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Councilman Roy Byrnes. Photo by Brian Park
Councilman Roy Byrnes. Photo by Brian Park

By Brian Park

San Juan Capistrano City Councilman Roy Byrnes caused a stir last Tuesday when he compared three fellow council members to World War II dictators Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, as well as the Ku Klux Klan, because of their recent attempts to oppose a recall campaign against Mayor Sam Allevato.

Recall supporters have been assembling in front of a Vons supermarket, in addition to other locations around San Juan, to gather enough signatures to enact a special election. Meanwhile, Allevato and his supporters, including his council allies, Larry Kramer and John Taylor, have begun standing nearby signature gatherers and have told passersby not to sign the petition.

Byrnes, who said he was “visibly shaking, I’m so upset,” criticized Allevato’s counter to the recall and likened the mayor and his supporters to the intimidation squads of Mussolini and Hitler.

“Nowhere in a California city have I ever heard of a mayor that sent out a flying squad to intimidate citizens. It’s breathtakingly appalling,” Byrnes said. “The mayor is the moral leader of our town. He carries a higher standard of moral conduct. He must not be seen sulking around the sideways, seeking to intimidate citizens.”

Byrnes also compared Allevato and his supporters to “a meeting of the Klan without the burning cross or the white hoods.”

More than once, Allevato attempted to end the discussion. Taylor objected to Byrnes, saying, “I really take offense to that comment … You weren’t there, for one thing. That’s enough.”

In response, Allevato said, “I find it unconscionable that you would equate that to some intimidation, Mussolini or whatever you call it, Mr. Byrnes.”

Byrnes replied, “If the shoe fits.”

The heated exchange followed comments from San Juan resident and recall supporter John Perry, who said the three council members stood behind the signature gatherers at Vons on Jan. 28 to “disrupt the signature gathering activity.” Perry filed a police report, but authorities are not investigating the matter.

Perry said he believed the men violated state law and a 2006 council resolution that protected recall signature gatherers.

“I believe something illegal happened that day, and it’s been going on since,” Perry said. “They stand behind us and say, ‘Don’t sign the petition,’ and I believe this is an infraction.”

However, City Attorney Hans Van Ligten said the former council’s resolution was merely a statement of intent and is not enforceable. Van Ligten said the resolution and the state law may violate the First Amendment—a sentiment Van Ligten said the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney’s Office also hold.

“Political speech, on both sides of this issue, is clearly the most protected forms of speech that exist,” Van Ligten said. “Those who support the recall have the right to speak, and those who oppose the recall have the right to speak. A resolution of the City Council doesn’t change that.”

Byrnes requested the council reconsider the 2006 resolution at its next meeting.

To view a video of the exchange, click here.

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