Fullerton council recall ahead, fueled by Kelly Thomas death
The beating death of a mentally ill homeless man by Fullerton police appeared to be upending local politics Tuesday as voters were on pace to recall three City Council members criticized for their tepid response to an incident that garnered national headlines.
In early returns, council members Richard “Dick” Jones, Pat McKinley and Don Bankhead were being beaten by 2-to-1 margins.
Leading in votes to replace them were Fullerton Planning Commissioner Travis Kiger, attorney Doug Chaffee and Greg Sebourn, a businessman and educator.
Jones, McKinley and Bankhead were criticized by many in the community for not aggressively dealing with the alleged police brutality caught on surveillance cameras. Eventually, Fullerton’s police chief stepped down, and two of the officers involved were criminally charged.
The recall campaign was bankrolled by businessman Tony Bushala, a Libertarian-leaning political activist and blogger often at odds with the council majority that was targeted. Some accused Bushala of exploiting Thomas’ death.
The early results showed the council majority shifting toward a Libertarian-leaning Republican slate backed by Bushala, who backed Kiger -- a blogger with Bushala's Friends for Fullerton's Future blog -- and Sebourn.
Chaffee, a Democrat, had run in the 2010 election and was narrowly defeated.
In an interview last week, Kiger said the sitting council members had been in the city for too long and were entrenched in power structures that "clouded their judgment."
“I think what we’re going to see if the recall is successful is a real changing of the guard,” he said. Part of that change involves chipping away the influence of the police and other public employee unions, Kiger said.
“I see them losing that influence for sure and the balance will tip back toward the taxpayer, which in my view is a good thing,” he said.
McKinley, who was police chief for 16 years before being elected to the council, said he was not sure there was anything the council members could have done to change voters' minds.
"People were so incensed by the [Kelly Thomas] incident, and they were looking for someone to hold accountable," he said.
McKinley said he wishes the winning candidates well.
"The electorate has spoken, and if I'm recalled, I'll go on my way," he said.
-- Mike Anton and Abby Sewell
Photo: Travis Kiger center, smiles as Chris Thompson and Tony Bushala hug during an election party as results for the Fullerton city council recall come in. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times