— Last week, lawyers for ex-San Diego city councilman Michael Zucchet, convicted last summer in the Cheetahs strip club trial, submitted 76 letters written on his behalf by family and friends requesting leniency from a federal judge. Many bitterly disputed the jury's verdict. Others argued that Zucchet should stay out of jail for the good of his young daughter. Some were based on an everybody-does-it theme, such as the one from Gary Sutton: "Bill Clinton accepted donations from two felons and pardoned them. Dick Murphy took money from Corky McMillin and voted to support his new hotel construction the next week. Valerie Stallings made money on John Moore's insider stock tip and voted in favor of his ballpark. Nobody came close to jail time." Clinton figured somewhat differently in a plea penned by Zucchet's mother, Rozanne M. Mack, who described her son's first job after college at the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C.: "His opportunities to meet and observe President Clinton served to further inspire his already active idealism and reinforce his desire to return to San Diego." Former staffer Katie Keach recalled that one of Zucchet's greatest moments was "taking on talk show host Bill O'Reilly about the city's lease agreement with the Boy Scouts."

Jennifer Tierney, a close friend of ex-mayoral aide John Kern and Zucchet's campaign consultant, maintained that Zucchet was "a true innocent, which is why I began referring to him as 'the choir boy' during the campaign." She said, "He does not smoke or drink, or stay out late. He is devoted to his wife Teresa, from whom he took the step of converting to Catholicism to marry." Tierney offered her own theory as to why Zucchet had accepted the contributions that were at the center of the government's case against him. "I have spent many sleepless nights wondering what might have been had I suggested something other than keeping some of the money in question," she wrote. "True to his personality, he found it personally difficult to return the money, knowing the tremendous amount of energy it takes to raise several thousand dollars for a candidate with whom the donors do not have a personal relationship. No candidate wants to appear cavalier or ungrateful, since a City Council campaign is built upon the work and goodwill of literally thousands of people."

Family friend Courtney Clay recounted an incident involving tickets to the 2003 Super Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium. "Teresa had informed me that she and Mike had the opportunity to purchase tickets in the city's box on the 50-yard-line for $500 each and they were debating whether to buy them. Being an avid sports fan, I was excited about the prospect of having Mike purchase those tickets for me if he did not use them for himself. Mike was adamant that he had to 'follow the rules' and not buy the tickets for anyone other than himself or family." Sister-in-law Wendy Cowperthwaite told about a miniature golf game with Zucchet. "We were several holes into the game, with my sister and me being badly beaten, when my sister picked up her ball and moved it so that her shot would be assured." She said Zucchet immediately objected. " 'You're cheating,' he exclaimed. 'You can't cheat. If you cheat at mini-golf, you'll cheat at life.' "

Zucchet's childhood friend Dean Rostovsky recalled that "not once in high school or college did he visit Tijuana, Mexico -- quite a common endeavor for many of us. Mike had an aversion to the food, alcohol, and 'trouble' that might ensue from those trips." A food connection was also made by Margaret Schnitz, who said she met Zucchet on a blind date: "At my own bridal shower Mike himself assembled and cooked over 50 kabobs." Friends Matt and Susie Boland described the ex-councilman as the life of the party: "Mike also has a great sense of humor. Much of the time we spend together is filled with fun and laughter."

Zucchet's brother Roger offered an often rambling and embittered take on the government's case, with an allusion to George Orwell's Animal Farm. "Why don't we just scrap the whole federal code and replace it with one simple law that 'Everyone Should Be Honest and Good.' We could write it on every dollar bill, or on the side of a barn, just like 'Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad,' And when the pigs start walking and drinking brandy? No problem.... We can formulate a creative interpretation of this broad language in order that we may treat them differently than the rest of the 'less equal' animals (er, other elected officials). My main point is that the case was manufactured by U.S. Agents in San Diego, who, desperate for a case not involving border crimes, illegally interfered with a municipal election in order to entrap an innocent -- and very gifted -- political candidate."

Food for thought It's not exactly breakfast with Bono, but the University City Foundation for Public Schools thinks it's come up with almost the next best thing for the Taste of the Triangle fund-raiser next month. "For those donating $250 or more to EdUCate!, we would like to express our appreciation by inviting you and a guest to a private, pre-event VIP Reception featuring Dr. Stephen Weber, President of San Diego State University." Proceeds go to supplemental school programs that aren't taxpayer funded, including Native American Cultural Studies. ... San Diego's Ethics Commission is investigating 27 officials who failed to file annual statements of economic interest. ... Democratic political money is heading for San Diego: On Monday, the state Council of Service Employees gave $20,000 to county Democrats. The day before, the San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council reported spending $30,250 on a phone bank.

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