HUNTINGTON BEACH -- Sauntering down the aisle of St. Bonaventure
Catholic Church with a collection basket in hand, Mayor Dave Garofalo --
all 5 feet and 4 inches of him -- spreads himself around.
A wave here. A wink there. Even tousling the hair of a youngster
sitting on the edge of a pew. Personality plus. A self-deprecating
amateur comedian whose favorite target is himself. Even after his second
open-heart surgery in as many years, Garofalo wisecracked last spring,
"Many people in the community were surprised I had a heart."
In another pew sits millionaire gas station mogul George Pearson, a
close friend of Garofalo's for the past five years. The two met in
church, but their relationship would later make headlines when the mayor
used his good fortune to help Pearson buy a coveted half-million-dollar
home in the St. Augustine housing tract.
A ninth-grade dropout with dyslexia who has become a sharp-witted
businessman, Pearson described his buddy as a lovable guy.
"People either love Dave Garofalo, or they hate him," Pearson said.
"Everyone I know thinks the world of him."
In another pew sits his ex-wife, Linda Garofalo, parish manager of St.
Bonaventure and the mother of Garofalo's two children, Nancy and Kevin.
Rumors circulate that the pair, although they attend the same church,
never speak. She dismissed the rumor as idle gossip.
"When I go to church, I go to church to pray, not talk," she said.
It's not easy being Dave Garofalo.
Despite his devotion to the church and God, the mayor is now bedeviled
with legal problems. He is being investigated by the Orange County
district attorney's office, the Orange County Grand Jury and the state's
Fair Political Practices Commission for possible violations of
Watching the 55-year-old Garofalo walking past the pews is almost like
witnessing a natural-born strategist whose blood is steeped in the
political tradition of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, which gave birth
to the Medici dynasty and Machiavellian principles.
Rumor is, it was.
A RELIGIOUS FAMILY
The story of Garofalo's family roots take on legendary status when
told by cousin Richard Garofalo, whose father is the mayor's uncle. From
his home in Bristol, R.I., Richard Garofalo traced the family tree,
explaining that the Garofalo family first sprouted in a small town in
Sicily with the birth of Francesco Garofalo, their paternal grandfather.
"Maybe I shouldn't say this," Richard Garofalo began, and with some
encouragement continued. "The story is this:
"My father's father, Francesco, was brought up in an orphanage in the
Catholic diocese outside of Palermo. His mother was an orphanage worker,
and his father was a traveling bishop. From what I understand, the name
Garofalo wasn't the bishop's name, but he always wore a carnation, and
Garofalo means carnation.
"So, we have a religious background," he said, chuckling.
The endearing, yet scintillating, narrative is verified by Diane
Vescera of Johnston, R.I., another cousin who filled in more of the
Francesco Garofalo, the son of a traveling bishop, grew up in the
Sicilian town of Termini Imerse, a countryside village 20 miles southeast
of Palermo, where he married Concetta.
The young bride gave birth to their first child, the first of nine.
When the 20th century dawned, the small Garofalo family joined millions
of their countrymen in sailing to America. The Garofalos settled in
Schenectady, N.Y., but soon relocated to Federal Hill, the Italian
section of Providence, R.I. Home would be the third floor of a
three-story tenement building.
Francesco, a fruit vendor in Italy, continued his avocation in his new
homeland, where he set up a fruit pushcart. It was a profitable business
in a burgeoning world not yet filled with supermarkets. And like his
father, the traveling bishop, Francesco always wore a carnation.
Soon all the Garofalo boys were old enough to push a cart, and all but
one started their own businesses.
Local businessman Roger Slates, who's known Garofalo since the Rhode
Island transplant first rode into Huntington Beach 30 years ago, has
heard this version of the American Dream, Garofalo style, a few times.
"I felt I was listening to Abraham Lincoln," Slates said, choking back
the laughter. "My father owned a pushcart. Big deal."
Indeed, Garofalo's father, Leonard, was one of the young Garofalos who
hawked his fruit from a pushcart but expanded his business when he opened
his own grocery store just down the street from Providence High School.
Everybody loved Leo -- short in stature, but big in heart. Leo trusted
everyone, loved his wife, Phyllis, and adored his two boys.
The family had a little piece of heaven in a small single-family home
in Cranston, R.I., where the Garofalo boys went to school. Garofalo
played sports and, as teenagers, Garofalo and his brother Richard would
travel to Boston with their father to watch the Red Sox play in beloved
In 1963, Garofalo graduated from Cranston High School. He had gone off
to college in Arizona when his father died of diabetes-related
complications. While an undergraduate student at the University of
Arizona, Garofalo had to support himself. He accelerated his studies and
earned a bachelor's degree in city management in 1966.
While at the university, Garofalo met his future wife, Linda Barford.
She would leave him 23 years later when their marriage collapsed.
It's not easy being Dave Garofalo.
THE EARLY POLITICAL YEARS
It was the height of the Vietnam War, and after his graduation,
Garofalo received a draft notice. Almost immediately he volunteered for
the Marine Corps. But a flat-footed, shorter-than-average Garofalo never
left the mainland.
