In one era and out the other

While Arnold and his transition team breeze into their new digs, the remnants of the Davis regime are having to face a final “Hasta la vista, baby.”

Photo By Jill Wagner

Even after talking about this for months, Mark says there’s still a little bit of disbelief about what’s happening. Arnold is coming. Today.

It’s lunchtime on a sunny mid-October day, and hundreds wait on the west steps of the Capitol for the governor-elect to arrive at the building for the first time since election day. State workers, legislative staffers, tourists, field-trip kids and reporters all press up against the ropes under the watchful eyes of California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers in flat-brimmed hats who are lined up on the other side. A police helicopter orbits lazily overhead, circling the dome.

“I’ve been a fan of his for years,” says Mark, who doesn’t want to give his last name because he works for Governor Gray Davis’ office. It’s a support role, not a political appointment, so he’s been there 16 years, through three administrations—soon to be four.

And he got to meet Arnold three times. The first time he met Arnold was in the speaker’s office, about 1990. “I happened to have a Muscle & Fitness magazine, so he autographed that,” he says. “Then I opened it up and found there was a real good close-up, so he signed that, too.” Mark then asked a senator who happened to be nearby if he would take a few photos of him with his idol.

Recently, Mark’s been amusing himself with sound clips of Arnold’s movie lines that he keeps on his computer. He even has one on his voice mail. “You ought to hear my outgoing message. Want to hear it? It’s funny,” he says. He takes out his cell and dials himself. Arnold answers: “Hasta la veesta, baybee. Don’t terminate your kaaahl. Leave a message after da tone. Ahl be back.”

Mark talks quickly, jumping from thought to thought in a way that leaves little doubt that he loves the excitement of working in the Capitol—and the prospect of Arnold Schwarzenegger being his new boss. Mark’s greatest hope is that his connections and experience will help him land a job in the emerging Schwarzenegger administration, maybe even a spot on Arnold’s advance team.

“I’ve already e-mailed them,” he says. “I’m all over it. My résumé’s ready.”

Then the big moment comes. A convoy pulls up. There’s a smattering of applause as Arnold exits the lead sport-utility vehicle, looks around, buttons his jacket and starts working the rope line. Photographers run to line up shots of Arnold with the Capitol dome behind him.

“He’s connecting with the people,” Mark says, craning his neck for a better view. “He didn’t have to do this, to pull up here.”

Mark presses forward as Arnold approaches, reaches out and shakes his hand. “You’ve got a big job ahead of you, but I know you can do it!” Mark tells Arnold, who thanks him without breaking his grin.

Then Arnold trots up the steps and disappears into the giant front doors of the Capitol building, tailed by a herd of journalists.

Mark reflects on waiting an hour in the midday sun for an appearance that lasted exactly two minutes: “That was cool.”

Losing a job is bad. The possibility of kissing a career goodbye is worse.

“You kind of wonder, ‘Is this the best job I’ll ever have?’ Here we are at the center of government in California, a few feet away from the governor’s office,” says chief Davis speechwriter Vince Duffy. Getting hired by Davis took two years and six interviews. “It was a substantial emotional investment because I really wanted it.”

His reward is a small, windowless room on the first floor of the Capitol, but it’s prime real estate inside the governor’s suite of offices, which is known as “the horseshoe” because of its U-shaped layout around a courtyard.

As the Davis administration winds down, its deputy communications director, Mike Sicilia, has been copying and archiving digital sound recordings of the governor’s public appearances.

Photo By Larry Dalton

Duffy says speechwriters had a more positive view of Davis than the public did: “We deal with his accomplishments every single day.” But in the end, it was more about personal style than achievements. “He lost because people didn’t have an emotional connection with him, and they do with Schwarzenegger because he’s a celebrity. They feel like they know Schwarzenegger, and in five years, people didn’t come to know the governor as a person.”

Now, it’s hard to know what to feel—except maybe that Davis was an unfortunate choice of a politician to work for.

“It’s the range of emotions,” says speechwriter John Corcoran, who shares Duffy’s office. “There are certain emotions you don’t want to admit to yourself that you’re feeling. You don’t want to admit that it angers you. I have a lot of respect for the will of the voters, but still, there are lingering feelings of bitterness you can’t deny.”

