Jeff Jardine

Former enemies now just get along

Politics have a way of developing some very unusual alliances, however tenuous.

Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini and former Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino provide a perfect example. Once bitter enemies, they've forged a relationship of tolerance and necessity.

That stated, don't get the idea they've become buddies, both men will assure you. They don't hang out socially, or run in the same circles. There are lines neither man will cross.

"Like him?" DeMartini pondered. "I don't know if I could say that."

Maybe it's as simple as this: Sabatino hosts a radio show and needs provocative guests. DeMartini, provocative to a fault, is a politician who likes the airtime to push his ideas and agenda.

Their truce, according to Sabatino, is helped by the fact that DeMartini voted against Gerry Kamilos' West Park development plan for the former Crows Landing Naval Air Station and surrounding area. DeMartini also voted to approve the county's updated Ag Element in December.

Sabatino sided with DeMartini on both issues.

"But it doesn't go any further than that," Sabatino said. "I didn't like his vote on (the) Salida Now (development plan), and I told him so."

"Carmen and I disagree on more things than we have ever agreed on," DeMartini said.

Indeed, they've spent their entire political careers on opposite sides of just about every issue. DeMartini heads the county's Republican Central Committee, and is an unabashed booster of anything Republican and critic of pretty much anything that isn't.

Sabatino is a Democrat with a long history of antagonizing public officials, and has had his share of run-ins with DeMartini.

Sabatino remembers a time when DeMartini derided him at a council meeting while Sabatino was mayor. He claims DeMartini acted simply as a mouthpiece for another longtime political enemy, land-use attorney George Petrulakis.

"DeMartini came to the council and gave the most scurrilous speech about me," Sabatino said. "Every unkind thing George could think of."

The most notable brush, however, came in May 2006, when the mistrial verdict in the corruption trial against Sabatino came down.

DeMartini appeared in the jampacked courtroom and somehow ended up on the other side of the rail, sitting with the prosecutors. Why? DeMartini said a bailiff waved him into the empty chair, apparently because there were no others in the packed courtroom.

"I was very happy standing in the back, but he gave me an offer I couldn't refuse," DeMartini told The Bee that day. "I wanted to experience the moment."

Sabatino fumed at DeMartini's presence, saying it confirmed a conspiracy by other county officials -- he cited then- Supervisor Ray Simon, County Counsel Mick Krausnick, former county CEO Reagan Wilson and former DA James Brazelton (since deceased) -- to destroy the former mayor politically and personally.

"What the hell is he doing there?" Sabatino said after the judge declared a mistrial. "He's a member of the Board of Supervisors sitting behind the DA waiting for me to get convicted. Is this a political trial or what? Is there any greater definition?"

Now, DeMartini says, "If I had to do it all over again -- for all that's been written (including this) -- I wouldn't have gone."

Since then, Sabatino

began hosting his morning radio show. DeMartini has been a guest, by his estimate, five times.

"One time it was to talk about the Ag Element," DeMartini said. "I've been on to talk about the West Side. Another time, there was no subject. We just took calls."

Yet another time, DeMartini went on the show to discuss a particular topic -- possibly the Salida plan, he said -- and Sabatino quickly shifted to issues involving Modesto.

Lately, Sabatino has railed against Measure M, the Accountability in City Hall Measure. Longtime nemesis Petrulakis, who also has been a guest on Sabatino's radio program, wrote the measure when he led the city's Charter Review Committee.

Seven years ago, Sabatino stood up for most of the measure's elements -- better pay for council members, an independent auditor and more mayoral authority.

Not anymore. This is, after all, America. People have the right to change their minds.

Time and events have changed Sabatino in another way, too.

Under any other circumstance, Sabatino might have relished DeMartini's current political woes. A few weeks ago, a hit-piece video targeting DeMartini appeared on the YouTube online site. Instead of enjoying watching DeMartini squirm, Sabatino supports him.

Why? Both men believe the purpose of the hit piece is to destroy DeMartini personally and politically because he opposes Kamilos' West Park plan, just as Sabatino said the corruption charges he faced were part of a conspiracy to destroy him.

DeMartini is involved as the victim, not the defendant, in a fraud case. Prosecutors claim 22-year-old Serena Essapour used his personal information to get credit cards from two banks and ring up $10,000 in unauthorized charges. She is represented by celebrity attorney Mark Geragos.

The hit-piece video insinuates an inappropriate relationship between Essapour and DeMartini.

"I feel sorry for (DeMartini)," Sabatino said. "I don't know if they'll get him, but they'll try to destroy him through this trial."

In fact, Sabatino said he respects DeMartini's representation of the West

Side enough that he would endorse DeMartini in his re-election bid.

"Sure," Sabatino said. "The only thing that bothers me is the Salida plan. But with the Ag Element and West Park, he seems to have his own mind as I don't think he's ever had before."

Wait a minute, is the apocalypse upon us? Carmen Sabatino endorsing Jim DeMartini for re-election?

"That's news to me," DeMartini said. "I've never asked for his endorsement."

Yes, politics can forge unusual alliances, welcomed or not.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at or 578-2383.

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