Anaheim City Council candidate Brian Chuchua is a soft-spoken man, but after the council voted earlier this year to grant a controversial $158-million tax subsidy to a hotel developer, he protested.
Now, Chuchua says, he is paying the price for speaking out against the subsidy. The Anaheim Chamber of Commerce has mandated that Chuchua take a leave of absence from its ambassadors group, a cadre of meet-and-greet volunteers who represent the chamber at various events.
“I'm being forced out because I disagree with the giveaway, and I support the mayor and I support Lorri,” Chuchua said, referring to Mayor Tom Tait and Councilwoman Lorri Galloway, the two council members who voted against the subsidy.
The subsidy has created a deep divide in the community. Supporters say it will create thousands of jobs and eventually bring millions in new tax revenue to the city. Opponents call it a giveaway of taxpayer funds without community benefits negotiated in return.
The Anaheim chamber supports the subsidy. Todd Ament, the chamber's president and CEO, has presented arguments in favor of the subsidy at council meetings, town halls and a meeting of the Voice of OC's Community Editorial Board.
Ament said it is “clearly not the case” that the move was retaliation against Chuchua for his stance on the subsidy.
Chuchua was ousted from the ambassadors group because of a long-standing chamber policy that ambassadors take a leave of absence while running for office, Ament said. Although no such requirement can be found in the ambassador group's guidelines document, Ament says it has been an unwritten rule.
“We don't want to create an unfair advantage or a perceived endorsement,” Ament said, adding that Chuchua had violated guidelines that say ambassadors have to maintain political neutrality while working as an ambassador.
At an ambassadors meeting Tuesday morning, chamber office manager Sherry Cowen and ambassadors chairman Gerald Majer informed Chuchua that he must take the leave of absence, Ament said.
Emails obtained by Voice of OC show that Majer had been against ousting Chuchua.
“They will take your money for dues but then want to 'contain you' to fit their agenda,” Majer wrote. “I don't agree with it. I feel like they are forcing me on this issue too.”
Majer continued: “Has Todd or the Board of Directors talked to you personally and asked you to take a leave or are they using Sherry to do their dirty work?”
Majer did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Another ambassador, Brad Purcha, said he didn't see the conflict between running for office and being an ambassador. “I don't think personally that if you're running for an office, that that has anything to do with your ability to perform as an ambassador,” Purcha said.
Ultimately, Purcha said he was behind the board's decision. “I'm for whatever the board decides. It's not my position,” he said.