SEE UPDATED INFO BELOW ON WHAT BERNAL CAMPAIGN MANAGER BRANDON GESICKI REALLY MEANT WHEN HE SAID, “WHAT, WHO ME? I HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH IT.”
Many years ago, my friend Grant Sims wrote a screenplay. It was a spoof of those heist thrillers in which a highly trained team foils extreme security precautions and makes off with the giant gem.
The twist was that the crooks were disabled. The team leader, played by Mike Connors of “Mannix” fame, was in a wheelchair. Another actor pretended to be blind while another had no hands. They would snare the diamond—not despite their disabilities but because of them. Grant’s script was meant to be silly, sort of a parody of political correctness.
Remarkably, it became a made-for-TV movie, “Beg, Borrow or Steal. Unfortunately, Hollywood played it straight. Imagine “Airplane” with Leslie Nielsen actually taking the role seriously. It was a very bad movie, but perhaps some good can come of it all these years later. It has inspired me to report on politics in a whole new way. I’m going to try to follow a campaign as though it was a spoof. I have chosen Steve Bernal’s run for Monterey County sheriff.
If I watched the campaign as though Bernal and crew were playing it straight, I would become distressed. The idea of a sheriff’s deputy running to be the big boss without management experience, without a college education, without any real understanding of the position, that could make a sober observer downright uncomfortable. But, hey, now that I have convinced myself they’re playing for laughs, I’m looking forward to the next skit. I bet it will be boffo.
Last week, we saw the Bernal camp propose to eliminate most internal affairs investigations, to give jail deputies free lunches and to let the Sheriff’s Department staff make scheduling decisions. Training would become optional. I was taking things seriously then, so I was alarmed. If deputies aren’t held accountable for breaking department rules, for harassing inmates, for doing any of the things that are commonly subject to I.A. investigations, won’t the Sheriff’s Department spin out of control?
But that was then. From my new perspective, it was all pretty funny. In fact, I envisioned a cafeteria full of deputies enjoying their 4-hour free lunches, each funnier than the one before. I saw food fights and laugh riots.
In my mind’s eye, sheriff’s Cmdr. Mike Richards and Mike Kanalakis were still in the department. They were slipping on baloney sandwiches and flicking applesauce at the former internal affairs fellows who were getting stuff all over their new aprons. Hilarious.
It isn’t really clear who is running Steve Bernal’s slapstick campaign, but it seems that the GOP has brought in a heavy hitter to help, Tom Shepard, whose spotty career is nicely highlighted in the San Diego Reader. That link takes you to an old article about Shepard. You can find a more recent article here. Shepard seldom ventures out of Southern California, representing a large cast of law enforcement and city council types in San Diego and Riverside counties. Usually when he heads north it is to represent development interests fighting slow-growth initiatives. He’s done that in Saratoga and Sonoma.
Before I got my perspective tuned up, I also would have worried about my favorite campaign manager, Brandon Gesicki, and his role in the Bernal movie, er, campaign, which he may or may not be running. Gesicki is coy about such things because his record as a campaign manager tends to make him a campaign issue. It also allows him to take credit for a success and to distance himself from a failed campaign, which is known in political circles as a “Brandon.”
Gesicki was involved in Bernal’s campaign in the primary election, but no, hell no, he did not set up that pseudo-organization in San Benito County in order to produce an attack mailer against the incumbent, Scott Miller. Gesicki may have done exactly the same thing in the past, but not this time, no way, because that would not be funny, OK? (This may be what planted the idea of seeing the runoff election as a spoof.)
UPDATE: Although Gesicki has denied involvement in the San Benito County committee, the Monterey County Weekly now reports that an old college chum of Gesicki’s and his wife contributed $1,998 to the committee, which put out anonymous mailers during the primary election attempting to make Sheriff Miller out as a dirty, rotten bad guy. Gesicki still maintains that Bernal didn’t know anything about it. Which means one of two things. A. Gesicki is fibbing or B. Bernal is a tool.
Gesicki ran a couple of campaigns for Abel “Sounds Familiar” Maldonado, whose schtick was to run as a Republican. In one of the Gesicki-managed races, Maldonado ran in a primary election both as a Republican and a Democrat. He and Gesicki then tried to make us believe it wasn’t a tactic. They said they weren’t trying to block any Democrats from running. Never occurred to them. Instead, they said they did it for the nicest of reasons. It seems that Abel’s mother was a lifelong Democrat and had never had a chance to vote for her wonderful son in a primary election. So they did it for love and family, OK? Gesicki seemed to almost be fighting back tears as he explained it.
In the current race, Bernal has a rich aunt who is providing a big chunk of his campaign financing. In my new spirit of mirth and acceptance, I will not let myself become cynical when Bernal or Gesicki explain that this is not about running the Sheriff’s Department or about getting a Republican elected. No way. It is about a loving aunt, probably a madcap aunt, whose only wish is to see her fine and misunderstood nephew accomplish something for once. Heck, looking at it that way, I might vote for Bernal myself.
Sheriff’s campaigns can be remarkably contentious and nasty, especially when both candidates are working in the same department. True or not, it becomes conventional wisdom that almost everything that ever happens is a direct result of the previous election and who supported whom. If a deserving deputy is promoted, it’s because he told everyone he had voted for candidate A even though he really voted for candidate B. If a supporter of the sheriff gets fired for something minor like never coming to work, it’s because the sheriff doubted the deputy’s sincerity during the campaign. If a sergeant gets sent home for dripping chocolate syrup on his uniform at lunch, it’s because he didn’t contribute to so and so’s campaign.
The old, dour me would have worried about what will happen if Bernal wins. For instance, what if he had 60 supporters within the department but only 10 promotions available. How would he pick? Since he has spent his career in South County and the jail and didn’t work with most of the staff, would he go with test results and the recommendations of interview panels? Not in this show. He’d have some good clean fun by changing the way promotions are made and how the department is organized. Remember, his campaign slogan is “Change Everything and Don’t Forget Your Socks.”
This is where I choose to enjoy the spoof rather than sweat the small stuff. In this script, deputies might get to choose their own ranks and assignments. Always wanted to be a detective? Go for it. Patrol, schmatrol. Solve something.
Undersheriff? Arm wrestle you for it. Head of Internal Affairs? Hey, never mind. We don’t need that any more (laugh track kicks in).
Like you, I’m looking forward to it and I’m glad to know all of this so far has just been rehearsal. Campaign season doesn’t really start until September, which gives Bernal’s writers time to come up with some really solid stuff. It will be more “Barney Miller” or Barney Fife than “Hill Street Blues,” but who doesn’t enjoy a good laugh now and then?