When I read the Facebook page for the Democrats of Greater Irvine, I’m distressed about the abuse levied against Irvine Council member Farrah Khan who is being vilified for a vote she took. Given that Council member Khan is a woman and the most hostile, accusatory and aggressive posts are from men, it’s hard to read the comments without wondering if there are other issues at play.
It appears that disgruntled Democrats are taking a page from the Republican playbook and eating their own. Khan is the object of their disaffection. Khan was the top vote-getter in the 2018 election. Her crime? Choosing appointment over a special election to fill the vacancy created when former Mayor Don Wagner was elected to fill Todd Spitzer’s seat on the Board of Supervisors.
A special election in Irvine was projected to cost more than $900,000. It was that price tag that led Councilmember Khan to vote in the final round to appoint Irvine Commissioner Mike Carroll who recently registered as an NPP after many years as a Republican. The teeth-gnashing over Farrah Khan’s vote has at least three South County Democrats demanding Khan’s ouster or censure from the DPOC for what they claim is a Bylaws violation.
Let’s be clear: Irvine wasn’t the only city facing the question of whether to appoint or have a special election since last November. Fullerton appointed Jan Flory, a Democrat, with Jennifer Fitzgerald, a Republican, casting the swing vote. The cost of a special election in Fullerton would have been less than $500,000. The city of Orange will spend about $470,000 on their November special election after failing to come to consensus on an appointment. Santa Ana will also hold a special election for Ward 4 city council and to fill a school bard seat. Many in the party wanted Orange to appoint Bette Valencia, the third highest finisher in the November election. Don’t we need to be consistent?
The appeal to DPOC Chair Ada Briceno cites Khan’s support for Carroll’s appointment (after supporting all the Democrats who applied, but who failed to get the necessary three votes), as well as Khan’s appointment of Dale Cheema, a registered Republican who, like Khan, is an active member of the South Asian community, as her Finance Commissioner. Remember, City Council is a non-partisan office. There is no (D) or (R) on the ballot, and voters vote for the candidate, not the party. Interestingly, Khan is being singled out, even though the other Democrat on the Irvine City Council, Melissa Fox, also appointed a Republican to serve as a Commissioner. In Anaheim, Council member Jose Moreno also appointed a Republican but texted us to say he did not know his commissioner’s political affiliation.
Double standards aside, what will be gained by censuring Council member Khan or attempting to oust her from the position she was elected by the voters to on the DPOC board? Will Democrats have to seek Party approval before casting a ballot for the residents they represent? If Republicans did this sort of thing, we would be calling them out.
It should be noted that the Democratic Party has not exactly been in synch with Irvine voters who resoundingly (and correctly) defeated Measure B — the developer funded measure that would have made a sweet land swap deal for FivePoint and move the proposed Veterans Cemetery out of the Great Park — despite the endorsement of the DPOC. What business the DPOC had involving itself in a local Irvine initiative and siding with developers I will never understand. Beating up on an elected Democrat because she chose the only path that would avoid a costly special election seems equally indefensible.
We obtained a copy of the draft petition:
Subject: Discussion of Censure added to the Central Committee Agenda and or Removal from Central Committee for violations of DPOC Bylaws.
Irvine City Council Member Farrah Khan on May 14th, 2019 voted to appoint Michael Carroll, a Republican with a long history in the Republican Party, to the Irvine City Council tilting the balance of power to Republicans on the Irvine City Council which will have long lasting repercussions to the mission and values of the Democratic Party.
This is the second time Irvine Council Member Farrah Khan has voted to appoint a Republican to critical seats, previously she appointed Dale Cheema, a Republican, as City of Irvine Commissioner.
DPOC bylaws Art. II (membership) #6 (Removal) #A. p8 lines 117-121) state:
The office of any member, alternate or associate, may be declared vacant by resolution of the 118 County Committee if any member…gives support or avows a preference for a candidate of another party or a 121-candidate nominated and endorsed by this party.
We the undersigned request that the Democratic Party of Orange County add a discussion item to the central Committee agenda for the potential action on the above violations of the Democratic Party bylaws.
