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The Shocking Truth About Political Pranks

POINTS WEST

May 25, 2001|STEVE LOPEZ

People keep telling me there's no interest in local politics in Southern California, and I have to say that I just don't get it.

In Los Angeles alone, a Mexican American is running for mayor as a non-Latino, his white opponent, is running as a black man despite falling asleep at the wheel during the Rampart scandal, a Boy Scout congressman is having a Biblical fall from grace, and half the city wants to secede.

I watch some television and catch a few movies, and I can tell you without hesitation that nothing Hollywood is producing can touch any of this for drama or comedy.

Let's take the story of the congressman, Xavier Becerra. Not since Claude Rains found out there was gambling at Rick's Cafe in Casablanca has anyone been as "shocked, shocked" as Becerra was upon finding out that someone in his failed mayoral campaign made phone calls trashing rival Antonio Villaraigosa in the primary.

Tough situation for Becerra.

If he says he knew, it looks bad.

If he says he didn't, it looks worse.

This is why we have columnists.

In case you missed the details as excavated by Times swordsmen Greg Krikorian and Nicholas Riccardi, the La Colectiva agency put out 80,000 phone calls from a woman posing as County Supervisor Gloria Molina.

"Please don't hang up! This is an emergency call," began the recorded message, which went on to claim that Villaraigosa was a threat to women, children and human decency itself.

La Colectiva has political connections to Councilman Nick Pacheco, a Becerra supporter, oddly enough, who of course knew nothing whatever about the phone campaign.

First Claude Rains, then Xavier Becerra, and then Nick Pacheco. Never before have public officials been so quick to confess total ignorance.

But if you had heard the details at Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's press conference, as I did, you could better understand why Becerra would dummy up. As dirty tricks go, this job was the work of amateurs, and an insult to hatchet men the world over.

The picture is this:

Becerra campaign hucksters Paige Richardson and a sidekick who calls himself Bubba Scott Nunnery bring in a campaign aide by the name of Veronica Del Rico. On names alone, this whole crew is begging to be fiction.

Anyway, they tell this Veronica Del Rico that she's going to make a scripted, recorded message under the name Gloria Marina.

Get it?

Marina sounds like Molina, but it's not quite. It's sort of like when you were 6, and thought that if you crossed your fingers while telling a lie, it wasn't really a lie.

At this point in the Dukes of Hazzard clubhouse, according to the D.A., Paige Richardson tells the assembled geniuses that this phone-call campaign will be a slap in Molina's face, because Molina just endorsed Villaraigosa.

But wait a minute, Veronica Del Rio says in what had to have been a virginal voice. Isn't this unethical?

Veronica clearly has no future in politics.

She should have just run for the hills then and there. But Paige Richardson, an old hand, tells the upstart not to worry. This kind of prank is pulled all the time in politics, she says. Especially right before election day.

My country, 'tis of thee.

Not 10 minutes after leaving the D.A.'s office, I called Becerra's office. My wife has always said I should be doing some voice work, and so I wanted to offer my services. His press person promised to pass along my offer, but I haven't heard anything yet.

Even if Becerra's political career goes off a cliff over this thing, maybe La Colectiva is hiring. I'm no Rich Little, but I can do a few voices.

"Please don't hang up! This is an emergency call from Jim Hahn. Kenny's son? I'm just calling to say Xavier Becerra's opponent is a pervert who kicks small dogs and pulls the wings off of butterflies. Thanks for listening."

Becerra issued the obligatory indignant damnation of the boobs in his employ, maintaining his ignorance. But one aide told The Times' Matea Gold another story, saying the congressman had been informed of the job on Villaraigosa.

Unfortunately, according to the D.A., none of this satisfies the legal requirements for handcuffs and jumpsuits. You can get a ticket for jaywalking in L.A., but impersonate a public official, insult the intelligence of 80,000 constituents, and try to subvert the democratic process, and your political consulting fees go up.

The same can not be said for Xavier Becerra's stock. There he was, surrounded by good-government types, the man with the golden future.

And there was Villaraigosa, the former street thug and operator, wondering if he'd ever be able to totally shake his past.

The same road leads to heaven and hell.

Good night, Xavier.

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