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Farce in Carson 

A corrupt Los Angeles suburb tries for a comeback - and lands on YouTube

Wednesday, Jan 16 2008
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VIDEO CLIPS FROM CITY COUNCIL meetings don't usually achieve cult status, but Carson isn't just any city and its council may be one of the most dysfunctional, and entertaining, around. Viewed on YouTube more than 500,000 times, a 43-second clip shows a hefty Latino woman walking away from the podium, then swatting an older blond woman on the back of the head with a handful of papers.

 

 

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The "victim" pauses, then, with what YouTube viewers dub an "R2-D2 scream," falls to the floor and rolls in seemingly agonizing pain. "I love how she gasped, yelled, held her head and climbed down to the floor and acted like some dinosaur bit off a chunk of her skull," wrote one of the more than 600 viewers who commented on the video in both English and Spanish.

"I haven't laughed this hard in years and years. The video's a riot," wrote another, and, somebody added, "I wish the city council in our town could be this exciting."

The "Carson City Council Smack" — the blonde was awarded a best-actress "Keithie" by viewers of Countdown With Keith Olbermann — is bringing fresh, unwanted national prominence to a tattered and industrialized Los Angeles suburb best known as the home of the L.A. Galaxy. But behind the February 6, 2007, videotape is the story of a vicious fight for control of this town of 95,000, still reeling from an FBI sting in the first half of the decade that unveiled a corrupt City Hall — and led to indictments of two former mayors and most of the City Council.

The "assailant" in the year-old video, who was charged by the Los Angeles District Attorney with misdemeanor battery, is former mayor Vera Robles DeWitt, a bail bondswoman who, the day before, had submitted 12,000 signatures in her effort to recall Carson Mayor Jim Dear.

The "victim" is Jan Schaefer, an elderly trailer-park resident appointed by Mayor Dear to the city's powerful Public Works Commission and one of the mayor's staunchest supporters.

And the lead is played by Dear, Carson's 55-year-old mayor, who from his seat at the head of the council dais last February promptly asked police to arrest DeWitt, who was Carson's first Latina mayor in the 1980s, but who lost her seat in 1992. Dear, who publicly refers to her as "Vera 'The Evil' DeWitt," added his own melodrama to the incident, calling for a doctor to administer to Schaefer and falsely claiming she was hit "right in the eye."

The strands in this petty drama, which has left the residents of Carson wondering whether they are getting decent services like crime protection while feuding parties duke things out, are in the hands of a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who will decide this summer whether Carson City Clerk Helen Kawagoe, California's longest-standing elected official, who has held the office for 34 years, correctly counted the signatures on the Dear recall petitions.

Kawagoe, who refuses to divulge her age, recently prevailed in striking from the court record allegations by DeWitt and her followers that Kawagoe had grown too "feeble-minded" to accurately count the signatures seeking to put the Dear recall on the ballot.

The YouTube video is not DeWitt's first brush with video fame. It was in the lobby of her bail-bond office — across the street from Carson City Hall — that Samuel L. Jackson's character was gunned down in Quentin Tarantino's blaxploitation tribute, Jackie Brown, whose poster hangs on the wall.

The former mayor, who agreed to talk to L.A. Weekly after declining comment for months, despite invitations from Inside Edition and Dr. Phil, says she cringes at the thought of having to view the video, and insists that Schaefer called her a dirty name. "She probably looked at the mayor [for her cue] and decided to go for it," DeWitt complains.

Last fall, DeWitt had to fight a charge of contempt of court after she violated a restraining order that barred her from coming within three yards of Schaefer. The incident unfolded at a courtroom hearing when DeWitt stepped behind Schaefer's seat to retrieve her purse, and Schaefer's friends shouted "Nine feet! Nine feet!" and accusingly cried out, "She did it again! She did it again!"

Now, DeWitt says, "my lawyer can't represent me in the restraining order, because we had to call him as a witness."

DeWitt later won her contempt hearing, but, putting a finer point on the ridiculousness of Carson city politics, the judge told her to wait in court until Schaefer and her coterie had safely entered the elevator. "They make her out to be a little old grandma," says DeWitt scornfully. "She's not a sweet little patootie."

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