HE COULD HAVE BEEN A CONTENDER-Faced with charges the he lied about living in his San Fernando Valley Council District, Richard Alarcon defended himself with the same tactics that had become the hallmark of his wasted political career: he denied, deflected, deceived and dissembled.

The judge and jury would have none of it. Alarcon was caught red-handed living outside his district while claiming his vagrant-occupied home in his district was really his place of official residence.

In trying to avoid jail time for Alarcon, his attorney, ignoring so many examples, made the blatantly false argument that there’s “not a single instance of him acting in a greedy fashion or in any manner to betray the citizens of this city.” 

He submitted letters from 25 “friends, relatives and colleagues” attesting to his honorable and virtuous life as Tom Bradley’s deputy for the Valley, as a Councilman, Assemblyman, Senator and Councilman once again.

The best his daughter Andrea – the one who blew a $140,000 a year city sinecure by going out on the town to party while leaving her young daughter to wander City Hall alone until the wee hours of the morning – could say is “there is little to be gained and much to be lost” by jailing her father.

Now that is a sentiment that even hardened criminals facing jail time – let alone a professional pol facing up to six years – could embrace.

To the surprise of many who expected Alarcon to walk out of court without jail time, the judge decided to lock him up for four months, require 600 hours of community service and bar him from future public service.

Is that justice?

Does it really put politicians on notice that “anybody who takes shortcuts…is going to find themselves on the wrong side of things,” as Mr. Sunshine himself, Raphael Sonenshein of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs said.

Not likely based on the evidence that Alarcon is the ninth local politician to be prosecuted in the last dozen years for violating one of the most important rules to protect the appearance at least of democracy in our community – the requirement that elected officials live among the people they serve.

The pols think the law is quaint and of little importance.  More than a few legislators have moved their families to Sacramento while maintaining fictitious residences in their district or in the case of Sen. Rod Wright who got 90 days of jail time for perjuring himself about living in his Inglewood district when he really wanted as little to do with those people as possible.

This kind of thing has been going on in the city and the suburban towns, the county and the state for a long time because – in case you hadn’t noticed – the pols with rare exceptions have little respect for the law and even less for the public.

In Alarcon’s case, the case against him was open and shut. The judge found the evidence proved his guilt “even beyond a reasonable doubt” and gave prosecutors most of the six-month sentence they sought.

Alarcon should have considered the tack taken by the famed Georgia racist politician Eugene Talmadge who when caught stealing 75 years ago declared: “Sure I stole but I stole for you.” He was soon thereafter elected to his first of four terms as governor.

Alarcon might well have been better served bringing in the evidence of his devotion to his community and all the great things he achieved in more than three decades of public service for the residents and businesses of the Northeast Valley, as underserved a community as any in the city over those years.

The trouble is Alarcon was a “lone wolf” in every office he held, never building relationships with others to get things done, blowing more hot air than creative ideas on how to improve the quality of life in his community, create desperately needed good-paying jobs and provide the kind of education that would help his constituents get them.

That’s Richard Alarcon’s real crime – he served himself far better than he served his people.

It didn’t have to be that way. The Valley’s first Latino elected to office could have risen above race and ideology to bring the community together for the common good to preserve the largest enclave of middle-class life in America and the opportunity it had provided for so long for so many to improve their lot in life and the prospects for their children.

I’ve known Alarcon since the 1980s and followed his evolution as he started hanging around with developers and others who could help him get into public office in exchange for the help he could give to enrich them, saw how he learned just how cynical and dishonest the political system is, saw how he had lost his way entirely like so many others, saw how a handsome young man turned dark and ugly as if his face bore the scars of his karma.

Don’t cry for Richard Alarcon. He made his choices and with overcrowding he’ll only spend a few weeks or even less behind bars. His community service will probably be light duty with a nonprofit he helped fund with public money.

Still, he’ll be an ex-con for the rest of his life, a pariah on society in the view of many though he’ll live out his life in comfort with a handsome city pension augmented with deals from his “friends, relatives and colleagues.”

Still, he’ll know in his heart and see in the eyes of many that his life was a fraud, a missed opportunity to have done great things for others, knowing he could have been somebody, he could have been a contender.

Cross-posted LA City Watch.