On Wednesday evening the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association held the last forum for the special election on September 22nd to fill the vacancy on the City Council in the 2nd district. All the candidates attended, and most of them had really been looking forward to this forum. Except Chris Essel. Essel really got hit from all sides tonight and things did not go very well for her.
After some very standard and routine opening statements, the forum got into what was the most exciting element of the entire election. Candidates were allowed to ask specific questions of their opponents -- and the way they delivered those questions was a subtle kind of scorching indictment of the other candidates behavior or character. Most of the candidates had been waiting for this moment to go after any perceived flaws or weaknesses in their rivals. Unfortunately for Chris Essel, because of her big money raising advantage, many of the candidates decided to target her. And again, unfortunately for Chris Essel, she didn't seem ready for it.
Let's get to the action...
Frank Sheftel - Tamar Galatzan : Frank discussed how Tamar is on the LAUSD Board and how the schools are closing and there are big problems at LAUSD. He asked how she could justify leaving. Tamar countered by saying she had brought resources and new computers to the schools. She also said she had helped take 6 closed schools and have 4 of them opened up to the idea of being charter schools.
Augusto Bisani - Paul Krekorian : Augusto asked Paul if he would run for City Council if the salary were only 80k per year. Paul said "Yes! And I hope voters would vote for me."
Tamar Galatzan - Chris Essel : Tamar talked about how much she had worked for the Valley in her job at LAUSD and how many forums and groups she had spoken to. Tamar then turned and shouted at Essel .."I have NEVER SEEN YOU at any of these community meetings!". She asked Essel to name any meetings she had been to prior to running for this office. Of course, Essel couldn't name any. It was a devastating blow. Tamar was basically calling Chris a phony and Chris didn't have an answer to counter the attack. Chris gave some generic answer "I'm a businesswoman. I lived in the Valley for thirty years".... blah blah blah... -- it didn't work. Essel had been badly wounded by this attack and never recovered.
Mary Benson - Tamar Galatzan : Mary Benson asked Tamar Galatzan if she would reimburse the City for causing another special election for her LAUSD seat. Tamar started answering about how she would prefer appointments to the seat to save money on elections, when suddenly a heckler in the crowd shouted something at her. She shouted the heckler down, saying "Don't interrupt me!" -- the heckler didn't disturb anyone again.
Pete Sanchez - Chris Essel : Pete talked about SB1818 and how Essel was previously for SB1818, but then at the Valley Village forum, she said it was "wrong." Chris answered by saying she never said she was in favor of SB 1818. She said she was working in the entertainment industry and trying to make things better there.
Paul Krekorian - Chris Essel : Paul was eager to go after Chris, but realized that Pete had just stolen his question, so he asked Chris to restate her answer in more detail. Paul pointed out that when Chris Essel was President of the CCA she had called SB1818 the "crowning achievement" of her group. Chris again gave some nonsense answer. "I was a neighborhood advocate" and "I repopulated my board with activists". When she was done, all you could hear was the sound of crickets.
Mary Benson - Chris Essel : Chris was clearly not happy when Mary Benson became the third straight candidate to go after her. Mary asked if Christine would support CD 2 and keep it all Valley if there were redistricting after the census in 2010. Essel said she saw "no reason to redistrict."
Luckily for Chris Essel the next question finally went to someone else. But Chris did something I didn't like. She stepped back from the table and stood about two feet behind everyone else. She was clearly angry at being attacked by all the other candidates and stopped smiling at or even looking at the crowd. (See the photo at the top of this story) Not good.
The other ugliness tonight happened between Paul Krekorian and Joe Essavi. (below)
Joe Essavi - Paul Krekorian : Joe Essavi directed his question at Paul Krekorian and decided to expose a weakness of Pauls. Paul had said at other previous forums he doesn't want to take a salary cut at City Council. Joe asked him if he would make the same pledge that Joe had made...to cut his own salary at City Council. From the 178K that the job pays, he would give 90K to Neighborhood Councils. Pauls response badly damaged his candidacy in this election. He was kind of smarmy and snotty in his response when he said "That's an impressive pledge, Joe...seeing as you have so much on the line... and you'll have such an opportunity to fulfill that pledge". Paul didn't say it in exact words, but he was being very petty and condescending. He was belittling Joe Essavi. Paul was basically calling him a loser and telling him he had no chance to win the election. The subtlety of his delivery was not lost on the crowd. There were gasps of shock from the audience. Sympathy votes will not help Joe Essavi win this election, but one thing was clear tonight. However many fans and supporters Paul Krekorian had when he walked in that room tonight... he had a few less when he left. To be quite honest, I think it was beneath the dignity of a State official to behave this way towards another candidate, one who had not made his question into a personal attack.
