Despite a federal indictment that hangs over his head like a smelly fish, San Diego City Councilmember Michael "Zinger" Zucchet hasn't let the pressure dampen his ability to score points on the national stage.
Last week, Fox News' resident rightwing loudmouth, Bill O'Reilly, invited Zucchet to come on his show, The O'Reilly Factor, after Mayor Dick "The Dodger" Murphy declined to appear on the show to talk about recent developments in the legal wrangling over the use of public parkland in San Diego by the Boy Scouts of America-a topic O'Reilly has been ranting about for months in his usual black-and-white style.
O'Reilly, as pompous as ever, immediately tore into the mayor for declining his request, emphasizing his outrage by putting up a graphic with a quote he attributed to Murphy that read, "I don't really like that O'Reilly guy very much."
"So I guess the mayor isn't calling his own shots there, and he's not here," O'Reilly groused.
Turns out the quote was pulled from a private e-mail from David Hicks, the mayor's deputy press secretary, that mistakenly was passed along to O'Reilly's people. Hicks told CityBeat this week that he made the comment in jest to his boss, press secretary Colleen Rudy, and that he's not even sure of Murphy's opinion of O'Reilly's brand of attack-style interrogation.
O'Reilly seemed more than ready to take his Boy-Scouts-can-do-no-wrong game plan straight at Zucchet, who was part of the 6-2 council majority that decided in December to terminate the city's decades-old, $1-a-year lease with the Boy Scouts for land in Balboa Park and on Fiesta Island. The council-with the mayor and Councilmember Jim "MadDog" Madaffer opposed-also agreed to pay the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union $950,000 in court costs and attorney fees to drop out of an ongoing lawsuit over use of the parkland.
The ACLU, which O'Reilly dubs "the most dangerous outfit in America," has argued that the Desert Pacific Boy Scout Council should be evicted from public land because, as a religious organization, it discriminates on the grounds of religion and sexuality.
O'Reilly took immediate aim at Zucchet. "How could you, Mr. Zucchet? The poor Boy Scouts, doing a lot of good for your community. Balboa Park, spruced it up. And you're chuckin' 'em off. How could you, sir?"
Zucchet, with his trademark smirk, responded that the Scouts have not been tossed out of the parks and won't be until the organization has exhausted all of its legal avenues. "I didn't know that," O'Reilly pouted.
O'Reilly then proceeded to pounce on U.S. District Judge Napoleon Jones, who ruled last year that the Scouts' lease in Balboa Park violated both state and federal constitutions. Calling the veteran judge a "nut" and someone "who is so far out there it's frightening," O'Reilly spent several minutes insisting that the judge had erred in determining the Scouts to be a religious group.
"He ruled that the Boy Scouts are a religious organization, is what he ruled, and that's just not true, and that's what's going to be overturned," O'Reilly fumed.
A still-smirking Zucchet, reading from Judge Jones' own statement, argued that the Boy Scouts, in earlier court cases, has conceded that it is a religious organization and that "it insists that its religion is in fact fundamental for its purpose and mission."
O'Reilly countered that this was the judge talking, not the Boy Scouts. "We dispute the Boy Scouts saying they're a religious organization, and if I'm wrong I'll tell everybody tomorrow I'm wrong," he pledged.
Well, sure enough, there was O'Reilly the next day offering what he called "a little bit of an apology" to Zucchet. After researching the matter "for the past 24 hours," O'Reilly said his staff had unearthed legal briefs from the '90s in which attorneys for the Boy Scouts acknowledge that it is a religious organization.
"Confused? So am I," O'Reilly wobbled. "Because if the Scouts say they are a religious organization, then the ACLU and the judges who dislike them can boot them off city properties all over the U.S.A."
Score one for the Zinger.
Politics and romance
Curiously left out of the recent media coverage of love that apparently bloomed between rival employees in the race to replace termed-out City Attorney Casey Gwinn is the question of timing.
When did candidate Deborah Berger, a deputy city attorney, learn that her sister and campaign manager, Samantha Bowman, had become romantically involved with Jason King, who was fired last week as day-to-day manager of attorney Michael Aguirre's rival campaign for failing to mention that the two had been dating since Thanksgiving.
The Berger camp didn't respond this week to that question from CityBeat, leading some observers of the intensifying race to wonder why. According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Berger called Aguirre's reaction to the news "paranoia" and denied that her camp had received any help from King.
But Aguirre wonders what Berger would call certain correspondences that King left behind. In a Dec. 19 e-mail, addressed to Bowman and titled "Response to fundraising accusation," King seems to be giving Bowman advice on how to deal with allegations from Aguirre that Berger was fishing for campaign contributions from Barona tribal officials while negotiating a water-pipeline deal.
"The letter never should have been mailed.... When the mistake was discovered, I immediately took steps to ensure that nothing like this could ever happen again. This is simply an attempt... to draw attention away from the real issues of this campaign (back to message)," King's e-mail reads.
"That's my hit!" Aguirre told CityBeat. "He's telling her how to respond to the criticism that Berger never should have sent the letter out to the Barona Indians soliciting money. He's advising her how to minimize the damage! Isn't that nice? But, of course, they never shared any information."
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