In a contentious debate that symbolized the race for the 2nd District supervisorial seat, candidates Linda Moulton Patterson and Jim Silva on Tuesday hurled insults and accused each other of lying about their political records.
The debate, in what is the hottest local race on the Nov. 8 ballot, opened with Moulton Patterson awarding Silva a plaque for being the "worst politician in Orange County." She told the audience of 150 at the Irvine Marriott that Silva is beholden to special interest groups and dodges tough decisions.
Silva's response was quick: "I would like to remind Linda that she shouldn't put Tabasco sauce on her Wheaties in the morning. It doesn't do much for her personality."
From there, it only got uglier.
Since the June primary, Moulton Patterson, who is mayor of Huntington Beach, and Silva, who is a councilman from the same city, have been busy sniping at each other and raising money to win the coveted supervisorial seat being vacated by Supervisor Harriett M. Wieder. The contest promises to be a costly one. In the primary alone, each candidate spent more than $140,000.
At Tuesday's debate, the candidates touched on a number of issues confronting the county and the 2nd District, including the development of the Bolsa Chica wetlands, new jail construction and the future of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.
Although supervisorial seats are nonpartisan positions, the race is being fought along partisan lines.
Silva, a Republican, has drawn support from local Republican leaders, including Reps. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach), Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and supervisors Roger R. Stanton and Thomas F. Riley. Moulton Patterson, a Democrat, lists several unions and Democrat leaders as well as some notable Republicans, like Santa Ana Mayor Daniel H. Young.
Silva, who touts himself as a conservative, accused Moulton Patterson of being a "Clinton liberal" whose philosophy is contrary to most Orange County constituents and all other board members. Moulton Patterson, however, said her views are more diverse.
"I will represent all citizens, not just the members of one political party," she told the audience. " . . . I think it is a real plus to have a Democrat on the board. My God, what's wrong with one?"
She then accused Silva of being beholden to Stanton, who has endorsed Silva and helped him raise money.
"I think (Stanton) has played too much of a role," she said, adding that if she were elected she wouldn't "have to check with anyone" to vote.
Silva said he shares similar views with Stanton but that his vote will not be influenced by the supervisor. Stanton, who was at the debate, found it ironic that Moulton Patterson would criticize his endorsement of Silva, when she had solicited it for herself.
"Who are going to support?" Stanton asked. "Somebody who doesn't hold your views?"
The candidates also bickered over several issues.
Moulton Patterson said she favors building a new jail at the existing Santa Ana facility or the James A. Musick Branch Jail in Irvine. Silva proposes a new jail be built at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station. She favors abortion rights, he is anti-abortion.
And they displayed similar, though not identical, views on other issues.
They both favor development of the Bolsa Chica wetlands, but Moulton Patterson prefers a less dense development. Both support an airport at El Toro, but Moulton Patterson is against a local ballot measure that will bypass the review process and leave the issue up to the voters. And both oppose rent control at apartments on mobile home parks.
The debate turned nastiest when the candidates were told to field questions from each other. Moulton Patterson accused Silva of accepting free cable television while being a member of a community cable board. Silva said the hookup was part of his salary.
When it was Silva's turn, he accused Moulton Patterson of flip-flopping on Proposition 187, which seeks to deny any public assistance to illegal immigrants. Like Silva, Moulton Patterson says she supports the legislation, although it "saddens" her to do so.
Even after the debate, tensions remained high. Silva's campaign distributed a copy of a fund-raising letter mailed by a number of Orange County officials and elected politicians on behalf of Moulton Patterson's campaign. Silva's campaign alleged it was mailed to transportation contractors doing business with the county and said it constituted a conflict of interest by letter writers.
The Sept. 20 letter, printed on the stationery of Young, a member of the Orange County Transportation Authority board, was co-signed by three other OCTA board members who vote on county transportation projects. The letter was an invitation to a $225 per person luncheon for Moulton Patterson scheduled for Oct. 7.
In addition to Young, the letter was signed by OCTA board members Sarah Catz; Irv Pickler, who is also the Democratic candidate in the 68th Assembly race and an Anaheim councilman; and Los Alamitos Councilman Robert P. Wahlstrom.
But Harvey Englander, Moulton Patterson's campaign consultant, said there is no conflict because Young and Pickler are not running for reelection to their council seats and later this year will leave the transportation board. He said being backed by Stanton raises a more serious issue.
"The person whose stationery (the letter) is on, will not be in office. . . . That's a heck of a lot different from someone who's a member of the five-member Board of Supervisors, who has been calling people and arm-twisting for funds for his compatriot," Englander said.
However, Dave Gilliard, Silva's campaign manager, called the correspondence "a shakedown letter. There's still a lot votes between now" and when Young and Pickler step down.
Times staff writer Gebe Martinez contributed to this report.