Pearce Recall

By: 
Ian Patton

 

I helped organize and consulted for The Committee to Recall Councilmember Jeannine Pearce the original, community-based 2nd District recall campaign.

While I am pleased to hear that, at long last, Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce has finally taken some measure of responsibility for her inappropriate, unethical and criminal behavior while serving in office, the obvious point is that this should have happened two years ago and it should have been a resignation, not simply declining to run for reelection.

The reason we started the Recall was because we could not sit quietly by and allow a culture of sweeping scandals under the rug to pervade Long Beach City Hall. To do so – to have stood by and allowed the spectacle of Pearce ‘getting away’ with physical domestic violence, drunk driving, workplace sexual harassment, inviting a police cover up before lying to the police during their investigation, and corrupting her office to keep her victim quiet – would have been to invite other Long Beach politicians to cross the Rubicon of corruption. We were the few who were willing to stand as the bulwark against a new dawn of total impunity for elected officials. It would have been a new Long Beach, where accountability only applies to ordinary residents who break the law, not those elected to represent us and our values.

So while I am always skeptical of Pearce’s motives, I am glad that she has finally, after putting our city, her fellow council members, her family, and herself through so much humiliation, made the decision to do something right. It’s not nearly enough. The only remedy for Pearce’s conduct is resignation. Nonetheless, I sincerely hope she and her family can move past her scandalous headlines and heal when eventually she is out of the spotlight of public attention.

Unfortunately, she has apparently made the extremely regrettable decision to remain in office to complete her current term, possibly keeping her in the 2nd District seat until December 2020. That is truly an outrage and an offense against the community and our city, given that just this year strong evidence of a bribery scandal has been reported, leading to an ethics investigation by the city attorney and ongoing investigations by the California Fair Political Practices Commission and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. It appears that Pearce received about $40,000 from an executive with Urban Commons, the developer of the Queen Mary project, and also took the lead on municipal legislation to benefit Urban Commons. This is perhaps the greatest scandal in the City of Long Beach since Pearce’s last scandal.

As a result, it is essential that all elected officials and all candidates for office demand Pearce’s immediate resignation. She has already been hamstrung and restricted from voting on, or even being present in the Council Chamber for, any matter relating either to the Queen Mary or to the cannabis industry (as the Urban Commons executive paid Pearce by the means of a cannabis business entity he owned).

All voters in Long Beach will be forced to assume that any candidate for office, especially any in the 2nd District race, who fails to call for Pearce’s immediate resignation is at a minimum condoning her current bribery scandal, if not all her prior conduct in 2016 and 2017.

That said, today is a great day for those who did take the lead on behalf of accountability for Pearce and who made the Recall Campaign possible. While the Recall fell just short of signatures, due to issues with the signature gathering vendor, it politically pressured the City Council in May 2018 to censure Pearce. This was the strongest possible action the Council had the legal ability to take, and the vote was unanimous, 8-0. We thank the City Council for their part, albeit belated, in ending Pearce’s political career in Long Beach.

First and foremost, however, we must thank those who made today possible. The Pearce scandal would never have come to light if it were not for Beachcomber columnist Stephen Downing and his anonymous sources in the Long Beach Police Department. Then-Press-Telegram reporters Jeremiah Dobruck and Courtney Tompkins were also dogged in following the story, including uncovering evidence of corruption in Pearce’s council office, evidence that Pearce had been guilty of a DUI that infamous night on the 710, and indications that the Breathalyzer evidence against Pearce had been conveniently rendered unusable for prosecution by LBPD negligence, if not intention. We have since learned that the Citizen Police Complaint Commission investigated what happened that night and found overwhelmingly in favor of sustaining allegations of police misconduct, before being unilaterally overruled and suppressed by the city manager.

Great credit should also be extended to LBReport.com publisher Bill Pearl for obtaining the audio recording of the very first, of many, officers to make contact with Pearce and Cotter on the freeway, a CHP patrolman, who radioed back that it was apparently a domestic violence situation, before handing them over to LBPD.

Eventually LBPD was pressured into releasing all the documents in their investigation and the photos of Devin Cotter, showing how Councilwoman Pearce, who had remained unscathed, had physically attacked him (according to Cotter description of events to investigators) and bloodied his face. We also learned of Pearce’s inconsistent stories to the police detectives, and eventually of the lengths that Pearce went to in order to keep Cotter quiet during the first half of 2017. At a minimum, we know that he was paid off as a straw employee, on the books but not actually coming to work, after he had been kicked out of City Hall in December 2016, and in exchange he signed a waiver in which he agreed not to sue the City. That was cover up in which reporting implicated both the mayor and the city attorney.

We also know that Cotter, even after officially becoming an ex-employee was given special perks, like tickets received by the council office and apparently access to the email system. He also started a consulting company in December 2016 named after Pearce’s renown as an anti-hotel campaigner on Ocean Blvd., called “Bullhorn Consulting,” with his replacement as her chief of staff, Christian Kropff, listed as its “CEO”. And he was subsequently paid by Pearce for “consulting work” out of her officeholder account. He even demanded, for example, in one email that spring of 2017, that she set up a meeting for him with the head of the TransPac Yacht Race (a club of wealthy yacht owners useful to a budding consultancy), which she agreed to do.

But apparently his threats to expose her abuse of him were eventually too much and matters came to head on June 3, 2017. They had returned together from the House of Blues in Anaheim after midnight (after refusing to speak to him for some time, she had agreed to take him out for his birthday that night, after both had been at a Garcia fundraiser on the Queen Mary, earlier in the evening), drunkenly fighting in the car all the way back, with Pearce at the wheel. Finally they stopped at the median of the 710 Freeway by Golden Shore and had it out, now outside the car, so loudly that according to the police investigation two homeless individuals approached them to ask them to quiet down. This is the person who has represented over 50,000 residents of Long Beach for over three years now.

As the leader of the Recall effort, I want to thank a number of individuals who made it possible, and who made it impossible for elected officials in Long Beach to feel a sense of total impunity, as confirmed by Pearce today. The Recall Campaign never could have begun if it hadn’t have first been started as an online Facebook organizing effort by Jonathan Crouch, a 2nd District resident of Ocean Blvd. Early supporters also included Lauren Boland and 2nd District residents Robert Fox, Gary Harrison, Chuck Barrick, Ana Maria Sanchez, Deb Winter, and many, many others, some of whom may not wish to be publicized. We also had a long list of financial supporters and resident signatories to our official Notice of Intent.

I would also like to highlight the role played by our partner committee, the Friends of Long Beach, which was organized by former mayor Bob Foster, included a number of large donors, and was run by Orange County political consultant George Urch. While we may have had overlapping if not identical motivations for Pearce’s removal from office, their financial support was necessary to have any chance to pull off such a costly endeavor as mass signature gathering (which hasn’t been done successfully with volunteers alone anywhere in California since the late 1980s, given the high legal threshold tied to the number of registered voters). Unfortunately, the signature gathering vendor they hired was inexperienced, extremely disorganized, possibly committed fraud, and clearly failed to perform. Nonetheless, the Recall and the political pressure it applied to prevent the Pearce scandal from ‘just going away’ was essential.

The Pearce Recall was quite the roller coaster of an experience, and many have said, “You should write a book about it!” I don’t know about that, but maybe a long article someday. But for now, I take pride in what we accomplished.

And I look forward to Robert Fox becoming the next councilmember for the 2nd District, as I know he will carry forward the mantle of civic reform in the 2nd and citywide which he, with his strong voice and support, among many, helped us get off the ground more than two years ago.

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