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ELECTIONS / THOUSAND OAKS COUNCIL : Attacks in Heated Campaign for 3 Seats Spill Into City's Public Meetings


The growing nastiness of the Thousand Oaks City Council campaign has spilled over into council sessions, as opponents of Councilwoman Elois Zeanah use public time to hurl personal insults at the candidate.

Meanwhile, Mayor Alex Fiore and Councilman Frank Schillo shunned Zeanah on Wednesday by endorsing four of her opponents in the heated race for three open council seats. Sitting council members have rarely endorsed candidates before this year.

Tuesday night, the public comment portion of the City Council meeting was dominated by the scathing attacks that have become commonplace this election season.

At a forum last week, for instance, one of the 16 council candidates used all of his time to attack Zeanah. And over the weekend, campaigners distributed buttons depicting a "Z" with a slash through it, along with flyers calling Zeanah "elitist" and "divisive."

Zeanah sat through a barrage of insults again Tuesday, attacks she later called "part of a well-orchestrated effort to undermine my campaign."

"You've mastered the art of hate," said Jim Henson, a Thousand Oaks man who claimed credit for the negative flyer. "You've brought out the worst in this city."

Zeanah tried to respond to the remarks, but Fiore said the council chamber was no place for a political debate.

"I've been gagged and silenced," an angry Zeanah said. "It should be my personal privilege to respond to these attacks."

During a break in the meeting, Fiore said the harsh remarks took him by surprise. "This is unusually bad," he said. "I don't remember things ever getting this out of hand in any previous election."

The attacks on Zeanah, who is finishing her first term, have come in large part from residents who say she has tried to stymie development in the city. Zeanah argues she is responding to her constituents who want to ensure that the rural qualities of Thousand Oaks are preserved.

The nasty remarks at the council meeting came for the second consecutive week, and some council members said they were concerned that public comment time was being misused.

Zeanah and Councilwoman Jaime Zukowski said they believed the campaign rhetoric was taking time away from other important city business.

Fiore said he agreed, but could find no way to curtail the remarks.

"I think we've all been through this, maybe not to this degree, but you still have to sit and take it," Fiore said. "I don't know what more can be done."

Wednesday, Fiore and Schillo announced they would be supporting four candidates in the election: incumbent Judy Lazar, retired businessman Marshall Dixon, firefighter Andy Fox and detective Mike Markey.

Zeanah has endorsed her own slate of candidates, backing retired filmmaker M. Ali Issari and city operations manager David Hare. And Councilwoman Zukowski said she has endorsed Zeanah, Issari and Hare. Lazar and Zeanah are the only incumbents up for reelection this fall.

Prior to this year, Schillo said, it was unusual for council members to endorse any candidates. Several council members attributed their endorsements to the large campaign field. They said residents had been inundating them with calls asking for advice on how to vote in the Nov. 8 election.

While many of the challengers have hoped to turn anti-incumbent anger into votes, others have latched onto the incumbents' endorsements with gratitude.

"I heartily welcome Alex's endorsement--I don't think I could have wished for anything better," Dixon said. "We basically share the same philosophy and the same ways of getting things done."

"Alex's votes are floating around out there, and maybe this will help me get some of them," said Markey, who ran unsuccessfully for the council four years ago.

Because Fiore is retiring after 30 years on the council, both Markey and Dixon said they believe his endorsement will carry extra weight. Fiore has been the top vote-getter in all but two of his races, and he still has substantial support among the community.

Mosk is a correspondent and Simon is a staff writer.

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