Grappling with a federal public corruption investigation into the sale of Angel Stadium, Mayor Harry Sidhu of Anaheim announced his resignation on Monday amid questions about whether business leaders in California’s 10th-largest city have wielded undue influence.
The Anaheim City Council is to meet today to discuss the future of the stadium deal, an issue that raises broader questions about the future of a city known for its tourist attractions — Disneyland chief among them — and professional sports teams.
Sidhu, a Republican elected in 2018 to lead the Southern California city of nearly 350,000 people, has not been charged with wrongdoing. But documentation supporting a federal search warrant accused him of acting against the city’s interests while negotiating the planned $320 million sale of the Major League Baseball stadium to the owner of the Los Angeles Angels, its home team.
In an affidavit filed this month, Brian Adkins, a special agent for the F.B.I., alleged that Sidhu shared confidential information with the team at least twice in anticipation of a “sizeable” donation toward his re-election this year. The affidavit did not include evidence that Sidhu had solicited such a contribution but cited surreptitiously recorded conversations in which the mayor detailed plans to ask the Angels for “at least” $1 million in campaign help.
Sidhu’s lawyer denied that in a statement.
“A fair and thorough investigation will prove that Mayor Harry Sidhu did not leak secret information,” the lawyer, Paul S. Meyer, said, adding that the mayor “never asked for a political campaign contribution that was linked in any way to the negotiation process.” He said the mayor’s decision to leave his post effective Tuesday was an effort “to act in the best interests of Anaheim.”
Last week, the rest of the City Council had asked Sidhu to resign.
Sidhu, a former city councilman, is the second Anaheim official this week to resign from a political post amid fallout from the investigation, which appears to have gained traction after 2019, when the F.B.I. arrested a local political consultant on charges of attempted bribery.
The consultant, Melahat Rafiei, also served on a city commission, sat on the Democratic National Committee and was an officer in the state Democratic Party. She resigned from those posts over the weekend, writing on social media that she, too, was innocent of wrongdoing.
The charges against Rafiei were ultimately dismissed. According to the social media post and the federal affidavit, she then went to work as a cooperating witness for the F.B.I., wearing a wire during meetings with Southern California city officials in a federal inquiry into a collection of local officials, business leaders and political operatives who exerted political influence in Anaheim.
In the social media post, she wrote that she had intended to “uncover corruption among Republican operatives.”
The investigation also has ensnared the former chief executive of the Anaheim Chamber of Commerce. The executive, Todd Ament, was charged last week with lying about his assets to a mortgage lender in an attempt to use the chamber’s money to qualify for a loan to buy a vacation home.
The city owns what Mike Lyster, a spokesman for Anaheim, described as an aging stadium, famously marked by a giant red “A” encircled by a halo. The stadium is surrounded by a sea of concrete, a parking lot that a company run by Arte Moreno, the owner of the Angels, planned to develop with homes, restaurants, hotels and shops.
The investigation could impede the deal. In December, California officials found that the sale violated a state law requiring local governments to prioritize surplus land for affordable housing. Last month, Anaheim and the state agreed to resolve the matter by having the city pay a $96 million fine. But Attorney General Rob Bonta has since asked a judge to pause the resolution.
Lyster said that if the deal falls through, it could affect whether the Angels stay in Anaheim.
“Will this be a pause? Will this be a reset?” Lyster said. “That’s the direction we need from our City Council.”
Shawn Hubler and Jill Cowan are reporters in California for the New York TImes. Copyright, New York Times.
Legislation at all levels of government is always the product of organized and vested interests and the influence they wield on elected officials and permanent bureaucrats. What this article illustrates is that the basic activity of elected officials is transactional incrementalism by which politicians exchange their support for legislation that advantages one or another organized interest for electoral campaign support for the politicians pushing the legislation. Which legislation lives and which dies is a function of the relative power and influence wielded by the interests advantaged (or disadvantaged) over the political and bureaucratic echelons.
Such an obvious, baked-in conflict of interest is precisely what the wealthy founders and framers of the U.S. republic had in mind. The Constitution is structured to inhibit the latitude of voters and the popular will by largely neutralizing whatever majoritarian democratic will that might exist through minoritarian the anti-democratic institutions of the Senate, the electoral college and the Supreme Court. That is the essence and meaning of the Madisonian model of democracy designed at every turn to protect the minority (wealth holders) from the majority (non-wealth holders) and the basis not for the “tyranny of the majority”–as feared by the founders–but for the “tyranny of the minority”–as experienced by U.S. population since the colonial period (http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/kpsexton/pdfs/MadisonianModel.pdf).
After all, we are not talking about judges who, by law, must recuse themselves in cases where they have some relationship to one or other of the parties involved in a case before them. Politicians both take money from business and propertied interests and then write legislation that has financial repercussions for those same interests, usually with inimical implications for the community at large. (For a significant and recent case involving San Jose City Hall, see https://sanjosespotlight.com/san-jose-mayor-sam-liccardo-ally-carl-guardino-bloom-energy-wrote-natural-gas-ban-exemption-to-his-benefit/. For an even more dramatic example of the power of elites on “representative” government, check out the unfolding scandal in Anaheim).