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Election Upda….zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

nail-bitingOK, so we are down to the wire on another fist-clenching, nail-biting off-year election. This time candiates are vying for Mimi Walter’s 37th State Senate District seat. Walters, as you may remember, has gone on to the United States Congress.

Battling it out for the sole seat are three Republicans and one Democrat. The Republicans, Assemblyman Don Wagner, former OC Supervisor John Moorlach and political aide Naz Namazi, are the only names on the ticket. The sole Democrat is Louise Stewardson of Huntington Beach, Stewardson, who lists her occupation as nurse, is running a write-in campaign claiming she was unaware that there would not be a Democrat in the race. Thanks for stepping up.

Among the three Republicans, Assemblyman Don Wagner is the most experienced, having served as our district representative in the California Assembly. He has been attacked by his nemesis, John Moorlach for taking union money, in violation of the Baugh Manifesto, and for being soft on a variety of issues near and dear to Republcan Hearts. Several websites have been put up claiming Wagner supports amnesty for illegal immigrants, has taken Maui junkets on union tabs, etc.

Of course we know the Baugh Manifesto is selectively enforced. Janet Nguyen took union money (after she had already been caught once and gave it back). Kris Murray of Anaheim was reported to have taken union money. Wagner, for his part, supposedly said he thought the manifesto was only for local elections….yeah, right…. you go with that, Don.

Moorlach, for his part, lives and breaths the Baugh Manifesto. He can afford to. He will soon (if he isn’t already) collect a sizeable county pension. Yes, this is the same Moorlach who, since taking office as a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, has taken every oportunity to drag down the 17,000 employees and their unions by attacking county pensions. Whenever he was asked about his own pension which, by the way was paid 100 percent with taxpayer dollars (rank-and-file employees pay a sizeable portion into their pension funds), he would state that he earned it and he was only taking what was offered.

And, for a non-professional, non-career politician, Moorlach spent the last half of his last term in office shopping for another elected office he could land in. At various times over the last two years, he “explored” a run for Congress, Governor (or was it Lt. Governor?) and even his old job with the county. Every one of those “explorations” ended abruptly when Moorlach couldn’t find backing within his own ranks.

Wagner has actively worked in the state legislature for the past five years. He sits on several key legislative commitees including Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security, Revenue and Taxation and Judiciary where he serves as Vice-Chair. One of the best things about Wagner, that most Republicans hate, is his willingness to cross the aisle when necessary to get the job done. That’s not to say he isn’t a diehard elephant. It just tells me he will do what is necessary to get the job done (shades of Lou Correa).

If campaign funding is any indicator, Don Wagner is, by far, the best financed of the two candidates. He had a sizeable war chest when he entered the race and is still far ahead in fund-raising. Moorlach, desperate to find fault -any fault- with his nemesis, pointed out the facts the best way he knows how. Using statistics that only a CPA could understand, he demonstrated how his fundraising has outpaced Wagner’s. Still, the bottom line John is that Wagner has more money. Lots more.

As far as campaigns go, this one has been lackluster at best. I’m not sure if that is because Moorlach doesn’t know how to run a campaign or if the two are waiting the inevitable runoff race in May to really start slinging the arrows. Although Democrat, Louise Stewardson could offer an alternative for die-hard Democrats who would vote on principle, it is Naz Namazi who would likely siphon votes from both Wagner and Moorlach. She could deflect enough votes to force a runoff as an outright win requires 50% plus one vote.

As to the campaigns themselves? I don’t get cable TV so I have no idea if either Moorlach or Wagner are running television ads. I have heard nothing on radio either, probably because I listen mostly to my iPod when I drive. We here in Tustin have, thankfully, been plastered with few yard signs. In fact, here in Old Town, I have seen two from each candidate. Most of the political blogs are split between the two. Curiously, two of the blogs tout Moorlach but, when you look closely, it is because they are paid political consultants. One blog is fighting with itself as the owner/editor supports Moorlach but a chief contributor to the same blog supports Wagner – as do we.

It’s a sad but true fact that election cycles never end. If Moorlach wins the seat outright -an unlikely event- Wagner will remain in place for the rest of this term. As an admitted career politician, he will then likely look for a local or statewide seat to land in. If Wagner wins outright, Moorlach, who at one time claimed he would not seek higher office, will have another bite of the pie. He only has to carpetbag into Wagner’s Assembly district (anyone got a guest house in Old Town for rent?) to get a second chance.

Of course, he may have to run up against our own Tustin Councilman John Nielsen who, we hear, is doing his own exploration of sorts.

In all likelihood, neither candidate will win the necessary +1 and they will be forced into a runoff. Then we get to do it all over again. Only, expect a lot more yard signs and a lot more mudslinging from both candidates. That’s when we’ll see whether Moorlach’s financial finagling rings true or whether it really does come down to who has the most money in the bank.