Corcoran looks forward to reflecting back on all this—months or years from now. “A friend of mine said, ‘You’re in the middle of history.’ And I said, ‘Well, I didn’t really want to be on this side of history.’ She said, ‘Well you don’t get to pick your place in history. History picks you.’”

Corcoran is waiting for a phone call about a communications job at an environmental nonprofit. “Any minute now,” says Corcoran. He came to Sacramento from the Clinton White House and is also now approaching 2004 presidential campaigns for a job. His cell phone rings, and he ducks out into the hall.

She is standing in front of the transition office. “He’s supposed to be an equal-opportunity employer,” says Janelle, of a governor-elect who promised as part of a groping mea culpa to be an advocate for members of her gender. “And I’m a woman.”

It’s just the week after the election, and she’s already applied to join the new administration. Though she’s a Democrat who didn’t vote in the big recall election, she figures her business background would be a good fit with the new administration.

Janelle, who won’t give her last name, earned two master’s degrees and lived in Japan and France before taking early retirement. Her ideal role would be to act as a liaison between the state and potential trade partners. But she’s not sure if that’s even being offered—and it seems unlikely after budget cuts closed state trade offices this year. She comes across as smart, professional and politically ambivalent, but it seems like applying for a job with the new administration was more diversion than desperation.

Her son suggested she apply at, and she did. Of the hundreds of jobs listed on the Web site, she picked five, two of which involve international trade.

Janelle lives a couple blocks from the transition office, so she decided to walk over to the transition office and drop off the last part of her application in person. It’s a drab building serving as a temporary transition headquarters until a better place is available. It’s also under siege from the unemployed, the oddballs and eager-beaver young Republicans with leather-bound planners.

The front door is locked. Behind the glass, a uniformed CHP officer slouches in a chair. No one gets in without an appointment.

Janelle knocks. A guy in a polo shirt opens the door a crack. She says she wants to drop something off. “If you could just open it for me,” the officer says, “so I don’t have to send it to be scanned.”

As Janelle leaves, another woman pulls up in a tired-looking Dodge. There are messages scrawled in black marker all over the car’s white paint. “This car is a letter to the governor,” reads the back. There are bullet points on the doors and paragraphs on the trunk that refer to the “failure of the court’s referee,” losing a job, losing a house. “Don’t let this happen to anyone else,” the rear left fender advises.

She parks around the corner next to a Dumpster in the alley and stomps up to the glass door, which opens a crack. A hand accepts the paper. The woman, in heels and a fuzzy leopard-print coat, marches back to her car.

Asked about her mobile letter, she snaps, “None of your business,” and drives off.

The Davis administration is slowly slipping away, but Deputy Communications Director Mike Sicilia isn’t moving out just yet. That would be too depressing. “I reject packing,” he says. “I can’t operate out of boxes. I continue to keep my place as decorated as possible.”

Daniel Zingale, one of the top aides to Governor Gray Davis, says he’s not bitter about being usurped by an actor. After all, what could be more Californian?

Photo By Larry Dalton

But all around him, the governor’s office is being dismantled, packed up, shipped out. Passing a large conference room inside the horseshoe, he gestures to boxes stacked along the walls, waiting to be taken away to the archives. The boxes, whose contents are explained by scrawled black marker on the side, with tags like “old Wilson” and “pre-Davis,” are yellowed in a way that makes them appear old, but they are actually special banker’s boxes made of acid-free cardboard designed for archival purposes.

Sicilia’s phone has stopped ringing—except for calls from friends offering condolences. “It’s been a little bizarre the last week or so,” he says. “It’s odd being in office and seeing news that has nothing to do with you.” National Public Radio did a budget story that didn’t even mention the lame-duck administration.

As the person who keeps audio recordings of the governor’s speeches, Sicilia is logging the last entries into his extensive library. On a shelf next to his desk are a handful of plastic cases filled with tiny cartridges. They are mini-discs that hold digital sound recordings of every one of the governor’s public appearances. Made up of more than 1,200 different recordings of the governor’s reedy, disembodied voice, they are the entire audio history of the Davis administration.

The 25-page log Sicilia keeps reads like a thumbnail sketch of the governor’s time in office, covering everything from power-plant openings and budget unveilings to Amber Alerts and the California quarter’s design. But mixed in with the state-of-the-state addresses is lighter fare, including the governor’s recent appearance on Bill Maher’s late-night show and the time a Los Angeles radio-show host transitioned into the interview with a semi-obscene reference to “hoes.”

