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Tim Myers: When did the City Council race go off the rails?

Posted: March 12, 2010 6:50 p.m.
Updated: March 14, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 
I like to consider myself a historian of city of Santa Clarita politics, specifically the City Council election process. I learned at the knee of local uber-historian John Boston for events before 1996, and have been building my own inventory of stories since then.

The stories range from the quirky, to the earnest but unsuccessful, to the successful.

In the quirky category, the community saw the homeless man with the plan who ran for office, knowing that once successful he would live quite nicely on the modest monthly stipend while occupying his council member's office at City Hall.

The community knew periodically one Dennis Conn, a rambling and incoherent character who stumped for helicopters to shorten commutes and amusement parks in the Santa Clara River bed, with free hot dogs and beer for members of the media.

My personal favorite included a young, former reporter for The Signal who thought Lancaster and Palmdale constituted part of Santa Clarita.

On the earnest side, the community saw candidates like Diane Trautman try and try again unsuccessfully, and other candidates like Marsha McLean try and try again to finally win, but mostly the community saw the many highly qualified and earnest candidates fall again and again to the seeming impregnable power of incumbency, sometimes to try again but mostly to fade away into the background to seldom re-emerge.

The power of incumbency did not result from magic realism or some secret voodoo rite. Because they hold office, incumbents receive certain perks not available to the most earnest challenging candidates.

They generally will collect the important political endorsements, raise a reasonably significant campaign war chest from companies and persons with business before the city exercising their First Amendment right to participate in the electoral process, and will utilize the city itself in the form of giant public relations machine to enhance name recognition and goodwill, and rely on our apathetic community to deliver a narrow slice of voters impressed only by the "incumbent" designation on the ballot.

Last October, it looked like the election stood on track for normalcy. The incumbents, effectively running a slate candidacy, stood against three earnest challengers who would appear to hopelessly split the vote.

The community even got a quirky candidate in reality show maven Johnny Pride, who I promised to "support" when he cured his defective candidacy papers in a one-day turnaround.

But things began to change in slow ways. The first finance reports showed challenger TimBen Boydston actually raising slightly more money than the three incumbents and all candidates with significantly less banked in campaign funds than in prior election cycles at the same point in time.

While one of the three Republican endorsements did come through for the incumbents with reliability, the other two did not, with a challenger receiving one and the establishment endorsement so fragmented the organization could only agree on the endorsement of one incumbent.

The election then turned decidedly ugly with out-of-town anti-immigration forces inserting themselves in a complex way, with a result that left everyone dissatisfied. That included the insulting and cussing of an elected Republican official and the in-town organizer admitting the rallies served no useful purpose.

Incumbents then scrambled to seemingly out-immigrant-bash any challenger by rushing to adopt a resolution supporting a series of ultra-right-wing pieces of proposed federal legislation that former Vice President Dick Cheney would oppose.

About the same time, an incumbent decided they needed to raise significant money in the next 30 days to beat off a challenge and then started a Facebook fan group, specifically to try to outdo a challenger with 855 "friends." Add to that a self-confession from another candidate to a prior DUI and driving on a suspended license, and one wondered if it could become more bizarre.

It did. In the early evening of March 4, just a after a candidate forum, sheriff's detectives arrested Johnny Pride, formerly known as Johnny Scarpitta, for an alleged sexual assault on two 14-year-old girls occurring on Feb. 27. Seemingly just hours later, the district attorney rejected the case, so either the Sheriff's Department Special Victims Unit or the D.A. has some explaining to do. How much more weirdness and ugliness can the community take?

Well, despite the legal construct of "innocent until proven guilty," with this pall hanging over his head, I can now shift the promised vote from Johnny Pride to challenger TimBen Boydston.

And with all the fractures in the normal history, if the incumbents do indeed again prevail, one might attribute it solely to magic realism.

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Myers' Musings" appears Sundays in The Signal.

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