Will “character” be a factor when Irvine voters cast their ballots in the 11-candidate race for just two Irvine City Council seats? Will legitimate questions about a candidate’s honesty, integrity, and sense of responsibility matter to Irvine voters?
Two Council candidates — Councilmember Christina Shea and her running mate, Anthony Kuo — are now facing special scrutiny as the November 8th election draws near. The two Republicans are running on a “slate” headed by Irvine mayoral candidate Don Wagner and backed by Irvine mega-developer FivePoint Communities. FivePoint and related developers are expected to spend up to $1 million on a so-called “independent expenditure” campaign to elect the trio.
Many public observers and ethicists say that “outsourcing” your campaign to big developers — rather than raising your own funds and running your own campaign — makes you beholdened to them, showing a lack of character. But, in the case of Anthony Kuo and Christina Shea, other questions of character abound.
ANTHONY KUO: HIT-AND-RUN AND LYING
In an outstanding piece of investigative journalism, Dan Chmielewski, a leading Orange County political blogger (TheLiberalOC.com), confirmed the veracity of reports that Anthony Kuo, now Chair of the Irvine Planning Commission, had been involved in a hit-and-run accident years ago.
Of course, people get in automobile accidents all the time. But what makes a hit-and-run so pernicious — indeed, a serious crime — is that the driver fleeing the scene is actually trying to evade any and all responsibility for whatever property damage or personal injury that he or she may have caused.
We know that Kuo pled guilty to a hit-and-run offense in 1999. In fact, a summary of the case disposition remains on file in Orange County Superior Court records (www.OCCourts.org). But, we know little more. We don’t know the circumstances of the incident. We don’t know the nature or extent of damage or injury done. We don’t even know the scene of the crime. Was it in Irvine? And, how and why were the facts of the case expunged?
Those questions are all the more pertinent now because of this: When investigative journalist Chmielewski asked Kuo directly if he had ever been involved in a hit-and-run, Kuo denied it.
One ethicist we consulted said this: “Of course, the initial hit-and-run offense, even for a young man, shows a lack of character. But the denial of the offense 17 years later — flat-out lying about the matter — says even more. This is clearly someone who refuses to take responsibility for his own actions and his misconduct.”
CHRISTINA SHEA: TRAIL OF SCANDAL
Councilmember Christina Shea, now seeking re-election to yet another four-year term on the City Council, is still reeling from the State Auditor’s report that in 2013 and 2014 she was responsible for wasting and misusing $1.7 million of public funds for political purposes — to target then-Councilmember Larry Agran in the 2014 election instead of producing a truly independent “audit” of the Great Park, (which, in any case, would have duplicated several previous, authentic audits).
Under State law, misuse of public funds for partisan political purposes — in this case to conduct a political witch hunt — exposes Shea, herself, to severe penalties including fines, imprisonment, and even personal liability to reimburse the City for any misspent public funds. The entire City government and City Management are already embarrassed by the State Auditor’s findings.
The State Auditor’s report follows on the heels of confirmed reports that Shea is under investigation by the California Fair Political Practices Commission for violating State conflict of interest laws — getting paid up to $100,000 per year as a consultant for KIA Motors, while allegedly lobbying the City staff to help her client out with City permits and other issues.
Councilmember Jeff Lalloway, a fellow Republican who served with Shea on the Council’s Audit Subcommittee, has been especially critical of Shea’s conduct in the KIA Motors conflict of interest matter. Months ago, he began referring to Shea as “Corrupt Christina.”
DOES CHARACTER COUNT?
So, in the cases of Shea and Kuo, will character count? We won’t know until the voters weigh in…and all the votes are counted.