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Pizza Comes With a Side of Political Promotion

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Along with the black olives and extra cheese, some residents here have received an extra topping on their Domino’s pizza lately: a notice promoting the recall of City Councilwoman Elois Zeanah.

Zeanah blamed the mixing of pepperoni and politics Monday on Jill Lederer--a local pizza magnate and the former campaign manager for Councilman Andy Fox, a frequent opponent of Zeanah on development issues.

“I have no doubt at all that Jill Lederer did this,” Zeanah said. “She owns these franchises. [Employees] would never do anything like this without her authorization. She is the boss.”

The owner of 10 Domino’s franchises in the Conejo and San Fernando valleys, Lederer did not return calls Monday. Fox emphatically denied any connection to the pizza propaganda or any aspect of the recall campaign.

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The political flier--brought piping hot to Conejo Valley doorsteps--details a 3-week-old attempt to oust slow-growth advocate Zeanah. According to recall backers, the outspoken six-year council veteran is blocking an attempt to upgrade the city’s waste water facilities, incurring costly lawsuits, and refusing to govern the city.

Not a frequent Domino’s diner herself, Zeanah first learned of the fliers--called box-toppers in the pizza biz, through three calls from constituents.

“I’ve received calls from citizens ordering Domino’s pizza on Christmas Eve who were quite shocked to get that,” Zeanah said. “I feel--and the callers feel--that this is spreading hate in a season when you usually spread goodwill.”

Newbury Park resident Charles Salmon said he received a flier after ordering a Domino’s pizza on a recent lunch hour.

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“I was just floored to see it,” said Salmon, who described himself as neither a booster of Zeanah nor Fox. “I found it extremely distasteful to find this on top of my food, no pun intended.”

A Domino’s spokeswoman said the corporate office is “looking into” the issue.

When a franchise promotes fast service, a buttery crust and a zesty tomato sauce, that’s one thing, said Maggie Proctor, the public relations manager for the company based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

But touting a controversial viewpoint is a different matter.

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“I’m not sure if this is against the rules, but it’s certainly borderline,” Proctor said. “It’s not good business to say negative things about people. We do not condone political messages, which this certainly is.”

According to Domino’s corporate policy, individual franchises do have some room where advertising is concerned. Franchises can send out their own box-toppers--promoting a two-for-one special, for example--so long as it is not offensive, Proctor said.

All advertising--box-toppers included--must first receive corporate approval, she said. With the Domino’s legal department on holiday, Proctor could not say whether the anti-Zeanah box-topper had been approved beforehand.

“We’re a pizza company--from our standpoint Domino’s is apolitical,” Proctor said. “We want to sell pizza to everyone. This is not something I would recommend a franchise do.”

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In addition to running her pizza business, Lederer has long been active in Thousand Oaks politics and civic affairs. She poured thousands of dollars from her pizza charity into Fox’s growth management ballot measure, which passed overwhelmingly in November.

Because of the pizza fliers and Lederer’s ties to Fox, Zeanah said she believes that Fox is engineering the recall effort with Lederer’s support.

But Fox said Monday that he has no involvement in the recall movement.

“I have nothing to do with the recall, the people involved in the recall or anything else like that,” Fox said. Lederer “has her business and she makes decisions about her own personal business that have nothing to do with me.”

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The effort to recall Zeanah has been started by a group of 20 residents and business people. The state has given them the go-ahead to begin circulating petitions within the week.

To qualify the recall measure for an upcoming ballot, the group must gather signatures from at least 10% of registered city voters within 160 days, according to Thousand Oaks City Clerk Nancy Dillon.

Meantime, Domino’s is losing customers.

Councilwoman Linda Parks, Zeanah’s only council ally, said Monday she won’t be caught ordering Domino’s in the future. And pizza muncher Salmon also will be turning elsewhere.

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“I call them political pizzas,” Parks said. “I certainly won’t be buying any. I hope that the other pizza chains--Toppers and Pizza Hut--start putting in the other side of it--the rebuttal.”

Barring that, Salmon offered some advice to the recall leaders.

“Get off their butts) and go door-to-door or stand in front of a grocery store,” he said. “It’s really petty to have this stuck on top of someone’s pizza.”


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