Update: My post on Jill Stewart's response to John Carroll is here. My post reviewing the L.A. Times' columnists is here. Original Post: When I did the post below, I couldn't find the Jill Stewart article referenced due to the corrupt, anticompetitive buyout of the New Times LA by the LA Weekly/Village Voice chain. But Sebastien, of the Sadly, No! blog came to the rescue with an electronic copy. I'll apologize in advance for whatever copyright violation I may be committing, but my lawyer is out of town until next week and so I'll just go on ahead and offer the column up. I think that this is a story that needs to be told to allow undecided voters, like myself, to balance the news that Arnold acts like a boob and grabs asses. It appears that Gray kicks them. From the November 27, 1997 issue of New Times LA, a column on Gray Davis by Jill Stewart.
Closet Wacko Vs. Mega-Fibber Jill Stewart I have this file, labeled Gray Davis, that for the last few years I've been stuffing with all the bizarre little tales that are quietly shared among journalists and political insiders about the man who, though probably viewed as a blandly pleasant talking head by most Californians, is in fact one of the strangest ducks ever elected to statewide office. Long protected by editors at the Los Angeles Times--who have nixed every story Times reporters have ever tried to develop about Davis's storied history of physical violence, unhinged hysteria and gross profanity--the baby-faced, dual personality Davis has been allowed to hold high public office with impunity.
Perhaps you are among the millions never told of Lieutenant Governor Davis's widely known--but long unreported--penchant for physically attacking members of his own staff. His violent tantrums have occurred throughout his career, from his days as Chief of Staff for Jerry Brown to his long stint as State Controller to his current job. Davis's hurling of phones and ashtrays at quaking government employees and his numerous incidents of personally shoving and shaking horrified workers--usually while screaming the f-word "with more venom than Nixon" as one former staffer recently reminded me--bespeak a man who cannot be trust with power. Since his attacks on subservients are not exactly "domestic violence," they suggest to me the need for new lexicon that is sufficiently Dilbertesque. I would therefore like to suggest "office batterer" for consideration as you observe Davis in his race for governor. The most disturbing aspect of Davis's troubled side is the ease with which the power elite in California, many of whom know he is unbalanced, laugh off the long public deception that has created Davis's public persona. "He'll never be governor," one well-known Democratic state senator explained to me last year, justifying his own failure to criticize or out Davis. "He'll never be the Democratic nominee," the senator insisted. And that's certainly how things stood, in my own mind, until Davis announced his intention to run for governor. It quickly became apparent that Davis's only Democratic "competition" would be Al Checchi, a guy who squeezed $50 million out of a lot of little people ten years ago in his sudden vault from silver-spooned graduate of Harvard Business School to Texas mega-multimillionaire during the reorganization of Disney. The Disney deal made Checchi an instant player who immediately began dreaming of becoming a senator--or was it governor?--of Texas. So self-absorbed in building his millions is Checchi that, although he has lived in Beverly Hills with his family for much of this decade--when he wasn't decamped to his mansion on Lake Harriot in Minneapolis during his takeover of Northwest Airlines--most of my friends still think Checchi comes from somewhere in Northern California. They can be forgiven their ignorance, because throughout the civic debates that have embroiled Los Angeles, Checchi has been a cipher. He is a leading champion of no causes, has established no meaningful charities, has left no laudable trace. He's the 312th richest man in America, and nobody can even pronounce his name. So it was with alarm that I read the very similar speeches given by these two men as they both offered plans to reform the dismal academics in California's public schools, a scandal that many observers believe will be the hot issue in the governor's race. In his speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco last week, Checchi at least had the nerve to identify teacher incompetence and lack of teacher testing as a key problem. Davis, who has long slept with the power anti-reform teacher's unions in Los Angeles and other cities, could not bring himself to utter such a blasphemy. In his only major divergence from Checchi, in a speech to Town Hall of Los Angeles in September, Davis largely blamed parents. Observing this pair of oddballs, the notion struck me: Isn't it a fatal flaw of the Republicans, not the Democrats, to promote candidates for top office who have no right to lead a civil society? How can it be that the Democrats suddenly suffer Dan Quayle Disease, after their years of carping about the Republicans' penchant for nominating louts and fools? More specifically, why on earth is the California Democratic Party allowing such sour milk to rise to the top, when California so desperately needs great men and women in charge? One cannot get a straight answer to these questions via official channels, such as the Party itself. But one can at least delve into the true nature of the life and times of the disturbing Davis and, as his detractors predictably dub him, of checkbook Checchi. Most crucial of all is the fact that both Davis and Checchi have based their considerable career successes on the perpetuation of carefully crafted whoppers. "I guess Gray's biggest lie," says his former staffer who notes he often flies into a rage, "is pretending that he operates within the bounds of normalcy, which is not true. This is not a normal person. I will never forget the day he physically attacked me, because even though I knew he had done it before to many others, you always want to assume that Gray would never do it to you or that he has finally gotten help." On the day in question, in the mid-1990s, the staffer was explaining to Davis that his perpetual quest for an ever-larger campaign chest (an obsession she says led Davis to routinely break fundraising laws by using his government office resources and non-political employees to arrange fundraisers and identify new sources of money) had run into a snafu. A major funding source had dried up. Recalls the former staffer: "He just went into one of his rants of, 'Fuck the fucking fuck, fuck, fuck!'" I can still hear his screams ringing in my ears. When I stood up to insist that he not talk to me that way, he grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me until my teeth rattled. I was so stunned I said, 'Good God, Gray! Stop and look at what you are doing! Think what you are doing to me!' And he just could not