In the hit CBS TV series “BrainDead,” bugs from outer space land in Washington, D.C., eating politicians’ brains and contributing to some very weird behaviors by these folks.
The show is masterfully written, funny and one of my favorites this summer.
As I was watching the other night, I wondered, “Have space bugs made their way to Newport?”
You have to admit, things are getting pretty odd in this town’s council race, and it’s as good an explanation as any, I guess.
Take last week when resident William Stewart filed a lawsuit in O.C. Superior Courtagainst O.C. Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley and Newport Beach City Clerk Leilani Brown in hopes of forcing council candidate Fred Ameri use his given first name, Farrokh, on the ballot.
The intent here, in my view, was clearly to play on residents’ private prejudices against those of Middle Eastern descent.
Ameri, who is of Persian descent, blames opponent Will O’Neill, as well as O’Neill’s campaign supporter, Newport Councilman Scott Peotter, whose brother is the attorney for Stewart and O’Neill’s political consultant, Dave Ellis, for these antics.
But O’Neill says he has no acquaintance with the plaintiff, the lawyer in this case or any of it.
To me he’s either totally out of touch with his handlers or turning a blind eye to their campaign tactics.
Either way it’s not good.
The whole situation takes this race to an all-time low. But did the political brain trust, who thought this was a good tactic, actually help Ameri here?
“Absolutely, this has helped my campaign,” says Ameri. “People are calling like never before. They’re making me the most famous guy in Newport.”
Though Ameri is outraged, labeling this campaign tactic “racist,” it’s not like he didn’t anticipate it.
Last February, Ameri and O.C. Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker asked Kelley’s office for an official opinion on Ameri’s first name.
Taking into consideration Ameri has used Fred since 1998 on his voter registration, Kelley writes, “If he came to file for office at our front counter, we would accept this name as his ballot name.”
“I believe that it is in his best interest to keep his name as it has been registered for 18 years,” Kelly continues. “Of course, this could always be challenged in a court of law, but since this is how he is known in the community, I think he has a good case. I am not aware of any rules that are violated by this.”
I called Ellis, my favorite “frenemy,” to talk about Ameri claiming he’s the real culprit behind the name issue lawsuit.
He denies it.
“I am also responsible for world famine and the Zika virus,” Ellis jokes. “I’d be happy to pay for Fred’s therapy.”
Ellis went on to explain another interesting twist. He says last summer potential candidates Phil Greer, Ameri and O’Neill wanted to retain his services for this election. Ellis met with each of them before choosing O’Neill in December.
Ellis says he sent emails to Ameri to stop telling people he’d hired him.
“You proceeded to spend three months telling folks that you had retained my services, which was wrong of you to say,” Ellis writes. “I never led you on or ‘tricked’ you. When you asked me to print remit envelopes for you, I declined because I did not to lead you on.”
As you can imagine, Ellis has strong opinions about O’Neill’s opponents.
“Over the next few weeks, you will hear all sorts of whining from Fred Ameri and Phil Greer about negative campaigning, etc.,” Ellis says.
And he gave me his reasons for not taking them on as clients.
“Greer is a fiscal train wreck with nearly $700,000 in current state and federal tax liens pending against him,” he claims, and, “Ameri spent 30 years at RBF Consulting Engineers. They provided engineering services for the development of most of South Orange County — around 1.5 million people — and now he’s anti-development.”
Greer says the $700,000 figure Ellis throws out is wildly inaccurate.
“No, it was never $700,000,” he tells me. “At best, it is $250,000. There are a ton of duplicate liens and other mistakes by the IRS. What Dave has done is add up everything regardless of whether it is duplicate or not and come up with an unsubstantiated number.”
Greer further explains that there had been an ongoing 2002 IRS dispute, which is being resolved, “reducing the claimed tax liability for 2002/2004 from approximately $160,000 to approximately $40,000, amended returns can be filed for the other impacted years, balances, if any, can be paid, and will be resolved shortly.”
Greer confirms he met with Ellis last summer, but not to hire him. He says they met because Greer’s wife, Arlene, had initially showed interest in running for office.
“My meeting with Dave was to determine how nasty he would get if Arlene was to actually become a candidate,” says Greer. “I was simply being proactive in protecting my wife. I have no intent or interest in associating myself with the sort of campaigns Dave runs.”
Yep, Gotta love those space bugs…
BARBARA VENEZIA lives in Newport Beach. She can be reached at[email protected].