There are 85 incorporated cities in L.A. County, and at any given moment one of them is certain to be involved in a recall movement featuring the kind of raging public emotion that got Mussolini hung by his ankles during the closing days of World War II.
Currently, in fact, there are two such recall movements under way, one in Agoura Hills and one in San Gabriel, both involving not only threats and name-calling but also lawsuits for defamation of character.
Under normal circumstances, I would dismiss that kind of chaos in the suburbs as a natural condition of people living in close proximity to one another, except for the single compelling factor involved in the San Gabe battle. The object of the recall is being accused of having exposed his behind at a City Council meeting.
Let me say first I accept without hesitation that there are many good reasons for throwing a public official out of office, dishonesty and stupidity being high among them. But in three decades of newspapering I have never heard of anyone being targeted for recall for having bared his buttocks. Or her buttocks.
The closest I came to that was when the female mayor of Pomona was accused by a local activist of having flashed her underwear while sitting cross-legged in a council session, an accusation she indignantly denied. When I confronted the activist with her denial he just nodded firmly and said, “It was her underwear all right.” Who knows?
Object of the recall in San Gabriel is Vice Mayor Frank Blaszcak, a 42-year-old sanitation worker and part-time cartoonist who similarly denies having, as they say, “mooned” a local citizen during a meeting of the City Council.
“Here’s what happened,” he said to me in a demonstration at his home. “I was sitting in my chair and I bent down to take something from my briefcase on the floor and momentarily turned my back to the audience.”
As he re-created the situation, bending over to retrieve something from an imaginary briefcase, his shirt rode up slightly and his trousers were pulled down slightly, exposing no more, you might say, than a quarter moon.
“See what I mean?” he said from his slightly upside down position. I said I did, and then wondered vaguely what I was doing sitting there calculating the degree of exposure revealed by a man’s behind when I could have been out teasing the homeless or shooting dogs. Duty is a demanding mistress.
Blaszcak, who was born in New Jersey, also scoffs at an opposition charge that he has injected “Eastern-style politics” into San Gabriel, pointing out that he was brought to live in L.A. when he was a kid. Eastern-style politics, while powerful, is not transmitted through the genes. You do not emerge from the womb smoking a cigar and passing out favors.
A final charge that he sold drugs in a schoolyard so enraged Blaszcak that he hired attorney Melvin Belli to sue. “Do they really think I’d get elected to public office to sell dope on a schoolyard in broad daylight?” he asked. Then he shook his head sadly. “It’s a nasty business.”
Blaszcak says he is in favor of controlled growth for San Gabriel and has been targeted for recall by people with condos for brains. That may be true, but after talking to him I have another theory. He’s also dogged by bad luck.
The string of misfortunes began with an automobile accident that caused him to miss his senior year of high school and cost him a job as a newspaper cartoonist. Cartooning, which he does well, is his first love.
Subsequently, he was hired by another newspaper, this one at Lake Arrowhead, but by the time he got there the paper had folded. Then he went into private business related to the aerospace industry at the time the industry was going under. Naturally, his business failed.
Undaunted, Blaszcak got other jobs and bought a house on a hill in Walnut. The day escrow closed, the house began sliding down the hill. Then he landed an administrative position with the County Sanitation District and one day, on his way to lunch, he fell down a stairwell. He was still in a neck brace when neighbors talked him into running for the City Council. The bad luck continued. He won.
“I’m getting a little tired of all this,” Blaszcak said the other day, and I can’t blame him. He seems to be a decent man, not at all the kind who would expose his behind in public, and I hope his string of misfortune is at an end.
With a little good luck he might even lose the recall election and get back into cartooning. When you stop to think about it, it isn’t that much different than suburban politics.