Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
SAN JOSE – Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace lost his cool, perhaps his temper, and struck two fellow supervisors on the back with his hands at a conference Wednesday, Nov. 20.
The incident took place at the California State Association of Counties (CSAC) meeting in San Jose. As the meeting wound down, Lovelace, who was “peeved” about losing a co-chairmanship to fellow Supervisor Virginia Bass, approached Bass and Supervisor Rex Bohn from behind and delivered to each what has been described as either an aggressive slap or an outright blow to the back.
Lovelace soon apologized to the two, and may do so again publicly. The incident was not reported to law enforcement.
The incident followed Lovelace having been removed as co-chair of the Coastal Counties Regional Association (CCRA), a position he has held for four years.
Slap or shove?
Four persons were involved in, or witnessed the incident. Here are their accounts:
Del Norte Supervisor Mike Sullivan said that following a meeting, he was about to speak with Bass and Bohn when Lovelace surged up from behind.
“They were walking toward me, and Supervisor Lovelace was race-walking toward them,” Sullivan said. Bass was on Sullivan’s left, and Bohn on his right.
Having made a “beeline” toward the two, Sullivan said, Lovelace “pounded both on the back with an open palm,” causing what he described as a “thud.” The impact caused Bass to stumble two or three feet forward.
“If he had done that to me, I would have turned around and hit him back,” Sullivan said. He called Lovelace’s behavior “unprofessional, inappropriate and disturbing.”
Lovelace, he said, immediately turned and “left the room pretty quickly.” He said Bass and Bohn were “shocked” by the incident.
“I didn’t know what hit me,” said Fourth District Supervisor Virginia Bass. She said the blow “certainly did knock me off balance,” because she was in low heels and hadn’t seen it coming.
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn confirmed the accounts by Sullivan and Bass. He said that on regaining her balance, Bass, who was to his right, “looked at me and thought I did it.”
He speculated that Bass took a heavier blow than he did, since Lovelace is right-handed.
Lovelace admitted that the encounter was fueled by frustration. “I was frustrated at what I felt was being thrown under the bus by Rex and Virginia and so I came up to them afterwards to give them both a somewhat sarcastic good ol’ boy slap on the back and say, ‘Thanks a lot. That was really nice!’”
He was “peeved,” he said, at the loss of his co-chairmanship. “I really didn’t intend to be rough, and didn’t think I had been,” Lovelace said. “But apparently I was a little rough and let my frustrations get the better of me.”
Lovelace said he both spoke to and sent apology e-mail messages to Bass and Bohn, and thought the matter was closed.
“Virginia and I had breakfast the next morning,” Lovelace said.
“We also had a number of e-mails back and forth about Coastal Counties and other things and she never said anything about it.”
Sunday, the Internet blew up with what he called “wildly outlandish” and “dramatically embellished” versions of the event, including one that had Bass “shoved” and knocked to the floor.
Bass said some online accounts of the incident were wildly exaggerated, but that the reality of it was, nonetheless, “astonishing.”
She confirmed that she has received an e-mail from Lovelace offering a qualified, but somewhat self-justifying and inadequate expression of remorse.
She paraphrased the message as saying that “If my good old boy back slap was a little rough, I apologize. I guess I’m not very good at being a good old boy.”
“I think it was meant as an apology, but it certainly didn’t feel like an apology,” Bass said. She said she would have preferred “if he had just said, ‘I lost my temper and it’s wrong.’”
The ever-jovial Bohn offered faux objections to being “branded as a good old boy,” and said he asked Lovelace, “Do we have a secret handshake that I don’t know about?”
He confirmed that he too had received a “long apology” from Lovelace, but that it was watered down with what seemed like justifications.
The moments preceding the incident included a political maneuver that rankled and apparently rattled Lovelace.
He has served as co-chair of the Coastal Counties Regional Association for four years, and says he revived what had been a moribund group into a useful organization.
One milestone was hosting a “hugely successful” conference last December which resulted in $4 million in new funding for advanced coordination of community planning with the Coastal Commission.
He and the other supervisors brought a grant application for $100,000 to the meeting, with the funds to be used for work on the county’s Local Coastal program.
“I put a lot of work into resuscitating it [the CCRA],” Lovelace said. “This was important to me.”
Thus, he said, it was with some surprise that during what he thought would be his routine re-approval as co-chair, he was undermined by an unexpected motion by Bohn to replace him with Bass.
“There had been no indication that anyone from my board had any interest in it, or in punting me from it,” he said. “This is not just a feather in my cap, it’s something I put a lot of work into.”
In moving to replace Lovelace, Bohn said something like “Mark could use a break,” Lovelace recalled. He says he said that no, he would like to continue in the role. But the motion was seconded by Sullivan, and it was done, all without any coordination or thanks to Lovelace, he said.
“Yeah, I was pretty peeved by the way it came down,” he admitted.
Sullivan and Bass said Lovelace didn’t make clear his desire to remain co-chair. “Mark didn’t really put up much of a fight,” Sullivan said. “No reason was given why he should stay in the role.”
Bass said she hadn’t anticipated assuming the co-chair role. “It wasn’t my intent when I went to the meeting,” she said. “It was almost like, well, wait a minute, four years is a long time to be a co-chair. It wasn’t like I was going, ‘No, Mark, you’re done.’ It was like they were looking for some new blood.”
She said Lovelace didn’t push back against the motion to appoint her. “There was no fight put up,” Bass said. “I would really have expected him to say, ‘No, I want to stay on.’”
Bohn also described a hitherto unknown follow-up “altercation” in a hallway an hour or so later.
At that time, Bohn said, Lovelace harangued him with a “profanity-laced” tirade suggesting “things I would never do with my mother.”
“He dropped f-bombs on me,” Bohn said. “This wasn’t just a spur-of-the-moment things. An hour later, he was still mad.”
Lovelace said Bohn’s account of the hallway encounter was grossly distorted. He said he did speak to Bohn about five or 10 minutes after the back slap–not an hour later–but that there was only one f-bomb and that it was deployed as a more or less routine adjective.
“I didn’t curse at him,” Lovelace said. “I just told him, ‘Please don’t pretend you’re looking out for my best interests. Just be fucking honest with me.’ It wasn’t like there was a string of f-bombs.”
Sullivan says that real closure demands that Lovelace offer an unfettered expression of remorse to his colleagues and constituents. “A public apology would be forthcoming, I hope,” he said.
Bohn advocated introspection. “I think he needs to step back and look within himself, and realize that he let his emotions overtake him.”
Support for Lovelace emerged from an unusual quarter – his staunch ideological opponent, Rob Arkley Jr.
Arkley was on the dispensing end of a shoving incident with then-Eureka City Councilmember Larry Glass in 2007, offering him a unique perspective.
Lovelace said Arkley e-mailed him, stating that “We all make mistakes. I made mine and you made yours. Your apology should be enough as should mine. Keep your head up.”
Arkley confirmed the sympathetic missive. “I hurt for him on this one,” he said. “I suspect that one side is enjoying the discomfort that this is causing while Mark’s side is not. I think that if we call for an end for this sort of thing from both sides, it will help.”
Arkley, long a focus of the political culture wars, called for reconciliation. “I have people I know furious with me for taking this stand,” he said. “I am always willing to take heat on important issues. What separates us is not nearly as important as what we agree on.”
“Realistically, this is not going to make or lose me any friendships,” Lovelace said. But, he added, “Even if I felt my frustration had been justified, the way I expressed it was not. I shouldn’t let my frustrations get the better of me. It’s certainly not behavior I’m proud of, but all I can do is apologize and accept the consequences of my actions.”