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Mike Duvall's fall shocks Orange County backers who saw him as homegrown hero

September 10, 2009 | 11:53 am

In north Orange County, Michael Duvall was considered a homegrown politician. 

The insurance firm owner worked his way up through the ranks, serving stints on the Yorba Linda City Council, Orange County Sanitation District and Orange County Transportation Authority before being elected to the Assembly in 2006.

So Duvall's rapid fall from grace is being met with shock and disappointment.

The Republican, who inadvertently broadcast explicit remarks about his sexual conquests over an open microphone and whose comments were reported Tuesday night, abruptly resigned from office Wednesday after legislative leaders stripped him of his committee posts and launched an ethics probe of his actions. 

Duvall released a statement today. The headline of his statement says he "denies reports" that he had an affair. But in the statement itself, he says his resignation should not be viewed as an admission that he had an affair.

"I want to make it clear that my decision to resign is in no way an admission that I had an affair or affairs," Duvall said on his website. "My offense was engaging in inappropriate story-telling and I regret my language and choice of words. The resulting media coverage was proving to be an unneeded distraction to my colleagues and I resigned in the hope that my decision would allow them to return to the business of the state."

Lynn Ruocco, owner of Main Street Restaurant, a Mexican-Italian eatery in Yorba Linda, said she was shocked that Duvall resigned.

“I think he should have stayed in office,” she said. “He is a good man and was extremely beneficial to our city. I think he could have worked through this.

"There are a lot of other people who have done worse.”

Ruocco said that as a city councilman, Duvall helped with many local issues, such as alleviating parking on Yorba Linda’s Main Street, where her restaurant sits.

“He’s always there,” she said. “Whenever you needed him, he was there.”

Ruocco, who said she is a friend of Duvall and his family, said she helped Duvall campaign multiple times, going door to door to talk to voters.

She said that Duvall recently celebrated his birthday at her restaurant and that he frequently dines there with his wife, Susan, and other family members. Ruocco said that on Wednesday, Duvall’s mother-in-law, two nieces and a nephew ate lunch at the restaurant, and that they told her they were “standing by him.”

Duvall's remarks were videotaped in July during a lull in a Sacramento hearing but were reported just this week.

In the video, the married family-values crusader from Yorba Linda talks in graphic detail about women he said he slept with -- at least one of whom appeared to be a lobbyist with business before the utilities committee on which Duvall sat as vice chairman.

"I am deeply saddened that my inappropriate comments have become a major distraction for my colleagues in the Assembly," Duvall said in a written statement Wednesday afternoon. "It would not be fair to my family, my constituents or to my friends on both sides of the aisle to remain in office. Therefore, I have decided to resign."

Bob Bowdish, 62, who has lived in Yorba Linda since 1976, said he was "shocked and saddened" by news of Duvall's alleged affair and that he had resigned. "I knew him as a good man who was concerned and committed to this community," Bowdish said. "I'm saddened he succumbed to earthly pleasures. If you take the desires of the flesh out of the equation, he is an absolutely remarkable man, a good civil servant."

Bowdish, a registered Democrat, crossed party lines to vote for Duvall multiple times, from Duvall's days on the City Council to his run for an Assembly seat.

Bowdish said that he was Duvall's letter carrier for years and that they sometimes talked. Bowdish said Duvall was always friendly and animated and spoke of his commitment to helping the community. Bowdish is now retired.

"I was proud to have him represent me," Bowdish said. "Mike seemed to have the ability to transcend pary lines."

Duvall was considered a conservative Republican, in fitting with the politics of his district. He was also known for his knowledge of local issues.

In the biography on his Assembly website, Duvall described himself as a fighter for "fiscal responsibility." "Since his first election to the Yorba Linda City Council in 2000, Duvall has developed a reputation as a strong leader advocating for fiscal responsibility and economic development. While on the council, his colleagues elected him Mayor twice, appointed him Council Liaison to the Yorba Linda Chamber of Commerce and appointed him to the City Audit Committee. Recognizing his hard work on their behalf, twice as many of the city’s voters decided in 2004 to elect him to another term on the council."

Fullerton City Councilman Shawn Nelson said he was concerned about Duvall's family. 

“My initial reaction is I’m sad for his family. I know his wife -- what a shame,” he said. 

When it was suggested that lots of public officials have gotten into this kind of trouble, Nelson said: “You’re talking to a guy who’s had the same female assistant for 15 years and never gone to lunch with her alone. It’s just not my deal. I’ve been married for 17 years, and I just feel really bad for people who get into those spots. It’s not my reality, and I don’t wish it on anyone, either.” 

-- My-Thuan Tran in Yorba Linda and Dana Parsons