LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Mayor Damon - from "Ugly duckling" to "Lame duck"
by Peter Loubal
(response to comments by Mayor Damon, see link at left)
Four years ago, Larry Damon won election into El Cerrito's City Council, opposed by an entrenched political network that had dominated local politics for decades. It took energy, intelligence, money and eloquence. Damon soon became a leader on the Council. Any consensus tended to be on his terms. From "Ugly duckling", despised by City Hall and its supporters, he was en route to be an unbeatable mayor/incumbent, a brilliant swan, a cinch for re-election. Instead, he has become a "Lame duck", trading in erstwhile supporters for a few pats on the back from earlier opponents.
What went wrong? His energetic single-mindedness turned to bullying and intimidation. His intelligence went into opportunism and self-service. His eloquence became a tool for bending truth like a pretzel. Typically, he starts Council meetings with: "Welcome to the friendly El Cerrito Council, tell us what's on your mind, it doesn't have to be true, we'll sort it all out." These words are not just a patronizing insult. The obvious goal is to lay a smokescreen of uncertainty and manipulation. Everything becomes part of a muddy political game he hopes to dominate. But he overreached. Damon planned to extend his political power by wheeling and dealing in projects needing city approval. Residents discovered the tie-in between his financial interests and his espousal of proposed developments. He realized this was likely to become a major embarrassment, threatening his chances for a second term, and certainly making him less effective. That is the real reason he dropped out of the race. I'm glad I played a role in this matter. Defeating a mega-bully was as much of an accomplishment as helping stop the mega-theater.
Another correction: Damon claims he dropped his Council bid because he accomplished the six things he wanted to. Here's a more analytical (and realistic) list of his "accomplishments:"
1. He helped get voters to approve the Swimming Pool, but since then his domineering involvement in pool planning and design is a prime reason for the nearly year-long delay. In the process, he has alienated the Park and Rec. Commission and supposedly brought a City department head to tears with unfair criticism. As a result we'll likely get less of a pool, later than expected.
2. He made no attempt to provide needed and promised corrections to our General Plan. As a result, El Cerrito continues with piecemeal planning, greatly reducing our hopes for beneficial projects.
3. Thus the "Lumberyard project" was approved without a proper area or overall plan. It was based on phony traffic projections and inadequate environmental assessments. He blocked a thorough economic analysis that could have improved the proposal. He interfered with the Economic Development Board's participation in the process. As a result the project is less of a "mixed use" project than it could have been, harming the public's interest and hope for a worthy "Mid-town".
4. He was forced to recuse himself from the "Canyon Trail Park Tree" vote, but continues to be involved in the issue, fanning the flames of public controversy. He is the likely "power behind the scene", responsible for the unneeded but petty and vindictive cutting of creek-bed trees.
5. He has dominated the deliberations and decision-making of commissions, boards and committees. Everything had to have his "stamp of approval." He made a mockery of public participation.
6. He had a key role in saving and repairing the Canyon Trail Clubhouse. But he was not the only one as he seems to claim. Though his involvement can be seen as positive, it may have produced an unnecessarily over-engineered project costing three times more than needed.
Conclusion: Damon, acting in self, rather than in community, interests, in the end benefited neither.
A sad ending for a man with many excellent personal qualities. A sad ending for El Cerrito.
Run dates: 2001-09-10 - 2001-09-24