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Fund Report Heats Up Santa Ana City Races

Times Staff Writer

Santa Ana City Council candidates wasted no time Wednesday in scrutinizing their rivals’ latest campaign statements for what they say is evidence of vote buying, political extortion and sleaze.

Wednesday was the deadline to disclose campaign contributions through Sept. 30 to candidates who are running for mayor and three City Council seats. Next month’s election could either reinforce or upset the four-member majority that wields most of the power on the council.

Councilman John Acosta pointed to thousands of dollars received by three colleagues from C.J. Segerstrom & Sons and other Segerstrom companies two weeks before they voted to approve a Segerstrom project they earlier had blocked. “This proves Santa Ana is for sale,” Acosta said.

Mayor Dan Young, one of the recipients of Segerstrom’s money, came right back and said he was appalled at Acosta’s acceptance of a $250 contribution from the owner of Santa Ana’s cable television company, with which the city is embroiled in a nasty legal battle.

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Councilman Dan Griset, meanwhile, lit into his opponent, Richards L. Norton, for contributions he hasn’t even received yet. Invitations to an Oct. 12 fund-raiser for Norton, to be held at Antonello Ristorante in South Coast Village, ask for $99 donations and include a note explaining that donors of less than $100 need not be identified on campaign disclosure statements.

Griset made available a list of his own small contributors and challenged Norton, who operates swap meets in Santa Ana and other cities, to do the same. He said the invitation was a blatant attempt to hide the source of most of his money--the swap meet vendors whom Griset described as “Gypsy merchants . . . who drive in Saturday morning and leave town Sunday night.”

Calls to both Norton’s office and home in Santa Ana went unreturned.

To date, in contributions Norton leads the 14 candidates vying for one mayoral position and three council seats, having raised $115,586 in cash, loans and in-kind donations, according to his campaign statement filed in the city clerk’s office Wednesday. His chief opponent, the incumbent Griset, reported $44,195 in contributions to date.

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The third candidate in the race for Council Ward 5, Laurel R. Stephens, has raised $783. Stephens’ political action committee, which she recently formed, is aptly named Campaign on a Shoestring.

Young, who is trying to become Santa Ana’s first popularly elected mayor (the council has elected the mayor heretofore), has raised the second-largest amount--$103,022. One of his opponents, businessman George Hanna, has raised $38,265, while the other mayoral candidate, former school board trustee Sadie Reid-Benham, has not yet filed her campaign statement.

In the race for Ward 3, Acosta reported total contributions of $33,192. The other incumbent councilman in that race, Wilson B. Hart, did not return a campaign statement Wednesday. Two incumbents are running for the same seat because one ward was eliminated in redistricting. Candidate Joan Wilkinson, a former school board member, has received $2,245 in cash and in-kind contributions, while two other candidates, Ronald Lark-Wallace and Robert C. Thomas Jr., reported contributions of less than $1,000.

Acosta was on the eighth floor of City Hall late Wednesday examining the statements of his political rivals--foremost among them Young, Griset and Hart--while Young was doing the same down the hall in the mayor’s office.

Acosta’s eyes widened when he saw the contributions from Segerstrom companies to Griset, Young and Vice Mayor Patricia A. McGuigan. Griset and Young each received $5,000 contributions from Segerstrom companies in late September, while McGuigan got $5,500 from Segerstrom companies, principals and employees.

Attempts to reach Segerstrom spokesmen late Wednesday were unsuccessful.

At a council meeting in August, Griset led a council majority in delaying approval of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons’ proposed 104-unit condominium project at the corner of Sunflower Avenue and Raitt Street. Griset said he was concerned about the lack of open space provided by the developer and asked that the plans be redrawn.

Acosta, who voted against the delay, said at the time that Griset was delivering a message to Segerstrom that the project would not be approved without political contributions.

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Last Monday, the council unanimously approved Segerstrom’s revised plans, which provide 5% more open space than the old plans.

Griset, Young and McGuigan denied that the contributions played any role in their decision to withhold approval until the project met what they say are stiffer environmental standards.

“Henry Segerstrom has done a marvelous job of helping turn the city around with MainPlace . . . and I would gladly hold that support up against the billboard companies, liquor stores, salvage companies and towing companies that John Acosta has raised money from,” Young said. “I’m actually shocked and outraged that John Acosta would take money from the cable company at a time when we are in a legal dispute with them to lower rates. I think it’s sleazy.”

Acosta received $250 from Thomas L. Kezar, the general manager of Comcast Cablevision, which provides cable TV service in Santa Ana.

Said Acosta: “I sent him an invitation to my fund-raiser. . . . I give everyone an opportunity to say no. . . . The $250 I received is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the thousands of dollars they’ve sold themselves for to the big-business people . . . in this city.”

Three candidates are competing for Vice Mayor McGuigan’s seat in Ward 1. McGuigan has raised $34,912, far more than either Zeke Hernandez, who has raised $6,823, or Patricia H. Mill, who reported a $1,450 loan to herself.

McGuigan’s husband, James, a member of the cable TV advisory board, has angered some candidates by asking them to pledge not to accept any money from Comcast, its employees or lobbyists, because of the city’s ongoing battle with the company over the level of services it provides and the rates it charges.

Mill said she thought it was “inappropriate” for the husband of a candidate to ask her opponents to make such a pledge--especially when McGuigan has received thousands of dollars from developers and several years ago accepted contributions from cable TV interests herself.

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“It’s her battle to fight,” Mill said. “What’s he doing it for, her campaign or as a cable board member? . . . To me it’s a conflict of interest.”

James McGuigan said Mill and others are entitled to their opinion--which he went on to describe as “asinine.”

“It’s proper for me to do this as a member of the advisory board,” he said.


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