By Kevin Hall
Key terms: COVID19—acronym for COronaVIrus Disease of 2019; covidiots—people who ignore COVID19 safeguards; Covfefe—a gathering of two or more covidiots.
A local election night celebration proved to be a grimy mirror of the national scene, reflecting Trump-level stupidity and irresponsibility. While the country’s now lameduck president hosted a maskless gathering at the White House to watch the Nov. 3 returns, our city’s incoming mayor joined a county supervisor, a Fresno City Council member and a few others for a little butt-naked-face party of their own to celebrate Trump’s illusory victory.
Nominally hosted by a former city planning commissioner, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan executive Serop Torossian, the viscous phlegm binding this covfefe together was super money-spreader developer Darius Assemi, himself a former California Transportation Commission member.
The East Room soiree and the northeast Fresno dinner shared another feature: people bringing along the uninvited microscopic guest COVID19. In D.C., the culprit was White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Here it was Fresno County Supervisor Steve Brandau. Both arrived at their respective Trump would-be victory parties spewing deadly virus droplets for all. Both had symptoms prior to Nov. 3. Meadows even knew he had tested positive but kept quiet.
Local covidiot Brandau had been experiencing symptoms for days but had waited to get tested; results came back positive Nov. 5. According to Joshua Tehee reporting in the Fresno Bee, Brandau exposed 45 people on Election Day, including three other supervisors at a regular board meeting, causing a major disruption to county operations. He got tested only after being urged to by staff.
Rounding out the covfefe was Fresno City Council Member Mike Karbassi. Second-generation owner of Persian Rugs Collections and first-generation restaurant entrepreneur at Berlin Street Grill, Karbassi succeeded Brandau as the District 2 representative for northwest Fresno. He has stood with conservative interests in calling for fewer pandemic restrictions on retail outlets, restaurants and schools. Registered as a Democrat but backed by the most conservative interests in town, Karbassi reportedly emerged from the evening free from any new infections.
Dyer was not so lucky, nor was his wife with whom he shared the potentially deadly affliction. Presumably yet another shamefaced apology had to be made in that household. Fortunately, both have since recovered, as has Brandau. Now they must wait to learn if they are among the 40% of COVID19 victims who apparently suffer permanent organ damage as a result of the infection or the 20% experiencing mental disorders, although some argue it would be hard to diagnose the latter in one or more of the politicians present.
So to recap: Nine months into the deadliest pandemic in a century, with more than 200,000 Americans lives lost—at that point and now headed for 400,000—with a fourth of those deaths coming in senior living facilities representing just 1% of the population, these Fresno “leaders” thought it wise to gather unmasked for an election night dinner.
Beneath the public recriminations they rightfully had to face in response to the immediate threat their behavior posed to themselves and others, a deeper concern remains: their intelligence. Measured intellectually or emotionally, something is clearly amiss here, quotient-wise. What were they thinking?
Which leads to the evening’s fourth known victim, Assemi, who has also since recovered. Both Brandau and Karbassi owe their political fortunes to the farming and development clan’s Fresno frontman. Karbassi’s campaign received more than $10,000 from Assemi & co. in 2019–20, one-fifth of his contributions.
Likewise, an assortment of Assemi family members, business entities and employees backed Dyer’s successful March 2020 mayoral campaign to the tune of $28,000. The Assemis, as owners of Central Distributing, Assemi Group Inc., Carmel Cottage Inn and Granville Homes or as individuals, mostly maxed out at $4,700 each.
They also spent more than $175,000 in 2018 to join Dyer in denying a two-thirds majority to the Measure P for Parks ballot initiative by dropping $10,000–$20,000 cash bombs through Assemi Group Inc., ACDF LLC, Granville Farms LLC, Lincoln Grantor Farms, Maricopa Orchards, Panoche Pistachios, Sageberry Farms LLC and Whitesbridge Farms LLC.
While the mindset of Brandau, Karbassi and Dyer appears stunted, molded by a diet of conservative infotainment media and its attendant Trump fandom to the point of maskless dinners amid a deadly pandemic, another disease vector plays a key role: money.
Like Brandau’s spit and sweat splattering his companions’ dinner and drinks, Assemi’s campaign contributions touch every politician in the room. And they welcome the lubrication. Assemi is so kind as to share an online stage with Brandau and Karbassi most Tuesday evenings on a Facebook program they co-host and call, irony alert, “Unfiltered.”
Thus far, this weekly campaign contribution, known as “in-kind” for its inherent value in non-cash form, free Internet advertising in this case, appears to have gone unreported by any of the three. Perhaps worse, a brief sampling of their program content strengthens one’s doubts about the IQ levels at work here.
But these are Darius’s boys. He has controlled the seat now for a decade by financing their campaigns and teaching them how city government works best for him. It’s the age-old Fresno downward spiral for a new generation, brought on by chummy developers and gullible, wannabe politicians. Corruption ensues.
All told, the Assemi network contributed more than $130,000 to local races in the 2019–20 cycle. From Granville Homes Vice President Jeff “Rezone” Roberts’ $500 check to Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias to $10,000 for a Clovis schools bond measure from Granville Homes, they gave far and wide.
Like the many lives being lost or permanently damaged by the deadly virus ravaging our society, sprawl has the same impacts over the long term. Disparate health outcomes in older neighborhoods due to pollution and a raft of social inequities go unaddressed. Politicians consistently refuse to base policy decisions on health science, particularly when business interests object.
One can only hope these conservatives will learn and grow from their recent brush with COVID19. Listening to health scientists to protect people from needless suffering and death should be a priority shared by everyone. The challenge for Fresno residents is to find a vaccine against developer-driven malfeasance at City Hall and those who willingly expose themselves.
Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate, coordinates an informal network of climate activists at www.valleyclimate.org and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for presentations and information.