When the polls closed on November 7th in 2017, devious and carefully orchestrated plans to bring down the senior and widely respected Novato City Councilmember Pat Eklund failed miserably. The unabashed “political cleansing” attempt fell on its dirty face, forcing Novato’s electorate to witness the dirtiest, most negative campaign in memory.
Deeply disappointing were the attacks on Pat Eklund as a person, rather than her position on issues. Equally disappointing was Eklund’s fellow Councilmember Denise Athas, who was also up for
reelection, failing to condemn the snarky personal comments directed at Eklund. Both are long standing adversaries, but Athas’ silent approval, evidenced by her refusal to denounce numerous
false accusations against Eklund, speaks volumes about Athas’ political mores.
It was stomach turning to watch it unfold and disappointing to Novato voters that the political scheming featured half-truths, unvarnished personal attacks and outright lies all of which were deliberately promulgated as “the truth”. By the time the dust had settled, it was clear that the behind-the-door political machinations involved several past Presidents of the Novato Chamber of Commerce, a non-profit organization, as well as Novato’s current County Supervisor Judy Arnold. Shame on them.
Unbeknownst to many, the Novato Chamber of Commerce is deeply involved in the City of Novato’s politics. The Chamber frequently interacts with members of City Staff resulting in long standing personal relationships established by working together on civic projects the City has allowed the Chamber to produce as jointly presented City of Novato events.
A prime example is retired long-time City employee Jennifer Goldfinger who predicates her public pronouncements before the City Council in support of Chamber initiatives, referencing her career as a City employee. For years she was the City’s liaison with the Chamber dominated “Paint the Town Red” group who put on “Novato’s Birthday Party” with the blessing of the City Council. That an appropriate arms-length relationship between the City Staff Members and the outside Chamber organization was properly maintained becomes questionable. She is now officially listed on the Chamber’s web site as “supreme volunteer” on “the Chamber Team” along with CEO Coy Smith and his Staff.
Six months prior to the November 7th elections, a pattern emerged of pointed negative commentary aimed at Councilmember Pat Eklund who was up for reelection. The apparent strategy chosen to accomplish the defeat of Eklund was to misleadingly paint her as the “queen of no”.
Lost upon the group of plotters was the reality that the existing Council had a reliable working majority bloc of votes consistently employed to silence the inquisitive Eklund. Athas, Lucan and
Fryday were the actual kings and queen of “no” as in no tolerance for diversity of opinion. There was palpable irritation frequently expressed publicly by the “NO” voting bloc when exposed to Eklund’s laser focus on the actual facts upon which decisions were to be made. The often unprepared “bloc of NO” members appear physically uncomfortable under Eklund’s inquiring and steady focus.
Among the individuals taking negative verbal pot shots at Eklund was Susan Wernick, current Chair of the Novato Planning Commission and a long standing Eklund political adversary.
Wernick publicly refers to her own spurious political pedigree, based solely upon her parents’ apparent political success Mill Valley decades ago.
Susan Wernick’s husband, and State Farm Agent, is Rick Wernick who is the President Elect of the Novato Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors. It would surprise few if Mrs. Wernick decided to run for a seat on the City Council despite current denials. With the support of the Chamber’s political machine she would be well financed by Chamber members if she took a shot at displacing current Councilmember Pam Drew.
The Chamber is still smarting from the defeat of long-time ally Jeanne MacLeamy and the success of the hard-working Pam Drew who along with Eklund constitute the loyal opposition to the Chamber’s unquestioning rubber-stamping majority of Lucan, Fryday and Athas.
Eklund has long been an independent force in Novato politics and also someone who defends Novato voters when special interests threaten to derail their wishes. The controlling influence behind the scenes for many years on Novato City decisions is a political operations group within the Novato Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber resents its political initiatives’ motives being occasionally questioned at public Council meetings as not being in the best interest of Novato in general.
Remember, the Chamber of Commerce exists foremost for the benefit of its business members, not necessarily for Novato residents. The Chamber dislikes being unmasked as a special interest group and continually works hard to perpetuate the illusion that what’s good for the Chamber is automatically good for all Novato residents. This is just not so.
County Supervisor Judy Arnold, who represents Novato on the Marin County Board of Supervisors, makes every effort to remind the Marin Board of Supervisors that Novato remains her serfdom. Athas, Lucan and Fryday are her political acolytes. Athas and Lucan are long-standing members of her political posse.
Arnold’s pay-to-play County level special interest donors openly provide financial support to Arnold-designated local area political campaigns beholden to her. Exemplary controllable donors are Team Ghilotti of Petaluma and Maggiora and Ghilotti of San Rafael. Both firms expect a financial payback for their thousands of dollars of donations to Arnold-designated campaigns wherever they may be. After all, they are profit-making businesses, not charities.
Add in San Rafael’s Marin Builders Association and the Dutra Group, and the result is overwhelming financial backing for Arnold-anointed local City Council candidates. This outside money and political payback weakens the democratic process at the local level by intimidating less well financed potential candidates.
Perhaps changing to district elections at the local level will slow the deterioration of local political influence. The campaign costs would be greatly reduced, potentially enabling candidates of moderate means a realistic chance of success. Campaigns would be more focused on neighborhood issues. Independent candidates would have a greater possibility of success, something that would benefit all of us. Let the person with the best solutions win, not necessarily the person who has the most money (particularly those funded by outsiders) or is well connected politically.
The Novato Chamber of Commerce’s political group and Arnold apparently schemed (not necessarily together) to defeat Councilmember Eklund. The Chamber fears Eklund’s insightful and responsible questioning of its motives. And Arnold, who barely survived in her last reelection campaign, would definitely like to rid herself of Eklund’s potential opposition and scrutiny in the future. Eklund might be the one candidate who could beat Arnold. A better-financed Toni Shroyer might also as well.
Arnold apparently has “health issues” as evidenced by occasional publicly slurring of speech and poor articulation. It has reached the “Emperor has no clothes” level. Whatever the situation is it will require papering over.
An effective Eklund political presence at the local and County level is a definite threat to a weakened Arnold who was forced to “pull out all the stops” to avoid defeat by Toni Shroyer. Eklund’s political career had to be “terminated”.
If “termination” required political dirty tricks and gutter-level political tactics, it was on. The collateral damage to the concept of a private citizen successfully running a “clean” campaign for a seat on the City Council was immaterial.
The big guns were in place. The campaign to smash Pat Eklund was unleashed, but it stunningly stalled and collapsed under its own malevolent weight. The “serfs” in Arnold’s Novato hegemony picked up their pitchforks and turned against her slithering backroom political machinations. The political coup attempt began to stagger and descended into desperation. Ultimately, and fortunately for Novato, it failed.