He's probably the last person a political spinmeister would pick to win office of any kind, and in fact he barely eked out a victory over an incumbent damaged by careless oversight on a run-amok county chief executive officer, among other problems.
In an arena where glib and ambiguous are trump cards, he's blunt and to the point. He's often dour, politically incorrect and astonishingly candid, and he can dampen the enthusiasm of a room full of boosters faster than a drenched sponge. And though no one's claiming a blood relationship, he also seems to have inherited Carmen Sabatino's genius for making powerful enemies.
Nonetheless, Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini is riding a wave of popularity on the county's West Side, where many residents have hoisted him to their shoulders and conferred upon him a hero's mantle. This despite the attempts of city-slick celebrity attorney Mark Geragos to tie a bundle of personal baggage around DeMartini's ankles like a ball and chain.
Problem is that hereabouts, Geragos has baggage of his own. His defense of Scott Peterson was not only unpopular, it failed when Geragos was out-lawyered by the county's district attorney's office. And people can't help but wonder who's paying a big-time barrister to appear in what, by all appearances, is a small-time case.
Many have concluded (without evidence) that Geragos is part of an attempt to smear the man who's had the temerity to oppose Gerry Kamilos' grandiose West Park proposal for the county's Crows Landing industrial park. A recent "documentary" video that appeared on YouTube contained heavy-handed innuendo and clumsy analogies to Gary Condit, stoking more speculation about the consequences of DeMartini's opposition to money and power.
Thus far, speculation about Kamilos' role is no better grounded than speculation about Jim DeMartini. Kamilos is a target because he's the default Goliath in a ready-made narrative where the little people defeat the giant. It's easy to forget there are lots of people who could have it in for a supervisor who stands in the way of the "progress" that drives land values into a stratosphere traveled only by multimillionaires. If Jim DeMartini deserves the benefit of doubt (and he does), so does Gerry Kamilos.
DeMartini's West Side constituents have long been a forgotten afterthought in county politics. They endured a monthslong tire fire that for years had been an accident waiting to happen. They saw county officials try to fly a plan for a megadump in their back yard under the radar. Now, many feel as if a proposal that their mayors and city councils oppose almost unanimously is being rammed down their throats. No wonder they support Jim DeMartini, and no wonder they're tempted to drape a guilty tag around the neck of his highest-profile opponent.
Nonetheless, for the sake of all valley citizens, let's hope that attempts to "swift boat" both DeMartini and Kamilos run aground on Patterson's fertile farm soil, where people are accustomed to give more weight to facts and actions than to words; and more support for straight talk than for rumor and innuendo.
Caine, a Modesto resident, teaches in the humanities department at Merced College. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.