Sunday, April 15, 2012

Citizen Clinton Enters Politics

By publicizing waste and graft in the Los Angeles County Hospital's food budget in 1936, Clifford poked a beehive of municipal and county corruption. The report saved the county $120,000, and also drew the ire of city officials and the Los Angeles Times that called him a meddler.

Radio broadcasts began at Clifton's in 1936.
CC_Flickr: jschneid
"We were very confused by this strange attack, but when we inquired we were told 'you have stepped on a lot of toes, bigger than you realize,'" Clifford later wrote in his memoirs. "A new city and county election was near however, and the more we saw and heard, the more convinced we became that the city and county needed some replacements in the ranks of its officials."

In September of 1936, District Attorney Buron Fitts faced reelection. A year later, Mayor Frank Shaw would defend his seat against challenger and County Supervisor John Anson Ford, who had recruited Clifford to investigate food service at the county hospital.

Clifford would set his sights on both races. To defeat Fitts, Clifford backed Harlan Palmer, a county judge and publisher of the Hollywood Citizen-News. Time Magazine described Palmer as a "pious progressive from Minnesota."

To get the word out about reform-minded candidates, Clifford installed a radio broadcasting studio on the mezzanine at the Olive Street Clifton's Cafeteria. KNX broadcaster Walter Landor hosted the Morning Discussion Group program at 7 a.m. to discuss civic affairs topics with city officials, leaders, and notable city visitors.

Candidate Palmer appeared on the program to make his case for election, and Fitts ignored invitations to appear. Fitts won handily. In the 1937 race for mayor, Supervisor Ford appeared on the radio program. Sitting Mayor Shaw refused to appear, and also won his election.

Clifford began to receive "veiled threats to lay off," he later wrote. The city health department sent an order in 1936 to close Clifton's at 618 S. Olive St. due to what they claimed were unsanitary conditions. The order followed public broadcasts describing city corruption. Clifford refused the order.

Other forms of retribution from the Shaw Administration came in the form of "guests" to Clifton's who claimed they had been poisoned by the food. Stink bombs were set off in the Clifton's dining room. Professional "floppers" tumbled down stairs and filed injury claims. Clifford received anonymous phone calls telling him to stay out of civic affairs.

On Jan. 29, 1937, a process server delivered a court summons to Clifford at his Los Feliz home. Supervisor Ford had submitted his name to Superior Court Judge Fletcher Bowron, saying he was "highly qualified" to serve on a county grand jury. Clifford and 18 other citizens were picked at random to serve on the panel. At the swearing in, Judge William Tell Aggeler told panelists, "If you have reason to believe that any public official is guilty of corruption or willful misconduct in office, if you have reason to believe that graft or corruption exists ... I charge you to act diligently, faithfully, and courageously."

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