David Saltsburg/Zuma Dogg -Tamar Galatzan : David finally got his chance to confront Tamar. David had been burning for weeks after Tamars little LAUSD mailer fiasco. He got very specific about it and asked her if she had purposefully moved money over to her LAUSD officeholder account and used the money to send mailers, knowing that it was avoiding campaign rules. Before he could finish the question, he got cut off by moderator Richard Close. That made Zuma Dogg even more angry and he shouted out that "Richard is endorsing Tamar....that's why he won't let me finish my question!" I asked SOHA members about that later and they said it was simply a matter of being timed on a stopwatch. They said Richards feelings had nothing to do with it. (Anyway...no big deal). Tamar answered "No, I did not!" and that was the end of it. David never really "unleashed the DOGG" tonight. That's too bad. David looked like something was bothering him the whole night.
Chris Essel - Pete Sanchez : In a truly bewildering move, Chris Essel did not use her question to go after her main rivals Paul or Tamar, but instead lobbed a softball to Pete Sanchez. "How would you use your skills to stop development?" she asked him. Pete answered, but he didn't really have to, because the question was so non-threatening.
SOHA moderators asked the candidates written questions from the audience. As usual, some of the question writers had an axe to grind and just reading the question sometimes took longer than the 30 seconds the candidates had to answer it. Some choice quips...
Tamar Galatzan ( on the budget crisis)
"We need someone to say the Emperor has no clothes! We don't need any more sheep!"
Chris Essel (on growth)
"We would need to assess if we have the capacity to handle new growth."
Augusto Bisani showed some NIMBY tendencies when asked about the growth of the Westfield Mall.
"They are going to be parking on our streets," he said.
Frank Sheftel talked about how as Councilman he would stay in touch with the community. He compared his future network of support to the Verizon commercials.
"I'm going to have all the Neighborhood Councils behind me," he predicted.
On the question about Prop 13, both David Saltsburg and Michael McCue felt it was best to talk about things they could control at City Council... not things they couldn't.
SOHA moderators had a great idea to ask rapid fire questions and have the candidates hold up a card : Green with a"YES" on it or red with a "NO".
Michael McCue absolutely destroyed every other candidate during the lightning round of questions at SOHA. Take a look at photo above. Michael often had his card up before the question was finished. In fact, on a question about rate-payer advocacy, I think the moderator hadn't said five words when McCue answered. He was clearly way ahead of the field here. Tamar and Paul struggled, because being elected officials, they didn't want to get boxed into a corner. Paul kept asking for qualifiers and quantifiers..."Which one?"..."What part of that do you mean..?" He was terrible. Luckily for Paul, someone else bungled the lightning round even worse than he did. Yep..you guessed it. Chris Essel.
On only the second or third question of the lightning round, Essel may have sealed her fate in this election. When the moderators asked if the candidates were in favor of the expansion of the Westfield Mall, all the other candidates held up the "NO" card. Chris was the only "YES".
It is difficult for me to explain the looks of absolute horror on the faces of many members of the crowd who saw this happen. Let's just say that Chris didn't gain a lot of votes tonight. Chris even held up her "NO" card upside down on several questions. After a performance like this, I just don't see any possible way she can win this election. Her advisors - who must have been pulling their hair out - clearly are overpaid, judging from their results.
Chris Essel was very frustrated by the end of the forum and used her time to complain. "I don't like all these "Gotcha" questions.." she said.
(Wow. Unbelievable. She is running for office and thinks policy questions are unfair.
She knew she was one of the frontrunners and should have predicted every attack that came her way.)
Frank Sheftel saved his best weapon for last. He revealed that Joel Wachs had donated money to his campaign. It brought a cascade of applause. There was a lot of gray hair in that room and many of them remembered the good old days of strong leadership in Los Angeles - names like Tom Bradley and Joel Wachs - instead of the bumbling incompetents we have in power now.
WINNER - TAMAR GALATZAN
In a fragmented election like this, it is crucial to destroy your enemies, yet maintain a tight defense against attacks. Tamar destroyed Chris Essel tonight. She also kept up a tough wall of defense against those who attacked her. Frank Sheftel and Michael McCue did very well tonight, but did not achieve the double objective of attack and defense like Tamar did.
All the candidates for talking with me during this campaign. Also, thanks to David Hernandez and his wife Debi for saving me a prime seat at this event. A big Mayor Sam "hello" to Alan Skobin, Ellen Vukovich, Nancy Kaleel, Louis Pugliese, Noel Weiss, David Vahedi, and many, many of the other great people I talked to tonight.