It’s all there, part of a strange, obsessively compiled spoken-word box set now on its way to the state archives.

Just off the main corridor on the first floor of the state Capitol building, behind two big wooden doors leading to the governor’s office, there’s a reception desk where someone greets visitors and buzzes aides through locked doors.

On the receptionist’s desk is a tray of business cards that read, “Gray Davis, Governor, State of California.” Embossed in gold on the cards is the governor’s seal, which depicts a tiny sun rising (or setting?) behind a tiny billowing California bear flag.

So, of course, people are walking in and grabbing the cards, just for the hell of it.

“I have some visitors from England,” said one man with three companions. They’re all middle-aged, dressed casually. “And I was wondering if I could take a couple cards.”

They make off with two little pieces of political history.

It’s dark out, and most workers in the Capitol have fled for the day, but Daniel Zingale isn’t going anywhere. As the governor’s Cabinet secretary and deputy chief of staff, he’s been working 12-hour days—and that was before the huge walls of flame engulfed Southern California. His job is to hurl instructional thunderbolts at the vast state bureaucracy Davis oversees, usually by dealing with department heads and other Cabinet members.

He ducks out of his busy office and into a small waiting room across the narrow hallway, where he closes the door and wonders how long it’ll be until someone interrupts. A few days before, Zingale and other top Davis aides were in this same room greeting Arnold when he arrived for his sit-down with the outgoing governor. And before that, former governor and mayor of Oakland Jerry Brown was in here recruiting suddenly available Davis staffers.

Tonight, the muted jabber of CNN leaks through the walls. The TV’s been on a lot lately. “Sometimes, that’s where we hear things first,” Zingale says.

Earlier in the day, Davis called from a cell phone as he was being driven through a disaster area. As the two planned the state’s relief efforts, Davis told Zingale that the landscape on both sides of the road was scorched.

Asked if the governor’s still been giving him a lot of direction, Zingale smiles a bit and says, “Oh, very much so,” in a way that subtly acknowledges the governor’s reputation as a hard-driving micromanager.

On election night, Zingale was home at 8:01 p.m. when CNN called the race that ended his job. He stopped in at the downtown brewpub where Davis aides were drowning their sorrows, but he didn’t stay long. Like several other Davis aides, Zingale’s loyalty was rewarded with an appointment to a state board that pays a six-figure salary, but there’s no way to know if the recommendation will get past the both the Senate and the new administration.

Davis speechwriters Vince Duffy, left, and John Corcoran, right, are surrounded by some of the thousands of cubic feet of material the outgoing administration is shipping off to the State Archives.

Photo By Larry Dalton

As the Davis administration winds down, critics have done their best to blame Davis for fiddling as Southern California burned, saying he acted with typical slowness as infernos blazed out of control. Zingale is clearly upset by the new flak the administration is taking and flatly refuses to talk about it.

Still, though he suffers the indignity of helping the conquering team take over his old office, Zingale says there’s sadness but no grief. He doesn’t betray even a hint of bitterness about losing to an inexperienced actor.

“It is,” he says, “quintessentially Californian.”

After his triumphal arrival on the west steps, Arnold roams the Capitol, stopping in at a few places before the big meeting of the day with the four legislative leaders. The Capitol is usually quiet this time of year, when the Legislature is away, but the CHP is now doing crowd control in the halls.

Outside of Senate Minority Leader Jim Brulte’s third-floor office, newsies keep their vigil for a half hour or so, corraled behind a roped-off passage between Brulte’s office and the elevator.

Someone sees something. A door opening?

Cameramen flip on the bright lights of their cameras, reporters surge forward, there is a hush that turns into an awkward silence broken when someone says, “False alarm,” and then the TV lights dim.

There’s another surge a bit later, when Arnold emerges only to duck into the elevator. His entourage goes down a floor, exits, walks through the rotunda to applause and then down a long corridor and up a flight of stairs. Photographers pursue, only to be blocked by yet another phalanx of beige-suited CHP officers.

The pursuits continue for the rest of the afternoon.

Later, Arnold makes his way through the second-floor rotunda. There is more applause, and, grinning, he grabs the hands thrust at him. Then he’s gone again.

Apparently, it’s exciting to meet Arnold even if you’re not sure who you met.