On Feb. 3, 1968, still in the service, Garofalo married Linda. The two
lived off of the base in Quantico, Va., where he was stationed.
"We met, we dated, we fell in love, and we got married," she said.
"But he's not part of my life now. We've been divorced for a long time."
After his 1969 honorable discharge from the service, Garofalo and his
bride went westward, first to Los Angeles, then to Huntington Beach.
It was around this time that Garofalo met Ed Laird, a
chemist-turned-businessman who would remain a steadfast friend. At the
time, Garofalo was working for Union Carbide Corp., selling vinyl resin.
Laird, who now owns a paint company, Coatings Resource Corp., was a
chemist at Andrew Brown Co.
Laird described Garofalo as one of his best buddies. Their friendship
has spanned nearly three decades.
"He has been a very good father to his children. He has a very good
relationship with all members of his family," Laird said.
It wasn't too long after Garofalo's arrival in Huntington Beach that
he found a new love: politics.
It was 1972, and he hadn't lived in Huntington Beach for the two years
required to run for local office. But he went to the city clerk's office
and requested filing papers just the same. He was denied.
All of 26, Garofalo sued the city, saying he had been unfairly barred
from running. He wanted to overturn the two-year residency rule for all
City Council candidates.
The judge reviewed Garofalo's request and agreed the law was too
strict. The provision was knocked down.
Garofalo ran for City Council. He lost.
Always resilient, Garofalo ran again in 1994 and won. That victory and
a subsequent reelection win have turned bittersweet as he faces possible
criminal prosecution for allegedly voting in favor of business interests
that advertised in his publication.
It's not easy being Dave Garofalo.
But back in the 1970s, long before residents would clamor for his
resignation and long before signs declaring "GROG: Get Rid of Garofalo"
would pop up around town, Garofalo and his wife were just another couple
raising their children.
Garofalo formed his own corporation, David P. Garofalo & Associates,
around 1981 and, according to his City Hall biography, "began traveling
the world promoting high technology products and services in a variety of
markets, usually to foreign governments."
THE END TO A GOOD BEGINNING
Those were the good 1980s.
Then there were the bad 1980s.
Heartaches over the health of his son, Kevin, would plague Garofalo
and escalate for years to come. The never-ending nightmare of medical
maladies began in 1976, when 5-year-old Kevin endured his first biopsy,
which revealed kidney disease.
There was a string of hospital emergencies for Kevin: renal failure;
organ transplants in 1989, 1992 and 1993; twice-daily, self-administered
peritoneal dialysis; grafts; Steal Syndrome, a hernia and the removal of
his gallbladder. All together, 27 operations and procedures.
In a touching tribute to his son, Garofalo elaborated on Kevin's
illnesses and how he considered himself a thankful father. In a column,
he wrote: "To Kevin, I say, thank you for all you have given me."
The devoted father stood at his son's bedside, hanging on every
labored breath. Meanwhile, Garofalo reportedly fielded phone calls from
newspaper reporters, keeping them abreast of his dramatic, fatherly
Kevin thinks highly of his father, even as Garofalo endures the
scrutiny of every vote he casts, even as every word he utters is
dissected by his political foes, even as the legal agencies investigating
his conduct prowl for answers.
For Kevin, his father is just that -- a great father.
"He's contributed tremendously to my life," Kevin said.
In matters of business, though, Garofalo did not seem to have the
A 1988 business brief in the Orange County Register described the sale
of a "troubled Huntington Savings Bank" that had lost millions in
securities trading and claimed just $221,000 in net worth as of March
that year. Garofalo was described as the bank's "chief financial
But Dale Dunn, who was the Huntington Savings Bank vice president,
said Garofalo never held that position.
"No way was he ever employed there," Dunn said. "He was a consultant
but not an employee."
Slates, a longtime Huntington Beach businessman himself, said Garofalo
has a troubling way of doing business.
"I've known him for 25 to 30 years, and so many of the things he says
and did, he was, well, let me just say that Garofalo likes to stretch the
point, and in his business dealings I wouldn't trust him any farther than
I could throw him," Slates said.
Connie Young, a local businesswoman and corporate consultant who once
owned Southland Access Inc., has angry memories of doing business with
Garofalo. Before he stepped into the picture, she published the
Conference & Visitors Bureau visitors guides in 1990 and 1991.
Garofalo, who was a member of the bureau's board of directors, was the
one who originally suggested to Young that she join in the bidding for
the contract. When Young won the bid, Garofalo subsequently asked her if
he could be an advertising representative for the visitors guide.
But it was a short-lived business relationship.
"It came back to us that Garofalo had represented himself as the owner
of the company, and of course it infuriated me," Young alleged. "I was
the one who financed the entire company. It made me so angry."
Young claimed she confronted Garofalo and that he denied the
accusations. Young said she asked him to leave the company. He did.
Garofalo may have a different recollection of events, but he declined
to be interviewed for this story.
It's not easy being Dave Garofalo.
It wasn't just his business dealings that went sour.
As Garofalo saw the birth of the 1990s, he also saw the death of his
23-year marriage. In 1991, Linda Garofalo wanted out.
