Laguna Niguel Mayor Cathryn DeYoung has spent more than $2 million of her own money attacking the political fitness of Patricia Bates, her chief rival in a heated Orange County supervisorial race on Tuesday's ballot.
Bates, a former assemblywoman, has fought back by taking her foe to court and distributing mailers brushing off DeYoung as a hothead with little experience and money to burn.
Oh, and one more thing: They're neighbors. DeYoung and Bates live eight houses apart on a pricey Laguna Niguel cul-de-sac.
The seat on the Board of Supervisors represents south Orange County, from Newport Beach to San Clemente. The other candidates in the race are former Laguna Niguel City Councilman Eddie Rose and educator Gary V. Miller.
The Bates and DeYoung families both moved into the neighborhood in 1988. Their cul-de-sac -- with houses appraising from $1.5 million to $2 million -- sits on a ridge overlooking Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park. Residents there say it's a typical suburban California neighborhood where people drive home from work, close the garage door and don't come out till morning.
It's a mix of people more friendly than friends, who, if they know about the race, are trying to stay outwardly neutral, as well as newcomers, most of whom are unaware that they're living at ground zero.
Bates and DeYoung said they have sought to fashion the block as its own little Switzerland for the sake of neighborhood peace.
"I discouraged people from putting up signs because I didn't want to get into a sign war," said Bates.
"We have some of the same friends who've played bunco together. Why bring it onto the block?"
DeYoung said several neighbors back her, but she too discouraged them from planting signs.
"[Bates] would have to drive past them to get to her house," DeYoung said. "I didn't want to do that to her."
Thomas and Jean Janicki, who live next to the Bateses and have been friends for years, plunked the street's lone Bates sign in their yard. Jean Janicki said she doesn't know DeYoung but has been turned off by the deluge of her campaign mailers slamming Bates.
"It's almost as if [DeYoung] has to buy her votes," Janicki said, "whereas Pat's been around a long time and can stand on her record. Pat is a very classy lady and I think there could be a backlash because people are sick of dirty campaigns."
Lorraine Kehoe down the street said she sunk the block's lone DeYoung sign in her lawn because a trusted friend who works for the mayor raved about her.
"I find it commendable that a candidate is willing to spend their own money to get into office and help other people," Kehoe said. "You either get money from yourself or from someone who needs a favor."
Many on the block will get acquainted with their battling neighbors through the mail. And there has been a ton of it.
DeYoung's campaign has sent out one or two pieces a day for the last two weeks, funded by a campaign war chest approaching $2.5 million, an unheard of amount for a local government seat.
Bates' leaner campaign has sent a couple of mailers a week and has been helped by brochures sent by the Assn. of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. The union also has made phone calls to voters for Bates.
Complicating matters is that Bates and DeYoung, while never close pals, once were political friends. Bates even honored DeYoung as her legislative district's 2004 Woman of the Year.
"There will be friendships that will be lost over this race," said a one-time chum of both women who asked to remain anonymous for fear of angering either, "and people who won't talk to each other again."
No matter who wins, the neighborhood's quandary may soon resolve itself. The DeYoungs sold their house in March and are renting it back until the end of this month. Then, DeYoung said the family will make a long-planned move to Monarch Bay so that her teenagers can be closer to the beach.