Peyton Johnson, 7, shook his hand, but she’s not certain who he is. She doesn’t know the actor’s films, which aren’t really tailored to little girls, but she says her mom will rent one tonight. The two are visiting from Virginia. “I’m going to be famous at school. I’m going to tell my teacher, and my teacher might tell my principal, and then she might put me on the morning news because in my school there’s a morning news,” Johnson says.

Upstairs, where reporters hold another vigil outside Brulte’s office, the top lawmakers emerge. Senate President John Burton, now the Democrats’ top leader in Sacramento, emerges in a guayabera, a traditional Mexican shirt he often sports around the Capitol instead of a suit.

Reporters descend on him. The sometimes-cantankerous senator smiles and seems relaxed. “We talked, joked around,” he says.

Arnold appears. Reporters press him on details. But Arnold’s not in details mode today, offering some of his favorite words instead: “fantastic,” “wonderful” and “fabulous.”

Up close, he seems even more otherworldly. In the glare of the TV lights, he narrows his eyes. His brown hair seems to have a slightly yellowish cast to it, and his skin has an orange tint. There are slight imperfections: a few whiskers the razor missed, not-quite-perfect teeth. His skin is stretched tight on his face, but there are crow’s-feet at the corners of his eyes.

KTKZ talk-show host Eric Hogue’s airwaves have been buzzing with giddy Republicans lately.

Photo By Larry Dalton

The governor-elect’s last meeting of the day is a joint caucus meeting with Republican lawmakers and business leaders in the Esquire building on K Street. As Arnold comes out, he pauses to sign autographs for a handful of people.

Arnold signs a photograph and then a baseball. A small woman with a dirty windbreaker, wild hair and no front teeth hands him a piece of paper.

“What’s your name?” he asks.


Arnold signs her paper. Then he’s gone. Isabella is stunned, as if achieving enlightenment. Clutching her paper, she walks in circles around the palm trees in front of the building, saying something unintelligible.

A Davis spokeswoman has returned to the small press office with a cardboard box full of sugar packets. They instantly become a curiosity. Made by the C&H Sugar Co. in Crockett, they commemorate the opening of the new I-680 suspension bridge over the Carquinez Straits. The sugar plant is in the shadow of the bridge.

The press office knows all about the bridge, after fielding calls from Bay Area news outlets doing stories about how Davis allies moved up the grand opening of the bridge by a week so the outgoing governor, and not the incoming governor, could preside.

The packets have the usual C&H logo on one side, and an “Alfred Zampa Memorial Bridge” logo on the back.

“Save ’em for when you’re unemployed,” Press Secretary Steve Maviglio says in passing to an aide who’s examining one of the packets. “You can sell ’em on eBay.”

At first, it sounds like Jon Myers is joking. He oversees constituent response for Schwarzenegger, who’ll take the oath in just 11 days, and Myers is standing in the cramped transition-office mailroom that’s overflowing with plastic tubs of mail.

“We’re already drafting up the responses and putting them in envelopes,” he says. “Our hope is to get back to all these people before we even take office.”

In fact, he adds, they’ve set up a special computer system to automate the process, and the first responses are going out today. Everything gets read, and names are entered into a specialized constituent-tracking database.

The new transition office, on the eighth floor of a downtown office building, has an unobstructed view of the Capitol dome a couple blocks away. With its rich wood paneling, fresh flowers everywhere and business magazines in the waiting area, the office could pass for a high-end law or lobbying firm.

Since election day, they’ve been getting 2,500 to 3,000 pieces of mail a week—excluding job applications. Again, everything gets scanned and screened by CHP. Then, it comes here, where two aides sit in the middle of the room, sorting. A child’s shaky drawing of the state Capitol is taped on the wall. The mail tubs covering the floor and tabletops are labeled by subject. There’s dry stuff: “budget,” “transportation,” “education.” And fun stuff: “kid mail,” “fan mail,” “international fan mail,” “invitations,” “congratulations.”

One of the sorters, John Cox, says a lot of the international mail “just says, ‘governor of California,’ and it makes its way here.” He starts pulling letters from the “international fan mail” tub. “This is from India,” he says. “It’s kind of scribbled and unreadable.” The address says: “Arnold Swass Naka, Governor of California, California, USA.”

