Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Monday, April 11, 2005

Iyatollah Follies

Nick Welsh at the SB Indy has probably the best take on "LeakGate" to date. My comments on the bolded sections follow after The Poodle:
The political fallout from last week's City Council stink fest is still so toxic that Santa Barbara's Geiger counters haven't stopped clicking. Far from putting the Funk back in the dysfunction, this nasty, and absolutely gratuitous, showdown between the police union, Mayor Marty Blum, and councilmember Iya Falcone demonstrated that where politics and money are concerned, nothing is merely "business" - everything is intensely personal. In the meantime, all parties managed to make themselves look seriously bad. On the surface, the fight was about a proposed five-percent pay increase for the city cops. Going into last week's meeting, the police had five votes solidly sewn up. In closed session, Mayor Marty, who is running for reelection, and soon to be termed-out Dan Secord were the only two dissenters, arguing the raise was too big given the city's structural deficit of $2.5 million. In other words, the cops had it in the bag and they should have left it at that. And oftentimes, when the council members come out from behind such closed-door deliberations, the dissenters put their differences aside and vote with the council majority in an effort to present a united front. That's probably what would have happened last Tuesday had someone - and I'm betting diamonds to donuts it was Falcone - not leaked the mayor's position to Sgt. Mike McGrew of the police union, who then relayed it to political consultant Richard Cochrane, who then reportedly leaked it to the News-Press. For good measure, McGrew - who has quietly emerged as the single most powerful un-elected politician on the South Coast - emailed his members en masse, warning them that he expected Mayor Marty to dis the cops at Tuesday's meeting and asked them to show up in force. They did just that. And just in case anyone missed the point, McGrew was quoted in the News-Press as saying that if Blum didn't vote right, the police union was going to take her out. When you're the 8,000 pound gorilla, you don't need to pound your chest. In fact, you ought not to. In this case, McGrew backed Blum into an untenable corner, forcing her to cave in and lose face or cross the police union.

As a cop, McGrew is precisely the guy you want to see when some scimitar-wielding whack-job runs down State Street on a Saturday afternoon. Or when an aging Eastern European immigrant armed with a .50-caliber handgun shoots his insurance agent and then threatens a police officer. McGrew is not so much big as he is massively built, and with his bulging arms and sad eyes, he conveys a potent mix of raw power and inner sorrow. Among prosecutors, McGrew's word is not just good - it's golden. But his power and intensity cut both ways. Yes, it was McGrew's testimony a few years back that helped bring down his superior officer, Captain Greg Stock, who had a good shot at becoming chief. But it was also the seething anger McGrew displayed on the witness stand that convinced a Santa Barbara jury more than anything else that the police department was indeed a hostile work environment for the two women officers suing the department for sex discrimination. As a result, the jury awarded those women a couple million bucks, then an unheard-of amount for Santa Barbara's notoriously stingy juries. Politically, the Police Officers Association - which McGrew heads - has always been extremely influential. In recent years, the POA has spent about $45,000 per City Council race, far more than any other organization around. But if the cops spend a lot of dough, they make sure they control where it goes, giving very little directly to the candidates themselves. Instead, they buy radio ads, TV ads - often starring McGrew - bulk mailings, and polling services on behalf of their favorites. Typically, that translates to about $12,000 a candidate. And when you consider that it costs about $40,000 to wage a credible council campaign these days, that ain't chicken feed. Perhaps even more important than the cash itself, the cops walk precincts - door to door - on behalf of the candidates they support. The police's political influence achieved new critical mass with the election of Falcone, the Ginger Rogers to McGrew's Fred Astaire. On the council, the cops could have found no more passionate an advocate than Falcone, a tough, shrewd, and obviously ambitious operator sometimes referred to as "the Iyatollah" for her warm, fuzzy backroom manner.

Whether the cops deserved, or City Hall could afford, the five-percent bump remains open to debate. But the police made it clear from the beginning there was nothing to talk about. They would get the same five percent the firefighters just got, or they'd "do battle." Behind closed doors, Blum - herself the former head of the teachers' union - consistently worried about the city's finances. She wanted the cops to get a raise, just not so big. The firefighters needed more, she argued, because their pay was seriously lagging behind what firefighters in comparable communities got. The same, however, cannot be said for the city cops. (The firefighters, by the way, are now furious the cops got so much, and the lesson they've learned is that might plus money equals right.) McGrew wasn't buying it, and last Tuesday, he went eyeball-to-eyeball, toe-to-toe with the Mayor in the council chambers. Standing at the podium like a great wounded bear, McGrew publicly blasted Marty as an insincere political coward hiding behind a smokescreen of lame logic. Somehow, he managed to inject his son's recent and tragic fight with cancer into the debate, as if that has any bearing on how much cops should get paid. In rebuttal, I fully expected Marty to rip off her blouse and show the scars from her recent double mastectomy. To her credit, she resisted the impulse. Throughout her tenure, Marty's been susceptible to outbursts of foot-in-mouth disease at the worst possible moments, and just after last Tuesday's meeting, she described for the News-Press how she felt afraid and intimidated by all the cops "packing guns" crowding the pews before her. That's exactly the wrong thing to say about the men and women who risk their lives every day to make Santa Barbara so safe that not one murder was committed here last year. For anyone looking for a reason to be offended by the mayor, Marty just answered their prayers. Sometimes, you just need to stuff a sock in it. The same could be said for McGrew, however. Lest anyone accuse him of being a gracious winner, McGrew announced that the POA would be looking for candidates to run against Marty for mayor this November. Even Falcone, who wants to be mayor in the worst possible way, begged off, acknowledging such a contest would be destructive to the community.
So let's see...first of all, It seems that Nick's account is probably the most thorough from what I've seen, but The Iyatollah? Now that had me choking on my bran muffin! A couple of points...

When the cops pick a fight they have already won, and throw around phrases like "do battle" and "take her out" it must seem a little spooky when a bunch of cops show up at council in a blaze of guns. However, I think Blum probably meant the comment more tongue in cheek, for she certainly isn't the wimp the Monster McGrew describes -- heck, she fought breast cancer and took on the POA, hardly the sign of a wimp!!! A wimp would be what she was if she hadn't stood up to them. I mean, how in the heck could Blum benefit from this fight? Anyway, I think her comments were more like "I do declare! What huge guns they have! I'm a'twitter!" But of course, it doesn't sound that way in print at Gotcha McPress.

If indeed it was The Iyatollah that leaked the info, it's nice to see her take on some water after launching this boat. I mean really, will her fellow council members ever trust her again? Have fun, Foulcone.

And McGrew? Ah yes -- him. Well, if the winning lawsuit mentioned above is any example, he better watch it. It's a lofty perch from which to fall, and in my experience nothing falls quicker than a sore winner.


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