When asked what caused the breakup, she said bluntly, "It's none of
your business." However, she added, "We're not married, but we're not
Court documents show that she stated "irreconcilable differences have
caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage."
Their home in the 16800 block of Stiles Circle went up for sale, and
the court ordered the property divided by a "flip of the coin." Of many
items, Garofalo picked the statue of a rabbit, a branding iron and a bed
warmer. His ex-wife chose a ladder, a copper pot and a tin box.
Their daughter, Nancy, now 21, was still a minor at the time of the
divorce; subsequently, Garofalo was ordered by the court to pay child
support in monthly chunks of $685.
But court records show that Garofalo skipped several payments, and his
former wife was forced to go to court several times to get her money.
In a trial brief filed by her attorney, Lorine Hoskins, it documents
Garofalo's reluctance to pay up: "Respondent refuses to pay this amount
forthwith although he has sufficient funds to do so. Instead he is
dribbling it out at his whim each month."
The same document shows a concern with "Kevin's Account," which was
compiled from funds received as a result of collateral medical insurance
coverage that was earmarked for his medical bills.
The court documents noted that Garofalo used the money for "other
Ever the best friend, Laird said Garofalo has been a wonderful father:
"Kevin's been a multiple-organ transplant. He has one good week out of
four. Every month he's in the hospital. That's a drain for any person,
but Dave is there for his son.
"Dave is a real humanitarian. At the drop of a hat he will help any
charity in town," Laird added.
Steve Bone, president of the Robert Mayer Corp., described his
longtime friend as a man of compassion and selflessness who works
tirelessly for the community.
"Even his harshest critics would admit that," Bone said.
At 6 feet, 5 inches tall, Bone is a good two heads taller than
Garofalo, his sidekick around town. They sometimes appear at the same
fund-raisers. There are always fund-raisers.
There's the literacy trivia contest at the city's library. There's a
golf tournament to raise money for St. Bonaventure. And there are the
"burn-the-mortgage" fund-raisers for the Boys & Girls Club of Huntington
In a moment of some irony, it was at the Boys & Girls Club that
Garofalo appeared with his attorney to defend himself and deny the
accusations that he has misused his office, taken advantage of his
elected role and been less than honest with his constituents.
LIFE ON A BUMPY ROAD
It was 1994 when Garofalo finally won a seat on the Huntington Beach
City Council. Ominously, he took his oath of office 24 hours after Orange
County declared bankruptcy.
Early this year, he was named mayor and arranged a five-gun salute for
himself. He had cheerleaders, a marching band and chorus singers belting
out "Hello Davy" to the tune of "Hello Dolly."
But the celebration has been short-lived.
A publisher by trade, Garofalo has had a hand in publishing not only
the Huntington Beach Conference & Visitors Bureau guide and the Chamber
of Commerce Business Directory, but also his own feel-good newspaper, the
The publications, however, have helped drag him toward controversy and
the insinuation that he would vote favorably for those who advertised in
The controversies do not stop there. Investigations by the
Independent, the OC Weekly and the Los Angeles Times have turned up both
conflict and contradiction in the way Garofalo juggles his business and
In 1993, Garofalo bought a home in the 16200 block of Fairway Lane for
$215,000. Four years later, in September 1997, he sold the three-bedroom,
two-bath home, making only $1,500 on the deal. Without a home, Garofalo
moved into a hotel with his mother, Phyllis.
That autumn, Garofalo managed to get his name on a preferred waiting
list for a home in the exclusive St. Augustine compound. In doing so, he
leaped ahead of hundreds of other potential home buyers to land the
tract's most coveted spot -- a two-story dream home at 19031 Poppy Hill Circle, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
But he didn't buy the home for himself. Instead, he agreed to purchase
the house for his buddy Pearson, for only a $1 profit.
Garofalo paid $565,000 for the house on July 27, 1997, and sold the
house the next day to Pearson for $625,000. The difference, he said,
covered upgrades in flooring and carpeting.
"I'm not really sure Dave got his buck," Pearson said recently.
Garofalo then bought a home at 630 Main St. on Sept. 3, 1998, after
putting $82,600 down.
Since the purchase of the Poppy Hill Circle tract house and
revelations that he received advertising revenue, the Orange County
district attorney's office, the Orange County Grand Jury and the Fair
Political Practices Commission began investigating the mayor for alleged
conflicts of interest.
Also, during the months of June and July, Garofalo was investigated by
the city attorney, who handed over the findings of her six-week probe to
the district attorney.
City Council minutes show Garofalo voted at least 35 times on issues
involving advertisers in the 1997 and 1998 visitors guides in the
one-year period, from Dec. 15 1997, to Dec. 15 1998, after he reportedly
sold his publishing rights to Laird in January 1998.
But there's never a rain cloud that lingers over Garofalo's parade for
long. Despite the pending investigations and the threat of a fine and
even jail time, Garofalo is ever the optimist and refuses to resign and
step back from the spotlight.
In a recent column published by the Independent, Garofalo puffed out
his chest again.
"It's not easy being mayor!" he wrote. "It's not easy being Dave
Garofalo! It's especially not easy being both."