The campaign for two City Council seats in Culver City began this week with charges that Councilman Ron Perkins "compromised his integrity" by supporting W. Patrick Moriarty's plan to build a condominium project in the city while the two were partners in another business venture.
Critics said Perkins should be unseated because he backed a proposal by Moriarty, the central figure in a statewide political corruption scandal, to build condominiums on the Culver Boulevard median strip.
Perkins this week said he had never compromised his integrity though he supported a zoning proposal that would have helped a project being pushed by one of Moriarty's companies. The proposal never came to a vote and Perkins said he would never vote on a project in which he had a financial interest.
Perkins and Mayor Richard Alexander, both 12-year incumbents, will face challengers Andrew Weissman, Fred Ellis, Richard Nielsen, Jozelle Smith and Lisa Tracy in the April 8 election.
The controversy promises to make the election the most divisive in the city's recent history, observers say.
Councilmen Paul Jacobs and Paul Netzel, who still have two years to serve, are supporting Alexander and Weissman instead of Perkins.
"Never before has a campaign had this kind of cloud hovering over it," said Jacobs."I'm embarrassed for the council and for the community."
Moriarty, an Orange County fireworks manufacturer, was sentenced to seven years in prison last week on charges of money-laundering, fraud and bribery of public officials stemming from a scheme to open a poker parlor in the City of Commerce.
Moriarty's B-M General Development Co. in 1982 was seeking a zone change that would have allowed the firm to build 40 condominiums on the Culver Boulevard median strip between Elenda Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard.
Perkins recommended passage of the zoning change but it never came to a vote and the council eventually voted to keep the median as open space.
Councilmen Jacobs and Netzel said they were "shocked" when they learned last year that Perkins was a business partner with B-M Development in another project at the same time that he supported the zone change.
Netzel said he did not act on the information last year because he wanted more information and because he expected the community to protest Perkins' involvement with Moriarty when the relationship was disclosed in a local newspaper. He said, however, that nothing happened.
City Atty. Bert Glennon said he had not been asked to issue an opinion on the matter. "I'm in no position to say whether there has been any kind of a conflict (of interest)," he said.
"He (Perkins) has compromised his integrity as far as I am concerned," Netzel said. "He was a partner (with Moriarty) before, during and after the time that the (other) residential development was being brought before the city."
Perkins said he was looking for financing in 1980 to build his own condominium project on two Duquesne Avenue lots when he first met with Gary Bishop, a partner in B-M Development. B-M and Perkins subsequently formed a joint venture named Duquesne Villas and obtained a $600,000 loan for the project through California Canadian Bank of Orange County, Perkins said.
Construction of the seven-unit project was under way in November, 1982, when Bishop came to the City Council seeking a zone change to develop another condominium project, this one for 40 units.
Netzel and Jacobs said Perkins recommended the zone change on behalf of B-M despite the fact that he was in partnership with the company on the other condominium project.
"His involvement with Patrick Moriarty represents at best a severe deficiency in judgment and character," Jacobs said this week, "which causes me a great deal of apprehension about his ability to be entrusted with the public welfare."
But Perkins says that he became involved with Moriarty's development company at a time when Moriarty was still known as a reputable businessman. He said that if he had to do it all over again, he "would have yelled loud and clear" that he had a business partnership with Moriarty.
Perkins said his support of the zone change that would have allowed the Culver Boulevard condominium proposal did not pose an ethical problem because he had no economic interest in the project. And, Perkins said, he would have abstained from any votes on B-M Development projects.
"There is no doubt that I supported the concept," Perkins said this week, "But if the city awarded a contract to (B-M Development) to do it, I would have abstained."
Perkins said that a zone change on the property would have allowed other companies besides B-M to submit proposals for developing the Culver Boulevard median strip. The proposed change would have converted the property from a transportation corridor to a multi-unit residential zone.
But Councilmen Jacobs, Alexander and Netzel voted in November, 1982, to preserve the median for landscaping. Perkins and Councilman Richard Brundo voted against.