bill is a tragic and infuriating one describing his suspension from the department. Why was Bill suspended? For going public with his criticisms of department policies. And what were those criticisms? That due to petty turf battles between the Sheriffs Dept and the OC Fire Authority, a general compromise was reached that prioritized interagency peace over the saving of lives, leading to the avoidable death of a little kid on the 241. Some excerpts from Saavedra’s 2020 piece:

With a bystander pumping on his little chest, 7-year-old Ver’shad Raggins lay dying in August 2019 on the 241 Toll Road, an accident victim desperately in need of air transport to the nearest emergency room.

But an Orange County Fire Authority dispatcher sent a fire helicopter that arrived in 18 minutes — instead of calling a sheriff’s copter only a minute away — a fact that haunts Sgt. William Fitzgerald, the former leader of the sheriff’s aviation unit.

“The 7-year-old did not make it. All of us in public safety should be ashamed of ourselves about this call,” Fitzgerald wrote in an Aug. 29, 2019, email to Sheriff’s Department colleagues…


Sgt. Fitzgerald received a 12-hour unpaid suspension after questioning the helicopter response. He also was removed from the sheriff’s aviation unit he helped develop... (more explanation here)

Fast forward to last May’s Coastal Fire, with its unnecessary destruction of 20 Laguna Niguel ocean-view homes due to the SAME EXACT STUPID-ASS POLICY BILL CRITICIZED in 2020, and now Bill is the RETIRED SHERIFF that the press calls to have the OCSD’s fuckups explained. Some excerpts from THAT Saavedra story:

During the first hour of the Coastal fire — before it turned into a raging inferno that destroyed 20 ocean-view homes — only one Orange County Fire Authority helicopter fought the blaze, unassisted by sheriff’s water-dumping aircraft that sat idle and unready.

Although Orange County sheriff’s helicopters in the past could self-dispatch to such blazes whether or not they were called upon by fire authorities, a policy change in 2019 prohibited them from responding unless invited.

As a result, the sheriff’s air support unit removed the $459,000 water tanks from its two Huey aircraft, leaving them unprepared, unmanned or out-for-maintenance as homes burned May 11 in Laguna Niguel, said retired sheriff’s Sgt. Bill Fitzgerald, who ran the department’s aviation team.

Fitzgerald said each Huey helicopter could have responded from John Wayne Airport to the Coastal fire within 10 minutes. It took the OCFA helicopter 30 minutes to arrive, records show… (more here)

OCSD? Now you’re messin’ with a – a Son of a Fitz!


“Taps” was played at Denis’ burial last week because he served in the Army,
and we all stood around respectfully with our hands on our hearts:

But I’d rather hear Stravinsky’s “Ode to Dylan Thomas”…

Rage, Rage, against the Dying of the Light!

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.