It's not easy being Dave Garofalo

Theresa Moreau

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

conflict-of-interest laws.

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.


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

Fenway Park.

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.


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."


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

Midas touch.

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.


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

Local News.

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

political affairs.

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."

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