stop." Perhaps the worst incident--long known to Davis-adoring editors of the Los Angeles Times but never published by them--was Davis's attack four years ago on a loyal aide in Los Angeles who for years acted as chief apologist for his "incidents." The woman refuses to discuss the assault on her with the media, but has relayed much of the story to me through a close friend. On the day in question, State Controller Davis was raging over an employee's rearranging of framed artwork on his Los Angeles office walls. He stormed, red-faced, out of his office and violently shoved the woman, who we shall call K., out of his way. According to employees who were present, K. ran out clutching her purse, suffered an emotional breakdown, was briefly hospitalized at Cedars Sinai for a severe nervous dermatological reaction, and never returned to work again. According to one close friend, K. refused to sue Davis, despite the advice of several friends, after a prominent Los Angeles attorney told her that Davis would ruin her. According to one state official. K. was allowed to continue her work under Davis from her home "because she refused to work in Davis's presence." (Checchi's campaign should get a copy of the tape recording Davis left on K.'s home telephone, in which he offers no apology to K. but simply requests that she return to work, saying, "You know how I am." Well, we do now Gray. Of course, the problem is that Davis's only serious Democratic opponent, Checchi--though not missing obvious nuts or bolts like Davis--has also built his entire public life on a disturbing fabrication which throws into severe doubt his ability and worthiness to run California state government. As a San Jose Mercury News writer and a New Times writer showed in recent exposes of Checchi's history at Northwest Airlines, Checchi's claims that he "saved" Northwest in a dramatic takeover in 1989, and that he deserves to be governor of California because he is a turnaround genius, are not supported by the facts. Northwest was not, in fact, a troubled airline when Checchi--using inside information from his best college buddy who sat on Northwest's board of directors--dreamed up a plan for buying up Northwest stock with other investor's money and forcing Northwest into a position of selling the company to Checchi and pals. In fact, the company spiraled into trouble and near-bankruptcy under Checchi, requiring both major union concessions in 1993 and a huge government bail-out in 1992. Yet Checci openly chortles about how he risked less than $10 million of his own money on the original $3.65 billion takeover deal, which has today made him a very rich man. He is very, very proud and has every reason to be," insists Darry Sragow, Checchi's campaign manager. With two men running for governor who are so willing to gloss over their questionable histories, the unsettling tradition of "opposition research" may play a more critical role than ever in the history of this race. (Op Research, if you're not a cynic in the know, is the practice of hiring political assassins to dig up dirt. The damaging info is: A) widely broadcast or B) dangled in private before the offending candidate as a way to silence that candidate on a major issue on which they have been personally compromised. Garry South, the talented campaign manager hired by Davis, has hired op research whiz Ace Smith (I'm not kidding about that name) who operates his assassin outfit from the Bay Area. Darry Sragow, the inspired campaign manager hired by Checchi, has hired the Berkeley and Houston firm of Rice and Veroga. I asked both camp if they intend to go after the really Big Lies both men are relying upon: Gray as the mild-mannered man of decency, Checchi as the savvy savior of troubled institutions. Says Elena Stern, an official with Checchi's campaign: "Al is adamant about not running a negative campaign, so he will only offer comparisons, not attacks." One "comparison" Stern pointed out is that Davis' camp recently planted a hit story against Checchi in the San Francisco Chronicle claiming that Checchi is facing a discrimination lawsuit by a fired worker. The fine print, however, is that the suit was thrown out by the 9th Circuit three years ago, and it arguably has little remaining merit. Says Stern, "By comparison, Gray Davis has actually lost a race discrimination lawsuit" filed against him by a former female employee. But is the Checchi camp going to unveil to voters Davis's history of violent "incidents" and hysterical fits? Stern wouldn't say, and Sragow said he "questions whether they way a candidate acts in private has anything legitimate to do with the campaign. So I don't think you'll be hearing from us about whatever violence is alleged amongst Gray's staff or others." By contrast, South, who admits that Ace Smith has been digging up dirty for Davis's use "for nearly a year" seems far more prepared to discuss the lie holding up the house that Checchi built. "Until he fucked up Northwest Airlines, Checchi had visions of sugar plums about running for office in Minnesota, and there were numerous local news reports about that in '89, '90 and '91, and about Checchi even meeting with political consultants," says South. "He denies it now because he needs to look like a loyal longtime resident of California, but we think voters want to know that his interest in California is recent indeed." The ploy of trying to cover up one's sudden self-serving interest in California did not work for another carpetbagging multimillionaire, Michael Huffington, and it is likely to backfire on Checchi as well. For example, California voters will be disturbed to know that shortly after the employees bailed out Northwest and the government spent nearly $1 billion saving the airline, Checchi sold his Minneapolis mansion in 1994, abandoned all thought of running for office there, and escaped back to Beverly Hills. Once back, he barely took a breath before hiring consultants to explore running for California governor. These two dreary choices for governor leave me hoping that DiFi will jump into the race. Feinstein's hatred for Gray Davis is well-known, and a source close to her confirmed to me last week that "She is still weight a late entry"--in part because she can't imagine a worse fiasco than Governor Gray. And there's a solid chance that the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Attorney General Dan Lungren, can beat the tainted Democrats at the polls next year. But, unfortunately, Lungren is as free of meaningful ideas as Kathleen Brown, who ran for governor in 1994, and voters may reject Lungren as swiftly as they did Brown. So my question is simple: how did we get stuck in the position of hoping that the job of governor of California, one of the most august positions of power in the Western world, is not won by a mega-fibber or a closet wacko. The Democratic Party likes to wheeze on about how it has all the answers. I'd love to hear them explain this one.(edited to correct date of column)