Editor’s note: In an October 6 Modesto Bee editorial, the Bee’s Judy Sly claims that Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini has denied endorsing Carmen Sabatino for the MID Board of Directors. Sabatino claims he received a “verbal endorsement,” but “didn’t get it in writing.” No doubt, there is more to this story than has as yet come out.
As Carmen Sabatino campaigns for a place on the Board of Directors at the Modesto Irrigation District (MID), the names on his list of featured endorsements are worth a moment of reflection.
Sabtino’s campaign flyer features endorsements by Hughson businessman John Duarte, Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini, and former Modesto City Councilmen Bill Conrad and Bruce Frohman. Conrad and Frohman served on the City Council when Sabatino was Mayor of Modesto. Sabatino has also been endorsed by the Stanislaus County Central Democratic Committee.
Sabatino is best remembered for having been charged with twelve felony counts while serving as Mayor from 2000-2004. The story went national. A lesser-known tale is of how many of Modesto’s most politically-savvy citizens thought the charges had been trumped up as a convenient way of removing Sabatino from office.
In 2006, after Sabatino’s trial had resulted in a hung jury, Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager announced she had decided, “to NOT (sic) seek a retrial of Carmen Sabatino, ex-Mayor of Modesto.” The announcement was anti-climactic to most. By then, Sabatino’s political career had been ruined, and his once-thriving downtown restaurant had closed.
Lost in the sensationalism were the exposures of local government intrigue that came about during Sabatino’s short tenure. It was Carmen Sabatino, together with City Manager Jack Christ, who uncovered the now infamous multi-million dollar Village I developer fees shortfall. It was Sabatino who revealed Stanislaus County CEO Reagan Wilson’s deep conflicts of interest. And it was Sabatino who ended the Modesto Bee’s cozy relationship with the City of Modesto, which saved the City $90,000 a year in advertising money.
It may be the memory of those events that prompted Supervisor DeMartini to write of Sabatino,
“I endorse Carmen because he will bring transparency, leadership, and our local interests to MID.”
Like Sabatino, DeMartini was once the target of a political smear. Unlike the former Mayor, DeMartini was able to turn the tables on his accusers.
In a Community Column the Modesto Bee refused to publish, the late John Michael Flint, who did not use such words lightly, called the case against Carmen Sabatino a “genuine conspiracy.” Like many others, Flint believed the charges against Sabatino amounted to an end run around the democratic process.
Today, Sabatino is once again managing a thriving restaurant business, this time on Modesto’s McHenry Avenue. And while he’s a definite underdog in his race against local businessman John Mensinger, Sabatino has some of the Valley’s finest citizens in his corner.
John Duarte, Bill Conrad, Bruce Frohman and Jim DeMartini represent a disparate range of political commitments and causes. The one thing they have in common is unimpeachable integrity. Their endorsement of Carmen Sabatino is as much a judgment on those who would have branded Sabatino a criminal as it is a boon to Sabatino’s campaign.
It’s often said that journalism is the first draft of history. Carmen Sabatino has entered yet another Quixotic campaign, and it’s increasingly apparent that the Modesto Bee’s first draft of Sabatino’s history is already under revision. The new historians are the Valley’s own citizens, at least those with courage enough to speak truth to power.