Trailing badly in the polls and eager to begin her television advertising campaign, Republican secretary of state candidate Joan Milke Flores faced a major obstacle several weeks ago: She needed more money.
Fund raising was going well, but not well enough. Flores, in her first bid for statewide office, had tens of thousands of dollars in advance advertising bills to pay before stations would air her 30-second spots.
Flores needed a benefactor, and so she turned to her loyal base of support in San Pedro, her home and one of several communities she has represented on the Los Angeles City Council since 1981.
Ernest (Tom) Papadakis, a wealthy friend and longtime political supporter who heads one of the community's most prominent families, loaned Flores $275,000 on Oct. 1, according to her financial disclosure statement filed this week. An aggressive Flores television campaign took to the airwaves the following day.
Although she still trails Democratic incumbent March Fong Eu in the polls as Election Day approaches, Flores has narrowed the gap, in large part, her campaign says, because of the television ads.
"I hate borrowing money," Flores said in an interview. "The only bill I really have is for my house, and even that I try to pay extra payments. . . . But we assessed the situation and decided we had to do television, and when it looked like we were falling short of our (fund-raising) mark, I hated to do it, but we felt we had to borrow the money."
Papadakis owns Anchor Liquors Corp., a chain of liquor stores based in San Pedro, and serves as chairman of Flores' statewide campaign committee. His son, John, owns the Papadakis Taverna in San Pedro, and another son, Nick, runs a San Pedro real estate investment business.
Papadakis, 66, works in San Pedro but has lived in Rancho Palos Verdes since 1962. The family also owns various properties in San Pedro, and Angie Papadakis, his wife of 44 years, has served on the state Board of Education and is currently a member of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission.
In a brief telephone interview, Tom Papadakis had little to say about his loan to Flores, except that she was deserving of any assistance he could give her.
"In this day and age, when you find a politician of that caliber, I think you should do something about it," said Papadakis, who, with his wife, has also contributed $2,000 to the Flores campaign. "She is an outstanding person, and I have a lot of faith in her."
Papadakis met Flores when she worked as an aide to her predecessor on the City Council, John Gibson. When Flores ran for council in 1981, Papadakis served on her first campaign committee and joined several other supporters in loaning her $14,000 in the final weeks of a hard-fought contest. Flores says the loan was crucial to her eventual victory.
Flores describes Papadakis as a friend, an adviser and a "political animal" who prefers to operate outside the public eye. He has served on the board of the San Pedro Peninsula Hospital and has been active in the San Pedro Boys Club, but his wife is far more visible in the community. Angie Papadakis is a professional speaker, owns her own public relations agency and is an accomplished humorist.
"Tom has always been content being a little bit behind the scenes," Flores said.
During the telephone interview, Tom Papadakis would not discuss the details of his business or financial dealings, saying they were "a private matter" and had nothing to do with his loan to Flores. Flores said Papadakis, a Democrat, has never asked for any special favors in the past, and she said the loan would not entitle him to any in the future.
"I don't feel any obligation except to pay the money back," Flores said. The loan has a 12% interest rate and is due in one year.
With the loan, Flores can continue her television advertising through Election Day, including a new hard-hitting spot that accuses Eu of waiving fines against politically connected companies and special interest groups.
As of Oct. 21, Flores had spent $410,000 on her television campaign, whereas Eu had spent $163,000.
The loan, however, has had a political price. In her harshest attack of the race, Eu this week accused Flores of deliberately concealing the loan by filing her financial disclosure statement several days late. In letters to the state Department of Justice and to the Fair Political Practices Commission, Eu's campaign demanded that criminal or civil charges be filed against Flores.
Eu has also criticized Flores for violating court-overturned restrictions in Proposition 73, which limited contributions and barred large personal loans such as the one from Papadakis. Eu has pledged to adhere to the restrictions, even though a judge ruled in September that they are unconstitutional and no longer applied to this election.
"Without the loan, Joan Flores might have had to run on even terms" with Eu, said Leo McElroy, Eu's campaign consultant. "We feel (Proposition 73) is a mandate from the voters, and somebody ought to honor that."