Lynn Einarsson Woods, DSSC ADEM, AD74 and AD74Exectuive Board Representative, Kev Abazajian, DSCC ADAM AD74, Joe Baechtold-Moreno.
For the record, none of the undersigned are DPOC Central Committee members. If they consider Khan appointing Cheema as a reason for removal, well, let’s get rid of Irvine City Council member Melissa Fox and Anaheim Council member Jose Moreno who both have appointed Republican Commissioners. It’s hard to build the credibility of your party on double standards.
In another exciting twist, Jeff LeTourneau who sits on the Bylaws committee for the DPOC has yet to acknowledge that he acted improperly and spoke disrespectfully to Khan in January yet faced no sanction at all. In fact, he was given more authority. One wonders, given his past hostility toward Khan, whether he will have the good grace to recuse himself should this recommendation be taken under consideration.
Former Irvine Mayor and Council member Beth Krom weighed in on social media about this:
I have felt such aggression and hate in comments directed at Farrah. That tells me a lot. I’m not impressed with people who show disrespect, regardless of their interests or perspective. There was no easy path here. Those demanding a special election believe the outcome would have been preferable, but money would likely have been poured in to secure the seat for someone hand-picked by developers. If you want to focus your anger, I suggest you direct it toward Don Wagner who cared only for his own ambitions—not for the city.
I’m really quite stunned by the aggressive and mean-spirited attacks on Farrah. She supported Lauren Johnson Norris, Sukhee Kang and Shiva Farivar, all Democrats who have earned prior support from the party. We can all wish that Shea and Kuo would have joined Farrah and Melissa, but they didn’t. Farrah had a decision to make. I don’t believe it was easy nor made capriciously. What magic wand or crystal ball would have guaranteed a better outcome through a special election? You don’t think special interests would have funneled money in? You think Irvine voters would come out in droves? Look what happened in the special election for Supervisor. How did that work out? There is an eerie similarity to the tone of the accusations made against women burned at the stake in Salem. Is that really the best use of our energy? Does it make anyone a “better Democrat” to try to destroy a duly elected Democrat who earned her seat the hard way, by engaging with the community and doing the hard work of earning every vote. Who among you have done the same? It always amazes me when people who beat the drum for democracy think they are entitled to overrule the will of the voters. I’ll be the first to admit that it is a disgrace that Don Wagner exited stage left 10 minutes after getting sworn in for his second term. If you want to vent your spleen, direct your venom at him.
Greg Diamond who was recently removed from the Central Committee of the DPOC has a new post on the OJ Blog highlighting a meeting between Irvine Council member Farrah Khan and Mike Carroll prior to the vote on appointment to fill the vacancy on the Irvine City Council. Also present were Melahat Rafiei, Khan’s fundraiser and political advisor and Patrick Strader, a representative of FivePoint Communities, a local developer. Lauren Johnson Norris, another candidate for appointment who was offered the opportunity to meet with Khan but declined, took the photo. (Johnson-Norris denies that she refused to meet with Khan and said she’s reached out to Khan for meetings a dozen times in the past two years and that Khan has either cancelled or ignored her requests; Johnson-Norris asked to meet with Khan on April 6 and Johnson-Norris says Khan told her she did not have time; our sources tell us otherwise but I’m adding LJN’s denial here). The Carroll meeting was Khan’s last interview, done in public at a coffee shop. Norris saw the quartet, took a photo and asked sarcastically: “Is this how the sausage is made?”
Too bad she didn’t bother to share her own sausage recipe.
The photos were shared with various social media groups with the intent to imply something improper. Johnson Norris, a friend and protege of Irvine Council member Melissa Fox, was actively pushing for a Special Election, having lost in her bid to win a City Council seat in 2018. The implication is that this was some “backroom deal” being hatched. Really? In a public space? In broad daylight?
Didn’t Melissa Fox and Patrick Strader lobby together in Sacramento to push the land swap deal that would have benefitted FivePoint? And what of the $10K donated to Fox’s DPOC Central Committee re-election campaign account via a dormant PAC funded by Strader’s company right around the time Measure B petitions were being distributed. As an Irvine resident, that’s a bigger concern to me.
