Fort Bragg City Council member Dan Gjerde's hopeful political beginnings and ensuing jump to the dark side is a morality play that might be of interest to anyone who ever wondered why politicians lie so much. They all do it. And we all know they do it. But is it really necessary?
Maybe they are born or raised this way. Or is it an absolutely unavoidable sickness of conscience that infects even the best of men and women at some point along the electoral path?
And what responsibility do we voters have in perpetuating or curing this sickness when one of these devils is spawned and begins to take shape in our very midst?
At age 32, after spending many years away in college, Dan Gjerde was elected to government office for the first time in his home town of Fort Bragg in 1998. He is now running for a second four-year term on the Fort Bragg city council. He has higher office ambitions and some of the makings to eventually be accepted into northern California's three higher offices controlled formerly by the Bosco-Keene-Hauser, now Thompson-Chesbro-Berg Democratic party machine.
The next step up the electoral rung from the Fort Bragg city council will be in the upcoming election to Mendocino County's Board of Supervisors in two years. From there, Dan would like to become one of the Democratic party's Big Three someday. Maybe even President of the USA. He has studied electoral politics and tagged along with politicians since early high school in preparation.
I played a very large role in setting the stage and in actually getting Dan elected to the Fort Bragg city council. I'd been talking, writing, suing, and generally raging at city council meetings about the town's City Hall corruption for about a decade (and my partner/mentor, Ron Guenther, had done the same for a decade before.)
A year previous to Dan's election and three years after he was in office were spent with Dan hashing things over at my kitchen table, although he did park down the street and around the corner so no one would know of my hands-on mentoring.
More often than not, our discussions centered on improving his life skills so these could be applied to the practical matters of managing a city and dealing with professionals. The young man is bright, but theories played with in the protective womb of college cannot take the place of life's multitude of little, often very harsh, practical lessons learned in the real world of holding a job, running a business, or managing a home and supporting a family. Dan has never done any of these things. He lives with his grandmother.
Some people close to the situation with Dan have speculated that Dan is functionally autistic. It seems, at best, that he cannot relate to people as people, but only as pawns on a complicated political chessboard in a game he plays in his mind. To Dan, people's desires are to be read, developed, played and moved around to serve his obsession with the trappings of campaigns and electoral office. There seems to be no right or wrong for Dan, no lines that should not be crossed, only goals to be achieved. This phenomena is not unlike the machinations of the infamous ruthless corporate raiders and that of many big company CEOs so destructive to life as most of us once knew and loved it.
Dan's amorality is striking considering that his parents are of the highest moral character: loving and compassionate to a fault. It is also terribly disconcerting that Dan initially chose the side of principle and honesty, and those on a quest for a higher manifestation of truth and justice in Fort Bragg to support his ambitions. He took their cause and honed it into a theme that got him elected to office. They found out the hard way that this is his modus operandi — find the people churning the milk, pretend to help and then steal the butter.
In an upcoming series, over the span of the next two months leading up to the election for three open seats on the Fort Bragg city council, I plan to reveal the events, people and behind the scenes workings that lead to the overwhelming election in 1998 of a three-councilmember reform majority. The election itself was, and still is the talk of the county. I'll discuss all of this reform majority's stunning accomplishments, and Dan's deadly outbreak with the sickness of conscience that led to the reform majority's final collapse last Friday when reform-slate’s two heavy-lifters, Michele White and Vince Benedetti, tragically decided not to run for election again.
I am in a unique position to get at the truth of it all, since I was made privy to and held the separate private confidences of Dan Gjerde, Michele White and Vince Benedetti for nearly four years. I also welcome comment from others close to the situation, and especially from Dan himself. (No more unattributed planted news items in the AVA, Dan. Come out and debate like a man!)
Voters in Fort Bragg will know the right thing to do when the series is completed. Even if you don't vote in Fort Bragg, you will gain some understanding of how easily you are manipulated as a voter and why, at the local level, we must be on top of it and stop them early on, or suffer the consequences with a Gray Davis, George Bush or just about any other higher level politico who comes to mind.
Just over a decade ago, the City of Fort Bragg (pop. 6,000±, $3 million annual revenue) had zero debt and maintained a several hundred thousand dollar contingency fund (savings account). The coastal town people supported themselves pretty well on fishing, logging and bit of tourism.
In just eight years, the darlings of most of the town, city council members John Cimolino, Patti Campbell Lindy Peters, Jere Melo (and some lesser ding-bats, with a couple of exceptions), ran the City into the hole to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, including many years of overdue repairs to aging roads, sewer, water and storm drain systems.
(Next week: The stage and the reform players.)