As they jostle for votes in a rough campaign, Thousand Oaks Councilwomen Judy Lazar and Elois Zeanah have made it clear that they disagree on most issues.
Now, however, they have arrived at consensus on one key point: Fed up with a nasty, brutal campaign, they cannot wait for the election to be over and done with.
As the two incumbents in a 16-candidate field, both Lazar and Zeanah have come under repeated attack. Lazar has been painted as gung-ho on development, while Zeanah has been criticized for advocating extremely slow growth. Their records have been picked apart by environmental groups, homeowners’ associations and business people.
In printed flyers, public comments, television commercials and newspaper ads, fellow candidates and angry voters have denounced Zeanah for her slow-growth policies.
The latest blow came Wednesday, when a dozen residents determined to deny Zeanah votes announced that they have raised $10,000 for a blitz of opposition ads in the campaign’s final six days.
Calling themselves “Citizens to Save Thousand Oaks,” the residents urged voters to check any name on the ballot but Zeanah’s. Their freshly printed yellow signs also criticize the two candidates Zeanah has endorsed: retired filmmaker M. Ali Issari and city Operations Manager David Hare.
“We’ll do ads on the radio, in the newspapers, on airplanes--whatever it takes,” organizer Brian Collier said. “We cannot afford to have Elois Zeanah and her people in office.”
Those who object to Zeanah tend to focus on her slow-growth policies--manifested in her “no” votes opposing most development. Citing her votes against The Oaks mall renovation and Janss Mall signs, they paint her as an enemy to the business community. They contend she comes to council meetings with her mind made up, unwilling to listen to residents’ concerns.
Lazar, on the other hand, draws flak from voters who view her as part of the political establishment that has long dominated Thousand Oaks. Although she has served only one term on the council, she tends to vote in a bloc with veteran politicians Alex Fiore and Frank Schillo.
Lazar’s critics say she is too eager to accommodate big businesses such as the Auto Mall, since she negotiated with car dealers who wanted a marquee-like flashing billboard on the Ventura Freeway. They also blast her for considering building a golf course on Broome Ranch, a newly acquired piece of parkland off Potrero Road.
The philosophical schism between the two camps is clear from their endorsements.
Zeanah’s slate has received a strong endorsement from the Sierra Club and local environmental groups. Lazar, in contrast, has been backed by the president of the Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce and has received donations from the Auto Mall and local real estate brokers.
Citing talks with voters and walks through precincts, both candidates claim widespread support.
But neither Lazar nor Zeanah is confident enough to predict victory in next week’s balloting.
“Tuesday will tell the tale,” Lazar said. “I can’t wait.”
Hoping to sway that outcome, Collier’s anti-Zeanah group has launched a major offensive. Collier refused to list contributors to his campaign, saying he wanted to focus on one issue: ousting Zeanah from office after a single four-year term.
“She’s responsible for the divisiveness on the council,” Collier said in a press conference outside the Civic Arts Plaza.
Another member of the anti-Zeanah group, Raul Guttierez, added, “She’s an intransigent obstructionist who refuses to compromise.”
But the very qualities that outrage her foes serve to inspire Zeanah’s supporters. They praise her for standing up for her beliefs, for refusing to bend her philosophies to meet the circumstances.
One ardent backer, Harry Evry, wrote in a recent flyer: “Once inside the gates of City Hall, Elois would not be corrupted. She refused the enticements of the special interests and social elite, and began in earnest her crusade for consistent planning, fiscal accountability and open government.”
Determined to parry every blow from opponents, Zeanah’s camp has produced several television commercials, countless signs and an impassioned brochure.
When her foes began wearing buttons emblazoned with a red slash through a black “Z,” her supporters countered by pasting stickers on their lapels with the defiant response: “Z!”
And on Wednesday, Zeanah lashed back at her opponents, describing them as “a small group of power brokers who are very fearful that they’re about to lose their power, their stranglehold grip on this city.”
Dismissing the accusations brought by Citizens to Save Thousand Oaks, Zeanah added: “If they can’t come up with anything besides character assassination . . . I must be squeaky clean. They’re doing me a favor by giving me free advertising.”
But several veteran politicians and city leaders have said this campaign does no one a favor. Disgusted by the mud-slinging, they have described this election as the ugliest in Thousand Oaks history.
“It’s getting out of hand,” Lazar said. “I think it is sad that we have come to this. This is too good a city to have this kind of thing happen.”
Echoing both Lazar and Zeanah, Chamber of Commerce President Steve Rubenstein decried “all this name-calling and subterfuge” and said the campaign was the dirtiest he has seen in 20 years.
“There is so much anger, so much divisiveness, so much neighbor against neighbor,” Rubenstein said. “I’m just looking forward to Wednesday.”