Cox grabs another letter, from a Czech fan: “Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Los Angeles, California.” A postcard requesting an autograph arrived for “Senator Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger, California, USA.” It’s signed “Peter from Switzerland.”

The chairs next to the flags in the background are where Davis staged photo ops with visiting dignitaries, including at his recent sit-down with the governor-elect. Since then, the place has been turned into something of a storage room.

Photo By Larry Dalton

From the tone of some of the letters, it’s clear that people really think they know Arnold and are genuinely happy he won.

“Dear Arnold,” writes Bakary, 22, of Brikama Town, Gambia, in architect-like penmanship on tracing paper. “I feel sure you will not mind I used your first name since I am hopping that we will become good friends. … What are your hobbies?” A woman in Fresnoy Folny, France, wants “a dedicated photograph of you and Maria” for the Kennedy scrapbooks she’s kept since childhood. Genaro from San Salvador, El Salvador, writes in perfect cursive on binder paper to request an autographed photo he can give his mom at Christmas. He thinks Arnold should be president.

A lot of other people think Arnold should be their boss. More than 10,000 job seekers have flooded the office with résumés, and in a small room down the hall, a handful of aides are sifting through stacks of folders. Myers pokes his head in the door. “They’ve gone through every one,” he says. The four aides at a table in the middle of the room don’t look up.

As the first golden rays of dawn filter into the studio overlooking the Capital City Freeway, radio talk-show host Eric Hogue is impossibly cheerful, maybe a little overcaffeinated. His station, KTKZ 1380 AM, is a bug on the ratings windscreen of giant rival KFBK 1530 AM, but it’s gaining ground, and Hogue happily holds his head high these days.

In a way, he got the recall rolling.

With a big American flag hanging overhead, steaming coffee in hand and articles about the latest outrages arrayed on the desk in front of him, he kicks off the top of the hour with a sound clip of Arnold, who’s in Washington debuting in his new role as “Collectinator” for wildfire relief.

Hogue likes to say he’s broadcasting from “the right side of the left coast,” inside “the belly of the beast,” his term for that insatiable monster called state government that lives in town. It’s always the end of the world for some right-wing radio yakkers, but Hogue talks like it is just the beginning.

Back when Arnold was still campaigning for his Terminator 3 movie, and establishment Republicans just wanted the crazy recall backers to go away, Hogue was all over it. It was an early morning like this when anti-tax crusader Ted Costa called the show to say he needed people to drop by his office and sign a petition to recall the governor. It became the petition.

There were low points during the circus. Someone smashed all the windows on Hogue’s Pontiac, which also was “keyed to death.” The station doors are also kept locked since a couple irate listeners showed up.

But now Hogue has a place in the history books, which he can say with certainty because the authors of recall books keep calling to interview him.

“The Hogue show will go down in history as the place where those 325 people signed that petition,” he crows. Republican leaders who spurned him early on came crawling back, his calls are returned quicker, and he’s even making lunch plans with a top Democratic Party official. His airwaves are a happier place. “Conservatives are excited,” Hogue says during a break. “I’m hearing from giddy Republicans. Giddy, happy, hugging, skipping Republicans. The gloom and doom is gone.”

On the air, Hogue spars with a skeptical caller and then pleads, “Come on over to the winner’s side. It’s fun in the locker room. There’s lots of champagne here.”

There’s a strange feeling in the horseshoe, where some offices are already empty and the paintings have been taken off the walls. It has a drab, impersonal feel that’s not helped by the metal doorframes, faded wood paneling and fire-retardant ceiling tiles that seem fit more for a high-school-administration building than one of the country’s most powerful political offices. In the small corner office where the governor’s desk sits, the bookcases have all been cleaned out, and there’s not a scrap of paper on the desktop.

There’s an exception to this—an island of cheer in a tiny kitchen off a hallway. Next to a Coke machine—that has mysteriously dispensed 55-cent sodas since the Wilson years—hundreds of snapshots cover the walls.

The photographs are candids of just about all of the 150 employees who work in the horseshoe. Pictured with parents, spouses, babies, pets, birthday cakes and costumes, they could be smiling office workers anywhere, were it not for some of the more recognizable mugs mixed into the sea of faces: Gray and Sharon Davis, even Jerry Brown. Patty Mar, the assistant to Zingale who took all the photos, has already begun giving them away.

A few days later, the faces are gone.