A blue bottle of all-purpose cleaner called Fabuloso – well known in Latino households – loomed over the Anaheim City Council’s wood dais during a tense debate this month over campaign finance reform.
But it wasn’t there to wipe down smudges.
Instead, the solution for shiny and stain-free surfaces has come to symbolize political renewal for a city turned upside down by an FBI public corruption probe revealed in May, when an agent’s written affidavits alleged that a “shadowy” cadre of powerful interests controlled policymaking at city hall.
The probe has since forced the resignation of former mayor Harry Sidhu, as well as a criminal guilty plea by former Chamber of Commerce CEO, Todd Ament.
It’s also mobilized residents like never before.
During the six regularly-held City Council meetings since, residents have spoken out on the scandal more than 180 times, per a review of each meeting’s public comment portions.
Speakers voiced rage through the lens of various issues – the struggles of mobile home seniors, the city’s ignoring of ethnic cultural hubs – all of which boiled under the current resort-friendly political establishment.
Fabuloso then caught on as a mascot of sorts.
Anaheim City Councilmember Jose Moreno, a rare council critic of resort-prioritization in city affairs, tweeted the following in late May:
“The resignation of Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu is a necessary but not sufficient step. The corrosive effects of money in elections pervades our City. Bring out the ‘Fabuloso’ and let’s clean this up Anaheim.”
But by the time Moreno put a bottle in front of his council seat for meetings, others were making the case for something stronger.
“Gosh, we need chlorine too, because Fabuloso won’t do it,” said Victoria Vidrio, a resident and real estate agent, to resort-friendly council members during public comments on July 12.
Lizzette Barrios Gracian came in with another suggestion that same night:
“You’re going to need more than Fabuloso. I’m going to bring you some Palo Santo and some sage because this is like an exorcism.”
The scathing wordplay evolved.
“Folks who know a fly from a cat know how deep the corruption runs in this city. We know that when Mickey says ‘Jump,’ the majority of you say, ‘How high,’” said one speaker at the public podium that night, Matthew Mariscal.
It’s just a taste of the varying ways residents are expressing themselves these days, trying to make sense of FBI allegations that city officials solicited campaign bribes and met at exclusive retreats with powerful corporate interests.
All this while many residents died of COVID-19, struggled with food insecurity, and worried about rent in places like senior mobile home parks.
The result has been something like an open mic night at recent meetings, with even a few musical numbers. You might find some audience members holding signs, and heckling council members from their seats. You might find others taking a quick breather outside, having just organized a community news conference at the steps of City Hall, now dragging a cigar.
A week after the scandal broke, Anaheim resident and ITZ Happenin’ talk show co-host Joese Gloria Hernandez came to town to jab at an absent Sidhu during the council’s May 24 meeting, with public comments that played out more like a standup comedy set.
“I hope you’re with Trump right now, licking his boots. I can hear him right now, saying, ‘Harry, you and I were both treated so unfairly, but you did a tremendous job in Anaheim — up until you didn’t.’”
Gloria, whose impression did alright with the crowd behind him, added, “But in all seriousness, this is indeed a difficult moment for Anaheim.”
“It’s a difficult moment for the elected officials who are wondering if their conversations were recorded.”
Others taking the microphone that night revived some unresolved grievances of the past.
“We came here over three years ago, begging you guys to help seniors who are receiving $300, $400 rent increases in a month,” said one public commenter named Lupe Ramirez, a resident of the Rancho La Paz mobile home park where retirees and fixed-income seniors had called for rent control.
“People who had to make a choice between taking medicine, paying their rent and buying food,” Ramirez said to many of the same council members who rejected rent control on multiple occasions in 2019.
Ramirez went on to say, “We had 19 people in our park die of stress-related illness. You kill old people, on top of everything else.”
Then there were Arab American business owners and civic leaders, who across the past six council meetings chided resort-friendly officials for ignoring what’s been a years-long push to officially recognize the Little Arabia community that stretches along Brookhurst Street, between the Interstate-5 freeway and Katella Avenue.
“It was the only place that ever made me feel like there was something of me that mattered. Just something,” said Mirvette Judeh, vice chair of the Arab American Civic Council. “I could go have my falafel, my shawarma; we could go to the salons that understood us for weddings; we could buy our gold – we love gold, Arabs, it is what it is – and have our henna and go to all the different shops.”
“Our community spends so much money in Anaheim, our nonprofit organizations host their fundraisers in Anaheim … it’s about time, Anaheim, it’s about time. What are you waiting for?” Judeh said.
Others, like local activist Kenneth Batiste, spoke with outraged but sermon-like fervor.
During the May 17 meeting following the corruption probe’s public reveal, for example, Batiste exclaimed, “This is a good day. It exposes the corruption we have been fighting for for the last four years.”
“We are tired of funded ass politicians that vote for Disneyland, Angels — everybody else except for the residents,” said Batiste, his voice bellowing around the chambers to cheers and applause.
The scandal even bled into the religious invocations, marking the start of council meetings.
Pastor Tim Eaton of Zion Lutheran Church named Sidhu in prayer on May 24, the day after Sidhu resigned from office.
“Tonight, with prayer, even, there’s the recognition that somehow, all of a sudden, a miracle has happened. That you have heavy hearts. And you’ve got genuine concern for your city because the mayor has resigned. It is, I think, everyone’s understanding that the leper does not change its spots,” said homeless advocate David Duran during public comments that day.
He added, “You’ve already proven to yourselves and to this city that you don’t care. You’ve voted to not help seniors in mobile home parks. You voted to let the unhoused die. You voted not to prosecute bad police. You’ve voted many times against the residents. All for your self-serving interests.”
Then there were remarks by Dr. Patricia “Pat” Adelekan, a Black activist living in Anaheim who witnessed the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
“My question is how many of you have a quiet sleep in the night?” she asked the resort-friendly council members on May 24, in comments delivered like spoken-word poetry.
At a later, June 21 meeting, she returned with a question of what legacy Anaheim officials might build going forward.
Adelekan then quoted three lines from “In the Garden,” an old American gospel song she deemed relevant, sung throughout history by the likes of Perry Como and Elvis Presley:
And he walks with me
And he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own.
Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @photherecord.
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