If you need further evidence to get off the fence, consider that John Moorlach has a couple of dozen endorsements, mostly from “former” elected officials. Only one fellow supervisor, Shawn Nelson, was willing to endorse him. Not even Jerry Amante would come out with an endorsement.

On the other hand, Wagner has the endorsement of every Countywide elected official, including Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, OCDA T-Rack and OC Supervisor Michelle Steele. Newbie Senators Pat Bates and Janet Nguyen have endorsed him along with a slew of other legislators. Oh yeah, even Mayor Chuck Puckett has endorsed Wagner.

Wagner has also run his campaign without the aid of crackpots like Deborah “I hate Muslims” Pauley and the advice of idiots like Mario “Maynard” Manero. You remember him. He’s the one that talked Moorlach into spending thousands of taxpayer dollars trying to take away the pensions of sheriffs deputies then ran and hid when it didn’t work out the way he thought it would. I wouldn’t want him for my lawyer either. John doesn’t seem to mind.

In any case, if you haven’t sent in your absentee ballot, please do so. And, if you are like me and prefer to cast your vote the old fashioned way, I’ll see you at the polls – provided you can make it by seven in the morning.

Playing it Safe

Playing it safeIt was a reasonably quiet hall for Tuesday’s city council meeting. Part of that was due to the fact that neither Councilmember Beckie Gomez or John Nielsen was in the house. I suspect more of it was due to the boring nature of the agenda items, however.

With two councilmembers absent, there weren’t enough backs around to pat for Public Hearing Item No. 1. This item is one of the biggest residential developments to date on the MCAS property. And, while everyone was buzzing about it, the mayor announced the (yes) vote on the item would be postponed until the next meeting when all members of the council could be here.

The second hearing item on the CDBG funds was a non-issue with almost no discussion and a quick vote to accept. Likewise, with the consent calendar where, if Gomez had been there, we might have seen the police vehicle purchase pulled for some type of discussion. At least this moves one of Mayor Murray’s goals to enhance public safety (more on that later).

Who’s Got the Money?

The regular session highlights included a report on the CAFR. Finance Director, Pamela Arends-King gave the city council a bit of good news, letting them know the city is in the black due to sales tax and other revenue resources. She also let them know there were no audit findings. Maybe Pam is worth that extra 5% after all. Needless to say, the bewildered city council (remember, Beckie wasn’t there) had no questions or comment other than to thank the “team” for what they do.

For what it is worth, the Finance Department has done an outstanding job, although we suspect it is more to do with the city riding the economic recovery train than any magic coming form the cubicles. The finance department, giving the mid-year budget review also gave us good news concerning the economic recovery and its impact on revenue. Of course, what is taken in is spent. The best news was that reserves would not be dug into as deeply and the reserve funding would rise to 31 percent.

A significant item Tuesday, at least for those of us in Old Town Tustin, was the request to advertise for a consultant to develop  what the city is currently calling a “commercial core plan”. We like it. Now Mayor Murray needs to remember that, regardless of how boring the meeting (and how few of the public are in the room),  many of us watch on cable TV or the video and the presentations are often as important for the publicity they generate as informing the council. So, next time they want to do a presentation just say, “Oh, by all means…”

After listening to Elizabeth Binsack’s presentation, though, we wonder why they need a consultant. Binsack outlined a pretty comprehensive plan for the downtown area and it wouldn’t take much to flesh it out. The selected consultant would be required to work with a city staff steering committee, taking input from community focus groups and workshops. Sounds pretty in-depth and something that could be done in-house. Now, if they could just get going on the residential area with the second unit ordinance they promised.

We get it, Chuck

You know it is an election year. people start doing odd but obvious things to promote certain cronies for office. It’s no coincidence that Al Murray was unanimously elected Mayor by his peer for a second year. Mayor sounds slightly better than Councilman on the ballot.

And, we really didn’t need Chuck Puckett’s thirty second dissertation on how great Al is and what a wonderful speech he is going to give at the Mayor’s Inaugural Speech later this year, and how he just can’t wait for the State of the City speech… well, you get the drift. This is the most animated I’ve seen Chuck since he took office.

Murray himself is playing it safe. His recently stated goals for the coming year are about as non-committal as it can get.

Touching on what he will do for public safety and for seniors, he establishes a strong tie with both by building on what is already there. CALEA Accreditation was earned on former Tustin Chief ScottAl Murray Stock Jordan’s watch. It had been a long time coming and, frankly, the city council can do little to help. Let’s hope Interim Chief Celano is up to the task. If Murray really wanted to solidify public safety, he would push City Manager Jeff Parker into finding a permanent Chief.

The Senior Center at Peppertree Park is but one facet of what the city needs to help the senior community here in Tustin. Our city is growing, however, and a better aim might be to establish another center elsewhere in our town.

But, we will take the bocce ball courts, thanks.

Murray has not forgotten to let his business cronies know that he will be looking for support from them this year. Goal two is to improve and facilitate economic development through business attraction and retention. We love the goal. We just hate how some of it has been to the detriment of the residents over the past few years.