Every time Farrah met with a candidate who reached out to her, she took Rafiei, a DNC member and professional campaign fundraiser. Khan’s meeting with Carroll covered issues from immigration, women’s rights, climate action, and more. Apparently, his views were more in line with Khan’s than Carrie O’Malley, another candidate, though Khan admits to personally liking O’Malley. Had Johnson-Norris been willing to meet with Farrah, they could have discussed where she stood on the issues. Unfortunately, she declined.
Here are a few things you might not know about Mike Carroll: Carroll’s wife, Betty, an IUSD school board trustee, is a naturalized citizen from Mexico. His brother is gay. Carroll opposed the Republican stance on SB54 and warned Don Wagner not to agenize it. He also supports the veteran’s cemetery at ARDA. He is no doubt getting flak from the GOP for his more progressive positions, but regardless of his past registration, there is reason to believe he will work productively on issues important to Democrats. And he changed his registration from Republican to Independent just before his appointment.
We’ve been told that Council member Fox is already offering to set up meetings with Carroll and various Labor Unions. Another sign that Democrats on the Irvine City Council are prepared to work with him to move important issues forward.
Here are Carroll’s Answer to Question 8 in his council application:
“The biggest challenges that face our City this next year include (1) growth and development, (2) traffic congestion and transit, (3) completing the Great Park (including addressing the proposed Veteran’s Cemetery), and (4) addressing the county’s homeless population. One of the biggest challenges facing our City Council is maintaining it as a balanced, fair, and non-partisan body that defends the interests of 277,453 residents, sometimes against special interests that come into conflict with the best interests of the people.”
Jutta Whitaker-Gamboa is the chair of Democrats of Greater Irvine and issued this statement Friday night on DGI’s Facebook page. For those still upset about Khan’s decision, Jutta offers thoughtful and reasonable steps forward:
While the Democrats of Greater Irvine is a chartered club under the Democratic Party of Orange County, we are comprised largely of Irvine residents and will always strive to advance the best interests of Irvine Democrats and the broader community, particularly in local matters impacting our citizens. This interest is best served when Democrats are elected at the local level. The recent vacancy created when Mayor Don Wagner was elected to the Board of Supervisors through a special election created a vacancy on the Irvine City Council. Many active Democrats from both within and beyond Irvine called for a special election which would have occurred had an appointment not been made. The DGI membership voted unanimously to support a special election! There are many now expressing frustration and disappointment because an appointment was made with the support of Irvine Council member Farrah Khan, and the appointee has a new registration as an NPP but was previously registered as a Republican and has supported Republican candidates and values.
Councilmember Khan is a Democrat and received the party endorsement in her 2018 race. The office she holds is non-partisan, but the values she stands for are consistent with those of our party. She received broad community support specifically from Democrats in Irvine and was, in fact, the top vote-getter in the 2018 election.
Despite our disappointment over this recent appointment as a special election would have been more representative of Irvine voters and may have allowed a Democrat to win, there are more important interests to focus on if we are to secure re-elections for our State and Federal officeholders and help new Democratic candidates get elected in 2020. Creating conflict and division will serve no interest. We urge Councilmember Khan and Councilmember Fox to work together to support Democrats and the party’s platform and ideals.
Councilmember Khan supported the three Democrats who were up for consideration for the appointment, but absent a third vote for those candidates, she supported the appointment of Mike Carroll. The voters of Irvine entrusted her with the responsibility of acting on their behalf and it was her assessment that a costly special election was not in the public interest given that the term for the appointed Council member will expire after 12 months. Many of our members are concerned that the appointment will give Mr. Carroll a great advantage should he run for re-election, which is a legitimate concern. Let’s all work on building a bench of well-qualified candidates for these important elections coming up!
Councilmember Khan has proven herself to be a hard-working and dedicated community leader. Disagreements over how this vacancy should have been handled do not constitute a breach of her responsibilities to the citizens of Irvine. Disagreements are worthy of discussion and debate, but we are proud of both our local elected Democrats and will direct our energies and attention to achieving positive results on the interests that impact Irvine residents every day.