By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
The CCPOA is a titan among state political players, and is the top donor to California legislative races. But the city of L.A. operates no prisons, and there are no plans to build any within city limits, so Novey’s intense interest in the composition of its City Council seemed oddly unconnected to his group‘s policy goals. Novey would not respond to several calls from the Weekly, but Pacheco says interest stemmed from the union’s long-running feud with the senator. Novey vehemently denies any role in spreading scandal: ”I wouldn‘t do that to another human being,“ he told the Times.
Pacheco, who overcame Polanco-backed Victor Griego to capture his own council seat in 1999, candidly admits the spending would have been to settle a score and that there was no city issue at stake, but ”You don’t think the senator‘s bringing statewide money into the race?“ he asks. ”Why should anyone else be held to a different standard?“
The CCPOA’s legislative-policy specialist, Jeff Thompson, said he was not involved in CCPOA‘s political endorsements or funding decisions, but said the union had a substantial difference with Polanco on the issue of private prisons. ”Prisons for profit threaten our professionalism -- he carried their water for a long time,“ he says. Polanco’s backers, on the other hand, say he only backed private prisons -- with no success so far -- because he saw it as a way to reduce the union‘s political clout, a power he’s viewed with misgivings as he delved into penal issues.
As co-chair of the state Legislature‘s Joint Committee on Prison Construction and Operations, Polanco has been a persistent thorn in the side of the prison-guards union, shining a spotlight on abuses behind bars they would prefer left in the shadows. In 1998, Polanco chaired sensational hearings into conditions at Corcoran prison in the Central Valley, highlighting 50 shootings by guards (seven of them fatal), rival gang members pitted against one another by guards for exercise-yard ”cockfights“ and defiant inmates being punished by getting a 230-pound rapist as a cellmate. These hearings embarrassed not only the union, but also Governor Pete Wilson and then--Attorney General Dan Lungren, who had commissioned investigations that were slammed as a ”sham“ in the hearings by members of the investigative staff. A federal indictment brought an end to the careers of several guards, four of whom were tried (though not convicted) for violating inmates’ civil rights.
Public officials who weighed in against him, such as U.S. Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard and Xavier Becerra, prefer to frame their choice in terms of nice noises about competitor Ed Reyes rather than with unkind words about Polanco. Sometimes the reality beneath this rhetorical convention can be unveiled. Newly elected Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg, who dealt with Reyes in Hernandez‘s office during her last City Council term, calls him ”tireless, committed and underestimated“ and suggests he’d be the most effective provider of community services. She also praises Polanco as a fighter for good causes in Sacramento. But her endorsement, she says, was also shaped by the views of her ”kitchen cabinet,“ about a dozen longtime friends who give Goldberg feedback and advice on politics and policy. Kitchen-cabinet members in turn explain their preferences in frankly anti-Polanco terms, showing how his past came back to haunt him.
”He plays dirty politics -- the Katz race,“ says one, alluding to the senator‘s sponsorship of a last-minute 1998 primary-campaign mailer slandering Assemblyman Richard Katz as anti-Latino on wholly fictional grounds. ”He’s slimy,“ says another, citing Polanco‘s role in hardball City Council contests in Lynwood and Commerce, involving the contracting of city-attorney posts to Polanco allies.