One of the joys of being a reporter covering Orange County government is you’re never wanting for political spats, clumsy government antics, and officials afflicted with foot-in-mouth disease.
And that’s in a normal year. In 2016, one of the most important election year’s in recent history, the county’s political theater was worthy of Broadway.
Here is a final curtain call for some of our best work on the subject:
The public feud between District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and County Supervisor Todd Spitzer is, perhaps, one of the most drawn-out political divorces in recent memory. Spitzer was a former Senior Deputy District Attorney and Rackauckas’ hand-picked successor until 2010, when he was abruptly fired.
In May, their feud took a bizarre turn when Rackauckas convened a last-minute press conference where he accused Spitzer of impersonating a district attorney in a robo-call promoting a measure to create a county ethics commission. Spitzer — who is likely to run for District Attorney in 2018 — fired back on Twitter with a Donald Trump-esque nickname for Rackauckas, “Terrible Tony.”
Santa Ana City Manager David Cavazos hasn’t exactly gotten off on the right foot with his new bosses. Since he was first hired in 2013, Cavazos has been lambasted for his generous salary, hiding a relationship with a subordinate from the City Council and for allegedly monitoring the city emails of Councilwoman Michele Martinez and Mayor Miguel Pulido. In 2016, Cavazos accused Martinez of embarking on a public revenge campaign after he spurned her romantic advances, an accusation that an investigator hired by the city found to be entirely untrue.
Last week some council members pushed for a vote to put Cavazos on an indefinite, paid leave. Lucky for him, they couldn’t get a majority. At least not yet.
It was not until nearly two weeks after the election that Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait could celebrate a long-awaited victory, when his ally Councilman Jose Moreno was declared the winner in the District 3 race. After a bitter election where Tait’s allies faced more than $1 million in outside spending, the long isolated mayor has not wasted any time asserting his new-found power. At a meeting last week, he and the new majority voted to roll back a number of actions taken by the previous council, including canceling a tax subsidy policy for luxury hotels, ending a contract with the chamber of commerce and restoring the salary for his policy aide.
Spitzer seemed to take on his fellow Supervisor Shawn Nelson this year after Nelson tried to extend term limits, just two years before he will be termed out in 2018. Spitzer blocked the deal, calling it “completely self-serving.” A month later, Spitzer colleague again with a proposal aimed at banning double-dipping by Nelson and his chief of staff, Denis Bilodeau. The proposal fizzled out a week later.
After a surprise election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, the Santa Ana City Council joined a chorus of California jurisdictions who sent a defiant message to Trump by declaring themselves a sanctuary city. Santa Ana is the first Orange County city to do so.
We’re a long way from the days when Supervisor Andrew Do might have called State Senator Janet Nguyen a mentor. Do, who had a falling-out with Nguyen in his early months as a supervisor, faced a tough election bid against Martinez, the Santa Ana councilwoman. Meanwhile ahead of the June primary, another opponent, Garden Grove Councilman Phat Bui, plastered his campaign with with complaints to the state ethics agency. Then, just weeks before the June 7 primary, Nguyen sent out a robo-call publicly denouncing Do. Do fired back on a Vietnamese radio station with his own insults.
In the wee hours of Nov. 9, after election-night celebrating, Fullerton City Manager Joe Felz crashed his minivan in a residential neighborhood north of downtown – driving it over a curb and into a tree. When police responded to the scene, they smelled alcohol on Felz but did not give him a breathalyzer test. Although a police sergeant conducted a field sobriety test and apparently determined Felz was not drunk, the controversy cast a cloud over Felz, eventually prompting him to resign.
As if 2016 were not bad enough for DA Tony Rackauckas, an violent outburst by an investigator for his office this year will be cemented in the minds of attorneys countywide. Dillon Alley, the DA investigator, allegedly beat and pummeled defense attorney James Crawford bloody after the two exchanged insults in the hallway of the Central Courthouse in Santa Ana. The state Attorney General looked into the incident but ultimately declined to press charges against Alley.
Contact Thy Vo at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.