Now I would never want to make it seem that I am in any way sympathetic to the plight of the 8 City of Bell officials who were rounded up and perp walked into Steve Cooley's world of tabloid infamy yesterday. Local pols that rob and cheat their constituents are certainly not in any way sympathetic or worthy of our pity. And obviously this is about the worst bunch of crooks imaginable right now. And talk about unattractive people, you just couldn't invent any more couture challenged chumps.
But let me ask you this. Has the Bell 8 become the focus of so much anger because their crimes are decidedly different from anything else going on in this state right now? Are they guilty of outrageous acts that haven't been seen in years? Or can it be that their crimes, while certainly extreme, are not without at least some similarities to what many people suspect is going on in their own communities. And that perhaps the eagerness of certain powerful individuals in Sacramento and Los Angeles County to take these bad dudes down has more to do with finding suitable fall guys than anything else. People who will answer for government corruption that is far more ingrained than our esteemed public guardians will ever care to acknowledge.
To me it seems as if the usual politicians want to make it appear that they're going after local government corruption without really dirtying their hands by doing something about it. And rather than prosecuting corruption in its many forms and degrees in cities throughout the state, they're giving us a show trial instead. The Bell 8 could very well become our own public burning, and in the process help governments all over the state atone for their own sins free of any deserved suffering.
Or, to make another analogy, the sharks are now eating the minnows. And in an election year, no less. We mustn't forget that.
The Wall Street Journal had this rather pungent observation to make yesterday.
Mr. Cooley said most of the arrests were without incident. However, a battering ram was used to enter the house of Bell Mayor Oscar Hernandez who was "a little slow" in answering the door, Mr. Cooley said at a press conference Tuesday. Bail for Mr. Rizzo, who stepped down in July after the pay scandal broke in the Los Angeles Times, was set at $3.2 million.
The criminal charges come on the heels of a civil suit filed against former and current Bell officials last week by California Attorney General Jerry Brown seeking to recover millions in salaries and pension benefits from Bell officials. Mr. Brown agreed to file civil charges while Mr. Cooley pursued criminal charges.
Both men are in the midst of political campaigns. Mr. Cooley is the Republican candidate to succeed Mr. Brown as attorney general. Mr. Brown is the Democratic candidate for governor. Each have been accused by opponents of using the Bell scandal to burnish their election campaigns.
And then there is this from the Christian Science Monitor:
In addition to boosting awareness of government overreach, the Bell scandal may have provided election fodder for Brown, who is in a dead heat in the race for governor with weeks to go.
"What Jerry Brown is doing in Bell is standard operating procedure for him," says Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies. He's using the scandal "to promote himself but also to solve an important governmental problem."
"Jerry Brown is doing what office-holders usually do: leverage their official duties for maximum media attention, says (Claremont McKenna political scientist) Jack Pitney. "It won't make much difference in November, but at least it diverts attention from his awkward comment about President Clinton."
Legal Newswire.com evens it up politically for us with this report:
Democratic candidate for California Attorney General Kamala Harris is calling for "immediate action" following revelations that her opponent has accepted campaign contributions from those he's currently investigating. On Monday, a Los Angeles Times article revealed Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, a Republican, accepted funds from those who were close to targets of inquiry in Bell Gardens and City of Industry.
"Following yet another troubling disclosure about L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley in the Los Angeles Times, Democratic nominee for Attorney General Kamala Harris will call for immediate action regarding campaign contributions Cooley has accepted from people under investigation by his own office for corruption," the San Francisco district attorney's campaign announced on Tuesday.
"Last week, LA Weekly revealed that Cooley has taken laundered campaign contributions from an ex-felon. Cooley's reply was the same: He won't give back the money or ask for an independent investigation - after all, the money has been spent and the statute of limitations has expired," her campaign said in a statement.
You have to wonder if the Bell 8 would have ever been arrested at all if they'd had the good sense to get out of town until after this November's elections.
Don't forget to bring matches.