First, there was a report earlier this week about the citywide distribution of unsigned, derogatory fliers targeting incumbents Darcy Kuenzi and Sue Kristjansson. Then Wednesday, during an otherwise tame candidates forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, District 3 candidate Bill Zimmerman took a shot at opponent Wallace Edgerton -- seated right next to him -- comparing him to an "old, worn spark plug."
But the flame was really turned up Thursday night during another candidates forum, this one sponsored by the Menifee/Perris Valley Democratic Club. If there was any doubt whether the battle lines had been drawn between factions both on the current council and among candidates, there certainly isn't now.
Edgerton, taking advantage of the fact only five of the nine candidates were invited to speak at this monthly meeting of the club, took verbal jabs all night at Zimmerman, who was seated in the audience. Zimmerman, who spoke at last month's meeting of the Democratic Club, was joined in the audience by mayoral candidate Scott Mann and District 1 candidate Kristjansson -- both of whom also spoke to the group last month.
Edgerton, a 78-year-old veteran of decades of public service, wasted no time going after Zimmerman.
"Yesterday, I was called an old spark plug who ought to be removed," Edgerton said. "That didn't particularly bother me, but the fact some of my signs were taken down did.
"Now I must say that I like Bill Zimmerman as a person, but as far as experience in this race goes, there's no comparison. He has no formal education; I have multiple degrees."
Moments later, Edgerton accused Zimmerman of reversing his position on city development.
"Bill said he would never go to the developers," Edgerton asserted. "Bill, after you lose the election, you'll be sorry you flip-flopped on that issue."
Edgerton later stated he was the only candidate to receive an endorsement from the Riverside County Sheriffs Department -- a point Zimmerman disputed after the meeting, saying he received that endorsement earlier Thursday. Edgerton also took another shot at Zimmerman's stance on land development, referring to Zimmerman's comments a day earlier about Carmen Cave, Menifee's community development director.
Responding to a statement by mayoral candidate John F. Smith that Cave should be "terminated," Edgerton said, "Mr. Smith, you said Carmen Cave should be terminated. Let me quote Bill Zimmerman from yesterday. He said, 'I love Carmen Cave.' And you're going to terminate her? You'd better get your people to vote for me, Mr. Smith."
(Zimmerman's actual quote the day before was, "I would give the city staff a B+, because there's always room for improvement. But I'm impressed with the city manager, Bill Rawlings, who's a very intelligent man. And I really like Carmen Cave. She knows how to get things done.")
Edgerton urged voters to elect him to a District 3 council seat, Greg August in District 1 and Mann -- a former council member -- as mayor. He verbally attacked a council member and candidate not running in his district -- Kristjansson -- claiming that the mother of deceased council member Fred Twyman "begs you all to vote for anybody but Sue Kristjansson."
Saying he had seen on the campaign donation forms of Kristjansson and mayoral candidate Kuenzi "money coming from Laguna Nigel, Newport Beach, places all over," Edgerton continued to attack Kristjansson, Kuenzi and Zimmerman, saying, "They'll pave you over with asphalt. Vote for Greg August, Scott Mann and Wally Edgerton."
The tone of those comments overshadowed the appearance of the four other candidates at the table -- District 1 candidates August, Carol Sullivan and Nick Martin and mayoral candidate Smith.
At one point, Martin -- a soft-spoken newcomer to politics -- said, "I thought this was not supposed to be a lynching. I think it's regrettable that people who can't even defend themselves are being raked over the coals."
Chuck Reutter, president of the Democratic Club and the event organizer, said afterward he was not concerned about a format that allowed only half of the candidates to speak at each of his group's forums over the last two months.
"No, I don't think it's a concern," Reutter said. "The place isn't big enough for all of them. We've done this in the past, but before we didn't have this many candidates."
The event, held in a meeting room in back of Provident Bank in the Sun City area (District 1), was filled to capacity, with more than 50 people sitting and standing in the aisles.
Smith, the lone mayoral candidate at the event and a self-proclaimed "unknown" in the race, took note of Edgerton's attempt to pit himself, August and Mann against Zimmerman, Kristjansson and Kuenzi -- the latter representing a faction that often wins 3-2 votes (with Kristjansson, Kuenzi and current mayor John Denver) over Edgerton and Tom Fuhrman.
"Regarding speakers such as Mr. Edgerton, I say ... we know there's a divide," Smith said. "If his predictions come to be and he, Mr. August and Mr. Mann are elected, they will just be the new majority and do everything their way. That's not what this is about. We all need to work together. Everyone on council should be elected at large."
Smith re-emphasized his platform statement that he accepts no campaign contributions and will serve the common man. He favors a moratorium on development after current projects are completed until the public's desires can be determined.
Sullivan again campaigned for the rights of senior citizens in her district, mentioning the need for improved transportation and the revitalization of the Sun City Shopping Center.
August repeated his vow from a day earlier to stand up first and foremost for the residents of his district. He said he favors bringing white collar jobs such as technical, medical and management firms to town.
Martin said he believes the city doesn't derive enough tax revenue as a result of an influx of white collar jobs.
There is no truth to the rumor that boxing gloves will be issued to the participants at the Menifee 24/7-sponsored candidates forum on Sept. 26, when all nine candidates will be seated together on stage in the Paloma Valley High School auditorium.