Monday, July 13, 2009

"As the 53d AD Turns"

From the Daily Breeze:

First he took her furniture. Now he wants her seat.

Jim Aldinger, a former Manhattan Beach city councilman, is preparing to run against his ex-girlfriend, Betsy Butler, for the 53rd Assembly District next year.

Aldinger and Butler parted on bad terms about seven years ago. He refused to relinquish some furniture that she'd had delivered to his house, and she had to sue him to retrieve it.

In 2004, a judge ordered him to pay her $5,000.

Both candidates say that episode is in the past and should not be relevant to the coming campaign. But their history together is likely to make the race somewhat awkward, at the least, and also raises questions about Aldinger's motives for running.

Aldinger, 48, said he is not motivated by resentment or hostility toward an ex-girlfriend who took him to court.

"This is something that's been in my mind for some time," he said. "This is not something that I would take lightly. I think I'm the most qualified."

Though relatively unknown in the coastal district, Butler is considered the early favorite in the race to replace Assemblyman Ted Lieu.

She is the chief fundraiser for Consumer Attorneys of California, the state lobbying group for trial lawyers, and has secured most of the major Democratic endorsements thus far.

Several candidates, including Manhattan Beach Councilman Mitch Ward and Torrance Unified school board member Al Muratsuchi, have also announced their intention to seek the Democratic nomination in June 2010. Due to a strong registration advantage in the Venice-to-Torrance district, the Democratic nominee will be heavily favored to win in November.

Several of the candidates have begun attacking Butler, 45, as a Sacramento insider who lacks a local base of support. Aldinger, who served on the Manhattan Beach City Council for eight years and has considered running for Assembly twice before, is among those making such criticisms.

"I've been very involved in the South Bay for years," Aldinger said. "She's never done anything in the South Bay. She's a West L.A. person more than anything."

Aldinger said he met Butler while she was working for the League of Conservation Voters. At the time, he said, she was content to stay behind the scenes and did not expect to run for office.

"All the time I knew her she said she'd never do it in a million years," he said. "But once people are doing this for long enough, you realize `I can do a better job."'

Butler referred questions about Aldinger to her political consultant, Parke Skelton.

"They dated briefly about seven years ago. It didn't work out," Skelton said. "The issues concerning him have been discussed. He has a record, and he'll have to deal with it in the course of the race."

In 2005, Aldinger was forced to resign from the California Coastal Commission after it was disclosed that he had been charged with public intoxication and that a previous girlfriend had obtained a restraining order against him.

In the 1998 restraining order application, the ex-girlfriend claimed that Aldinger had mistreated her 7-year-old daughter. Aldinger denied those claims, and the order was dissolved a month after it was issued.

Court records also show that Aldinger recently paid $5,300 to a collection agency that had sued him to recover payment on a Verizon wireless account. In that case, process servers tried to track him down at Manhattan Beach City Hall but were unsuccessful.

Aldinger said the debt originated from a phone bank he had run for the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry. Aldinger said he opened the account in the belief that he would not be charged if it was canceled within 30 days, but that Verizon insisted on payment.

"I basically just decided to pay it," Aldinger said.

In the small claims case, Butler bought furniture for her new home. While the sale was still in escrow, she had it delivered to Aldinger's empty duplex for storage, according to court records.

The court records state that the couple dated for a year and a half, but Skelton said the relationship lasted only a few months.

Butler testified that when they broke up, she asked to get the furniture back but that he refused.

Aldinger testified that she had not asked him for the furniture and that his attorney told him she had legally abandoned it.

The judge found that Aldinger's version lacked credibility and awarded Butler $5,000 for the cost of the furniture and shipping. A year later, a notice was filed indicating that Aldinger had paid her the money.

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