"Hi, my name is Mick," reads a mailer sent to voters in Glendale last week. "My owner, Mike Dunafon, is running for Glendale Mayor, please vote for him because he won't be a good mayor, he'll be a GREAT Mayor! Besides, he loves animals!"
OK, so the pooch is no grammarian. But the subtext is clear to those who get around on two feet: There's going to be a dogfight in titty city.
Four seats on the seven-member city council are at stake in the April 4 election, making this contest Glendale's most significant -- and its dirtiest. On one side, Dunafon and a trio of council candidates -- councilmember Mark Smiley, Smiley's girlfriend, Debbie Little, and resident Mike Barrett -- are running under the Glendale Tea Party banner. On the other, current mayor Joe Rice and three more candidates -- councilmember Catherine Dempsey, apartment manager Anita Kreutzer and CPA Mike Hald -- are pooling their resources to ward off the well-financed salvo.
"I expect it to be quite a battle," Rice says with a touch of understatement.
Granted, Rice speaks from experience. In 1998, Dunafon, his girlfriend, Debbie Matthews, who owns Shotgun Willie's, and attorney Chuck Bonniwell formed the Glendale Tea Party after Rice penned a city ordinance that tightened regulations inside the city's strip clubs. Three Tea Party candidates were quickly elected to the city council and promptly overturned Rice's ordinance; since the coup, however, all three have strayed from the party line, claiming they're fed up with Dunafon and Bonniwell's intrusive meddling ("The Party's Over," January 20). Dunafon has initiated a recall drive against the turncoats.
"People in Glendale are pretty well-informed," Rice says. "But I think people are a lot smarter than the Tea Party gives them credit for. Anybody who's been around Glendale for the last couple years won't buy their propaganda."
But true to the spirit of the election season, Rice's own paws aren't entirely clean.
Earlier this month, a group of anonymous citizens who identified themselves only as "concerned for Glendale" distributed thousands of copies of Dunafon's arrest record and a picture of the former college football player posing with his dog. Dunafon has been arrested three times for assault, and the flier was meant to highlight his thug-like reputation.
Rice distances himself from the anonymous group and its dirty tactics. "I think I know who might have done it," Rice says, "but I don't want to speculate."
Rice's own campaign material -- paid for by "Concerned Glendale Residents and Businesses" -- also mentions the arrests, but it brings up other issues as well, some of them untrue. "The Tea Party's candidate for mayor," the flier reads, "has a criminal record for assault [true], owns a strip club [false], once went by an assumed name [true], and has a 3 million-dollar bankruptcy [false]."
In response, the Tea Party helped publish an "open letter" from citizen Edwina Stromberg, an African-American woman who claimed Rice used a racial slur against her daughter, Etwanda Johnson, two years ago. (Rice, whom Tea Party members enjoy characterizing as an uptight Bible-thumper, recalls meeting Johnson but denies using the slur.) And just last week, Glendale resident Josefina Martinez sent out letters attacking Rice for degrading her heritage. After two years of silence, Martinez says she was suddenly inspired to come forth after reading Stromberg's letter.
Martinez's letter alleges that when she appeared before the city council in 1998 with a sack full of cockroaches to complain about her landlord, she was "mocked in open council meeting" by the city's staff and told that the cockroaches were a result of "the Mexicans and their cooking."
Rice denies the claims, and since council meetings are videotaped, he comfortably challenges Martinez to provide evidence of the alleged mockery. "It's provably false," he says.
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Martinez's letter also contains one glaring mistake. "Today," she wrote, "the slum tenements in Glendale continue to flout the law, and Joe Rice's inspectors never find violations."
She fails to mention, however, that the city's current building inspector, Chuck Line, was hired by City Manager Veggo Larsen, not Rice. In fact, Line was handpicked by Dunafon just last year and quickly approved for his position by the then-Tea Party-controlled city council.
But Line, like the three councilmembers who will face a recall vote after the election, is now considered a former Tea Party member.
Of course, truth and civility rarely find their place in campaigns -- or in dogfights.