Murray has also stated that he wants to implement a transparent and sustainable community outreach (communication) program. Yes, a new website would be nice. What would be better is a Public Information Officer that will speak to the public, press and blogs, even when they don’t always have nice things to say about them. With a city manager that refuses to speak to anyone critical of city management (the city manager in particular), it is difficult to see how Murray intends to accomplish this. A bright, shiny new website will only go so far in establishing transparency and open government. A PIO who can take the occasional public hit would be better.

And while I am glad to see the Mayor wants to recognize our military history, perhaps he should start by asking former (and current) councilmembers why they did away with one of the finest Veteran’s Day parades, whittling it down over the years to a small celebration that, had it not been for our local American Legion Post 227, would have died even sooner. The city did everything in its power to quash any celebration of our military history. For several years, there was bad blood between the Legion leadership and the city. And, nothing has really been done to effectively change the situation.

Mayor Murray probably won’t have to worry. He is about as safe and sane as Red Devil fireworks. And, during his tenure, he has shown that he can stand up to the pressure of leadership. The devastation of the killing spree that wound up in Tustin last year was an example. Murray conveyed the collective despair of our city while keeping the public informed. And, except for the occasional bewildered look when the finance director drops a 40 page summary on his desk, he manages to take care of the city business. And, he doesn’t carry a stupid dog with him when he rides in parades.

We hear there will be no mudslinging from either of the two incumbents running this year. Whether that deal holds together will probably depend on who runs against them. But both Murray and Gomez are in a pretty safe place right now. Let’s just hope Nielsen stays too busy with his pending divorce to “help” Al.

Reader Alert: Sign Thief in the Area

We received notice that a sign thief was spotted pulling campaign signs for Tracy Worley-Hagen and David Waldram, taking them with him or ripping them up. The Tustin Police Department has been notified of the incidents. The suspect is described as a grey-haired man driving what appears to be a new, black BMW SUV with no license plates. He was last seen in the vicinity of Tustin Ranch on Irvine Blvd. between La Colina and Irvine. He has also been spotted at an office building on Irvine Blvd. doing the same thing. When the man was confronted, he said, “I’m replacing their signs” and drove off.

Since the original sighting, sign thieves have hit the Tustin Meadows and Tustin Ranch again, taking hundreds of signs. A suspicious person was spotted outside my residence in Old Town but, after seeing me standing by the gate, he drove off.

Theft of campaign signs is a misdemeanor that carries a hefty fine and possible jail time. However, due to the cost of signs the theft of more  than a few can easily be elevated to a felony in short order.  The city of Orange had a few problems with one of their candidates stealing another candidate’s signs a few years ago that resulted in sanctions against the thief. It would seem that some people cannot allow the candidates to run their own campaign.

If you see sign theft in your neighborhood, please call the Tustin Police Department at (714) 573-3200. Don’t put yourself in harm’s way but if you can, get a description of the person, vehicle and license number to assist the police. We all need to do our part in running a clean campaign.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

You may not have heard but, John Nielsen held a Town Hall meeting a couple of weeks ago. You may not have heard because, as Councilmember Beckie Gomez pointed out at the last city council meeting, it was not very well advertised. In fact, it appeared to be pointed directly at Old Town residents rather than the community as a whole. John claimed notice went out to OTT residents, but I never saw anything myself… neither did anyone else I talked to. Maybe, Lindburgh and Michael got an email.

It was a rather mundane affair that turned out to be more of a campaign effort for the good Mayor than a vehicle for communication between the city and its residents. While Nielsen, who could not have spoken had it not been for the PowerPoint presentation, rambled on about how much the city has done to improve the Old Town Business District (there was some dissension about that), the friend I was with pointed out the glaring absence and then sudden appearance of certain members of the council and council candidates.

Now, it is my habit -borne from my years as a peace officer- to scan any room I enter for possible threats. Along with checking my rear view mirror (I’m thinking about changing cars weekly) much more frequently, that has become even more imperative since I began blogging in Our Town Tustin. When I entered the community meeting room at the library, I’m pretty sure I saw Councilmember Beckie Gomez among the several city staffers and local talent I recognized. I did not notice any of the others. Of course, I did not expect to see Deborah because of the date. However, I did notice that neither of John’s cronies were around. And, while I did see council candidates, David Waldram and Tracy Worley-Hagen, I did not see the other two candidates, Chuck Puckett and Allan Bernstein- that is, until a few minutes later.

As my friend pointed out, John spotted Waldram and Worley-Hagen in the audience and suddenly ran out of the room, cellphone in hand, into the hallway. Although I wasn’t privy to his phone call, it was just a few minutes later when his cronies showed up, en masse, to make the rounds. I’m sure the sudden phone call and subsequent appearance of “Team Tustin” and the Three Amigos could have been a coincidence.

And, John got free publicity out of the whole thing. After all, who do you think picked up the tab for the cookies and milk?

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